In this “luminous” (The New York Times) historical novel—perfect for fans of All the Light We Cannot See and The Flamethrowers—a Swedish glassmaker and a fiercely independent Australian journalist are thrown together amidst the turmoil of the 1960s and the dawning of a new modern era.
1965: As the United States becomes further embroiled in the Vietnam War, the ripple effects are far-reaching—even to the other side of the world. In Australia, a national military draft has been announced and Pearl Keogh, an ambitious newspaper reporter, has put her job in jeopardy to become involved in the anti-war movement. Desperate to locate her two runaway brothers before they’re called to serve, Pearl is also hiding a secret shame—the guilt she feels for not doing more for her younger siblings after their mother’s untimely death.
Newly arrived from Sweden, Axel Lindquist is set to work as a sculptor on the besieged Sydney Opera House. After a childhood in Europe, where the shadow of WWII loomed large, he seeks to reinvent himself in this foreign landscape, and finds artistic inspiration—and salvation—in the monument to modernity that is being constructed on Sydney’s Harbor. But as the nation hurtles towards yet another war, Jørn Utzon, the Opera House’s controversial architect, is nowhere to be found—and Axel fears that the past he has tried to outrun may be catching up with him.
As the seas of change swirl around them, Pearl and Axel’s lives orbit each other and collide in this sweeping novel “that brings the cultural upheaval of 1960s Australia vividly to life, and readers who appreciate leisurely paced, thoughtful literary fiction will savor each word of this emotional story of two people—and a country—reckoning with their past and future” (Booklist).
Olsson (In One Skin) uses the building of the Sydney Opera House as the backdrop for a contemplative story of personal guilt and political upheaval. When Australian announces a draft for Vietnam in 1965, Pearl Keogh, a journalist for the Telegraph, begins a frantic search for the younger brothers she abandoned after their mother's early death. Swedish artist Axel Lindquist arrives in Sydney to produce a glass sculpture for the new opera house. He struggles with the language, designing an appropriate sculpture, and lingering animosity from others toward Sweden's neutrality during World War II. Axel and Pearl drift into a relationship, though Olsson's jarring switch between their points of view and heavy reliance on internal thoughts obscures their bond. Pearl finally tracks down her brothers and learns they have already enlisted, causing her to tumble into guilt-ridden reminiscences. Meanwhile, Axel wanders through Sydney, using his reflections on art and quest to meet the reclusive Opera House architect to distract him from the his emotions surrounding his Swedish resistance fighter father's disappearance after the war. Olsson juxtaposes Pearl and Axel's complex feelings about their fractured families and tenuous connection with news of politician's increasing hostility toward the Opera House project. Readers who do not mind a leisurely paced story will enjoy exploring these historical political tensions and meditations on personal responsibility.