The Sound of One Hand Clapping by Richard Flanagan
Grove Press, 1997
Sonja Buloh returns to Tasmania after 22 years to make amends with her estranged father. She finds the place awash with unpleasant memories of Bojan’s drunken beatings, being forced to wait on his alcoholic friends in the middle of the night, and countless other types of neglect. But Sonja also remembers Bojan’s attempts at fatherliness: the time he spontaneously sewed her a pink party dress, and the delicious Slovenian food he would cook for her during rare days of sobriety. Underlying the story is the disappearance of Sonja’s mother Maria, who walked out into a blizzard when her daughter was three. Sonja and her father share an unspoken burden of loss over her absence, heightened by Bojan’s memories of the horrific experiences he shared with Maria in Yugoslavia during World War Two.
Richard Flanagan paints a complex picture of Bojan’s warped humanity, flashing between the present day and the atrocities of the past in both Tasmania and war torn Europe. Bojan is one of thousands of Europeans who’ve fled to Australia wounded, and mentally scarred to be sorely let down in their hopes for a better life. Treated like second class citizens, labeled “wogs” and “reffos” and forced to carry out work Australians wouldn’t look twice at, Flanagan gives us a compelling understanding of why Bojan’s treatment of his daughter is so appalling.
This is a book which resonates days after finishing, despite being sluggish to start off with. You’re often left floundering in flowery writing which frustratingly takes away from the story (it was about half way before I felt like I wanted to read it rather than forcing myself through it). However once it finally gets going the narrative embeds itself into you. It’s a troubling portrayal of loss, healing, and redemption during a period of significant change in Australia.