War legacy lives on
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.