The year is 1954, the place a construction camp in the interior of Tasmania. One evening Maria Buloh, a young immigrant from Slovenia, walks out of her home and into the snowy forest, disappearing forever. She leaves behind her husband, Bojan, and Sonja, their three-year-old daughter. Sonja's childhood evolves into a harsh series of foster homes, followed by adolescence taking care of her drunken, abusive father. She escapes at the age of 16. Flash forward to 1989, when Sonja Buloh pays her first visit to Tasmania and to her father in more than 20 years.

What is Sonja looking for? What does she expect to find? She and her father are both damaged people. Their spirits are scarred and deeply hidden--his in alcohol and an obstinate lack of ambition, hers in wariness and distance. We soon learn that Sonja is pregnant and plans to have an abortion as soon as she returns to Sydney. While staying with some old friends, she has an epiphany--she decides to remain in Tasmania and carry the pregnancy to term.

During the months of her pregnancy, Sonja and her father gradually grow closer. Sonja finally learns the truth about what happened to her mother. Father and daughter are transformed. To quote the book's blurb, "the shadows of the past begin to intrude ever more forcefully into the present-- changing forever his living death and her ordered life."


This is an exquisitely beautiful novel. Flanagan's technique is to show the reader small fragments of the story from different points in time--86 short chapters with events that range from 1954 to 1990. The narrative jumps back and forth from one year to another.

At first the episodes are sharply delineated. But gradually the narrative coalesces, the characters emerge, the story deepens like the lake behind a great Tasmanian hydroelectric dam. This is also a tale about an unlikely group of Australians--Slovenians and other Eastern Europeans who escaped the barbarism of Europe after World War II, but lived for decades at the margins of a none-too-welcoming society in Australia.



Place Published

Sydney, Australia



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