Starting Over

Wednesday, July 12, 2006

Dead Europe

Christos Tsiolkas rocks - ever since I saw the film Head On, based on his first novel Loaded, I've been a big fan. Tsiolkas writes from a queer, working class, immigrant minority perspective that both celebrates and criticises aspects of gay, working class and Australian Greek/immigrant communities. So yes, seen the film, read the book and the following co-written Jump Cuts, and then from half-way across the world Jesus Man.

Dead Europe in some ways then follows me, largely being set in Europe from the perspective of an outsider/visitor. And it resonates strongly with many of the ways I see/saw Europe and the sense of belonging/not belonging.

Dead Europe for me represents Tsiolkas as a matured writer. This book is breathtakingly good, moving and thoughtful and a damn good and intriguing read, which deals with history, migration, poverty, anti-Semitism, belief and blood (just a few bog themes in 411 pages of beautiful prose).

The plot centres on Isaac, a Greek-Australian photographer invited to Athens to help celebrate the culture of the Greek diaspora. However Isaac relationships with his friends from his visit 10 years previously, and with Europe more generally, has changed. When Isaac's mother is accused of forgetting the people she left behind, he defends her, stating: "It is you who have forgotten us." As Isaac travels across post-Communist Europe, through Italy, Prague, Berlin and Paris and then to England, he finds a Europe that is a strange and in many ways unhappy continent.

Parallel to this journey is another - a ghost story. Isaac's family has been cursed following a broken promise made in the midst of the terror that washed across Greece in the wake of the Nazi invasion and the accompanying flowering of anti-Semitism. Isaac's visit to Europe unleashes this curse, and this story intertwines with that of Isaac's travels. Europe is a dead and cruel continent, haunted by spectres and its history of hate.

While this might sound heavy-going the novel is also fill of moments of hope and beauty. And of course elegant, tender and heartrendering writing. Well worth sending off to Australia for and get this published elsewhere - Tsiolkas's voice deserves more than merely an Australian audience.


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