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A Letter to Layla

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

Ramona Koval

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 National: Late Night Live (0:35:30)
Booktopia blog: Ramona Koval on envisioning a future for her granddaughter   
Main FM   
Monash Wordfest 2020 keynote speech (YouTube)  
Plus 61J  
Saturday Paper   

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.’

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