cover image The Sound of One Hand Clapping

The Sound of One Hand Clapping

Richard Flanagan. Atlantic Monthly Press, $24 (432pp) ISBN 978-0-87113-802-6

Tasmania--vast, mysterious, like ""the unknown country of the heart""--is the setting for this powerful tale of a father and daughter who struggle to rise above the forces of history and personal tragedy. Sonja Buloh barely remembers the night 35 years ago when her mother, Maria, walked out the door of their crude hut in the dismal construction camp at remote Butlers Gorge, never to return. The mystery and heartache surrounding that event echo through Sonja's young life all the way to 1989-90, when the pregnant Sonja returns from mainland Australia, longing to see Tasmania and her estranged father. Bojan Buloh was just another ""reffo"" from a Slovenia ravaged by WWII, recruited ""to do the wog work of dam-building,"" when he found himself the lone parent of three-year-old Sonja. Bojan's poverty and his memories of his wife and of wartime atrocities made Sonja's childhood difficult; his brief hopes for another marriage were dashed, and Bojan fell into drinking and beating his daughter. Sonja's painful memories mix with those of her sober artie's (the affectionate Slovenian word for father) tenderness and his inspired woodworking (""his hands knew a restraint which lent him grace""). Though her father cannot articulate his suffering (one of the themes here is the inadequacy of words to express the totality of existence), she remains bound to him in deep understanding of his despair. Only after confrontations, revelations and Bojan's symbolic and apocalyptic rebirth is the past redeemed and the pair reconciled. Australian writer Flanagan (Death of a River Guide) brilliantly illuminates the lives of those who are ""forgotten by history, irrelevant to history, yet shaped entirely by it."" His characters here transform tragedy as they discover their individual worth. (Mar.) FYI: Flanagan won the Australian Booksellers Book of the Year Award for The Sound of One Hand Clapping. He directed a film, released in Australia and Germany, based on the novel.