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The Sound of One Hand Clapping    by Richard Flanagan order for
Sound of One Hand Clapping
by Richard Flanagan
Order:  USA  Can
Grove, 2001 (1997)
Hardcover, Paperback

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* * *   Reviewed by Barbara Lingens

It is probably a little-known fact that in the aftermath of World War II, refugees from eastern European countries were recruited to Tasmania to help with post-war building projects. This book provides a picture of what that meant to those tormented souls who were able to sign on for this work.

Life's cruelty has never been more devastatingly depicted. Through the eyes of a young woman looking back at her childhood in one of the work camps, we learn something about the price exacted by the horrors of war on people and how difficult it is to go on living with such memories. To Sonja, who was three the night her mother left her, the love that she always carries for her father has had to be tempered by the fear and defeat she feels at his drunkenness and beatings. Having escaped to Sydney, Sonja becomes pregnant and has the perverse urge to reconnect with her difficult past and to learn the truth about her parents, especially her mother.

What Sonja experienced as a child was filtered through her own innocence and naiveté. The fact that her father still speaks a very poor English and is terrible at expressing himself does not stop her from trying to fit the puzzle pieces of her memory into an adult understanding. As the story of her parents' life emerges, Sonja comes to understand their suffering and her role in making things a bit more difficult, especially for her father.

This book is not for the faint-hearted because there is much here that is very bleak, but Flanagan has managed to leave us with some grounds for hope that humans can eventually come to understand one another despite the huge obstacles they must face. At the same time he has brought the land that is Tasmania to life in a way that not only enhances what is happening in the story but becomes a force in and of itself. This is very fine writing.

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