War legacy lives on

Sunday Tasmanian - Tassie Living - - BOOKS - WAR­REN BREWER

CHESS­BOARD OF DES­TINY

Eugenia Wil­liams ( Cus­tom Book Pub­li­ca­tions 2013, $ 29.95)

THE deathly spec­tre of the Holo­caust is a recurring pres­ence in much con­tem­po­rary art and lit­er­a­ture. Tas­ma­nian au­thor Eugenia Wil­liams here also im­merses her­self into the mire of war- torn Europe to re­late par­al­lel sto­ries of two fam­i­lies that have mi­grated to Aus­tralia.

They carry with them the hor­rors of in­car­cer­a­tion in Krakow and Auschwitz.

Their sto­ries are told with author­ity and pas­sion that goes be­yond fan­tasy and imag­i­na­tion. Wil­liams’ own per­sonal ex­pe­ri­ences as a refugee and mi­grant ob­vi­ously fuel this work. Glim­mers of her amaz­ing per­sonal story are re­counted in the ac­com­pa­ny­ing notes.

They re­veal a woman with an in­domitable spirit and this pre­dictably is the essence of her cen­tral char­ac­ters here.

An old gypsy busker plays his con­certina in a busy Syd­ney in­ter­sec­tion. His ini­ti­a­tion into Aus­tralian so­ci­ety was as a part of the mi­grant work­force that con­structed the Snowy Moun­tain scheme.

It was dan­ger­ous and pun­ish­ing work with scant at­ten­tion to com­fort or safety. His mu­sic was al­ways and still is his so­lace.

A frail old lady goes about her shop­ping in her lo­cal sub­urb. She and he grand­daugh­ter, a med­i­cal re­searcher, are the sur­viv­ing rem­nants of her Hun­gar­ian fam­ily that have built a new life in Syd­ney.

The younger woman hur­ries to work each day, passes the busker and feels com­pelled to drop some coins in his cap know­ing noth­ing of their shared legacy.

The lives of both fam­i­lies in con­tem­po­rary Syd­ney pro­ceed with a sem­blance of nor­mal­ity un­til a shock­ing event brings the past smash­ing into re­al­ity.

In a fateful mo­ment of chance the grand­mother is hor­ri­fied when she recog­nises the camp com­man­dant who was re­spon­si­ble for mur­der­ing and tor­tur­ing thou­sands of her people.

Shriek­ing with ter­ror and anger she raises the alarm. The man flees. The au­thor­i­ties are im­me­di­ately no­ti­fied and the hunt is on.

The te­dious search for the Nazi takes po­lice in­ves­ti­ga­tors to East­ern Europe where ev­i­dence of bru­tal war­time ex­pe­ri­ences still per­sist.

There, the legacy of guilt, shame, fear, anger and also some clan­des­tine loy­al­ties re­main close to the sur­face of daily life.

Ul­ti­mately the con­vic­tion of the crim­i­nal re­lies on the young re­searcher back in Syd­ney.

Like a chess game, it’s a com­plex and ab­sorb­ing en­counter.

Sim­i­larly the ac­tiv­ity ends abruptly and un­ex­pect­edly.

How­ever, I think an ed­i­to­rial im­per­a­tive may be at work here. Don’t let this dis­suade you.

It’s an un­set­tling yet en­gag­ing read.

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