A sweeping novel of world war, migration, and the search for new beginnings in a new land, The Sound of One Hand Clapping was both critically acclaimed and a bestseller in Australia. Recognized with the Australian Booksellers’ Book of the Year Award and the Vance Palmer Prize for Fiction, it now introduces to an international readership a young Australian who is emerging as one of our most talented new storytellers.
In the winter of 1954, in a construction camp for a hydroelectric dam in the remote Tasmanian highlands, when Sonja Buloh was three years old and her migrant Slovenian father was drunk, her mother Maria walked off into a blizzard, never to return. Thirty-five years later, Sonja returns to Tasmania and a father haunted by memories of the European war and other, more recent horrors. As the shadows of the past begin to intrude ever more forcefully into the present, Sonja’s empty life and her father’s living death are to change forever. The Sound of One Hand Clapping is about the barbarism of an old world left behind, about the harshness of a new country, and the destiny of those in a land beyond hope who seek to redeem themselves through love.
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. 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.
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The Sound of One Hand Clapping
The story could have been told in half the space. I found events and character behavior and interactions to be so redundant as to be tedious and boring. The writing was uneven, at times almost poetic and lyrical, at other times choppy and obtuse. There was no memorable or significant ending. The story just stopped. I cannot recommend the book.