cover image Question 7

Question 7

Richard Flanagan. Knopf, $28 (288p) ISBN 978-0-5938-0233-5

Booker Prize winner Flanagan (Toxic) weaves strands about his parents, Australian history, and the atomic bomb into a mesmerizing narrative tapestry in this dazzling, one-of-a-kind memoir. Flanagan begins with a meditation on how his father was interned in a Japanese POW camp near Hiroshima when the U.S. dropped the atomic bomb. He considers how the experience shaped his father into a man who saw life as a “great tragicomedy.” He contrasts his father with his more passionate mother, and reflects on the ways their combined “life force” saw them through poverty and pain. His examination of their relationship leads him to the affair between British writers H.G. Wells and Rebecca West, and then to Wells’s writings on the atom bomb. Further digressions delve into Hungarian physicist Leo Szilard’s warnings against nuclear energy, Kurt Vonnegut’s Cat’s Cradle, and Tasmania’s colonial history; recurring themes of mortality culminate in a recollection of Flanagan’s near-drowning at the age of 21. Lyrical prose (“He would smile wanly, his face turning inside out, a concertina of wrinkles compressing his eyes into wry sunken currants”) complements the book’s oblique structure, aiding Flanagan in his construction of a bracing dreamscape that blends fiction, family, and history to illuminate his captivating consciousness. This is masterful. (Sept.)