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A Letter to Layla

A Letter to Layla: Travels to Our Deep Past and Near Future

Ramona Koval

  • awardShortlisted, Mark & Evette Moran Nib Literary Award, 2021
  • How might the origins of our species inform the way we think about our planet? At a point of unparalleled crisis, can human ingenuity save us from ourselves?

    Much-loved writer Ramona Koval travels the globe in a quest for answers, and encounters the unexpected. She talks to an eminent paleo-archaeologist over a two-million-year-old skull in the Republic of Georgia, meets the next generation of robots in Berlin, attends a festival against death in California and explores an ice-age cave in southern France, speaking with the world’s leading authority on cave art.

    Between these and other adventures she returns to her ever-engaging granddaughter Layla, whose development in infancy spurs Koval to find out what makes us human, what separates us from the other apes.

    Full of revealing exchanges with scientists and writers whose knowledge of the past and visions for the future could hold the key to our next evolution, A Letter to Layla will surprise and delight in equal measure.


    ABC Radio Melbourne: Evenings (2:07:00)
    ABC Radio Melbourne: Evenings   
    ABC Radio National: Late Night Live (0:35:30)
    ABC Radio National: The Drawing Room    
    Australian Book Review   
    Booktopia blog: Ramona Koval on envisioning a future for her granddaughter   
    Goldfields Library: Ramona Koval in discussion with Robyn Annear (YouTube)   
    Main FM   
    Monash Wordfest 2020 keynote speech (YouTube)  
    Plus 61J  
    Readings podcast: Ramona Koval & Jane Sullivan in conversation   
    Saturday Paper   
    Sydney Morning Herald   
    Sydney Writers Festival podcast    

    Ramona Koval
    About the Author

    Ramona Koval is a writer and journalist, a former broadcaster, and an honorary fellow at the University of Melbourne’s Centre for Advancing Journalism. Her books include Bloodhound: Searching for My Father (2015) and By the Book: A Reader’s Guide to Life (2012).

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    Text publication date:
    29 September 2020
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    Praise for Ramona Koval
    andA Letter to Layla

    ‘[Ramona Koval is] a shining presence in the world of literature, here in Australia and right across the globe…Her voice is always recognisable, invigorating, familiar to us and greatly loved.’

    ‘[Koval’s] accessibly written forays into the science of DNA and familial lineages, and what makes us who we are, is beautifully intertwined with her meditations on identity and belonging…Readers too will be deeply shocked by the atrocities outlined in Bloodhound. Such shock, however, is an important reminder that history should never be forgotten, and that books like Bloodhound should continue being written for generations to come.’

    ‘Ramona Koval’s latest book is really a quest story: in it she sets out to find how humanity got to where we are now, and where we are going…With her training in science and journalism, Koval is able to give clarity to complex theories without totally reducing them…ABC Radio National listeners will be familiar with Koval’s speaking voice, and her literary voice has the same engaging warmth. It’s impossible to read this book and not be infected with the author’s curiosity and enthusiasm for this massive subject.’

    ‘Koval’s erudition carries the reader across many disciplines and A Letter to Layla reminds us of our potential as a species…Koval and Layla’s exchanges give an immediacy and connection to our evolutionary past, and also embed a personal memoir of Koval within the story of homo sapiens. Koval’s warmth towards her immediate family extends to our species as a whole.’

    A Letter to Layla is a weird journey in the best of ways…the book clips along at an incredible pace, and yet never feels overwhelming or cramped…[I]n reading it you fill in gaps in knowledge you didn’t know you had, and form a fuller picture of the world.’

    ‘Charging along, sometimes even laugh-out-loud funny, it’s a triumph of form into which [Koval] seems to squeeze her entire understanding of the world.’

    ‘Keeping up with reality is Ramona Koval’s modus operandi. Here, the author and broadcaster takes a panoramic view of history, from the palaeolithic period to the near future. She is motivated by concern for the world her grandchildren (including her titular youngest granddaughter) will inherit…She keeps both her own doubts and those of her interlocutors in play, like a battleground of ideas in which the collateral thought remains visible on the ground…[There is] the sense that our world is inescapably reverse-telescoped, and that all signs of purchase on the present are receding daily. With A Letter to Layla, Koval tries swinging the telescope back around.’

    ‘A really beautiful book…a call to action as much as a love letter and a really deep and nimble-footed exploration of the human condition as well as the shape of our future.’

    ‘Ramona Koval turns her talent for in-depth interviews and her training in science into an engaging and illuminating book.’

    ‘[Koval] sets out on a global quest to meet the scientists whose work is shaping the grand narrative of our species…These vignettes are marshalled with Koval’s trademark geniality and delight.’

    Other editions ofA Letter to Layla
    • A Letter to Layla
      ISBN: 9781925923667
      29 September 2020
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