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"It is written . . . "
on 23 August 2005
Bojan Buloh isn't a cheery bloke. A "reffo wog" [immigrant from Southern Europe] in Tasmania, he lives a disenchanted life. His taxing job is meaningless, his quarters squalid, his friends and co-workers equally hopeless. His wife, Maria, has disappeared into a blizzard, leaving him with three-year-old Sonja.
Bojan's grief at the loss of Maria is compounded by memories of his early years. As a young Yugoslav partisan messenger, he witnessed war in all its viciousness. These aren't the fond childhood recollections of most of us. In Tasmania, he confronts the realities of immigrant life - exploitation, scornful neighbours, reduced status and few opportunities. A lesser man might cave in under such pressures, but Bojan is a tough bloke. Being tough, however, makes him neither happy nor successful. He survives with the help of the bottle, all the while expressing his resentment at the vagaries of his life. Some of that resentment falls, as it must, on Sonja. She represents the missing Maria.
Maria Bull's fading into a snowy Tasmanian night triggered dark guilt in Sonja - which she carries through her life. Their shared grief doesn't bring Sonja and Bojan closer. His drinking and violence only compounds Song's sense of detachment. She withdraws, although the spark of affection for Bojan never quite expires. Fleeing to Sydney, Sonja tries to shed the past, living the present intensely. Her grief is little assuaged as she uses a succession of men to compensate for, in effect, the loss of both parents. The ember of regard for Bojan dims feelings she might hold for another man. Cruel, drunken, cynical as he is, Bojan remains the one solid aspect of her life. It is to this lodestone she returns at last, in an attempt to take charge of her life. If "it is written," she determines at last to do her own writing.
Reviewing Flanagan inevitably evokes the tired clichés - "powerful" or "intense." While both terms apply, neither sufficiently addresses the quality of Flanagan's writing. One phrase, rarely applied to today's writers is "clarity." Although the story of Sonja and Bojan Buloh is told through broken chronology, Flanagan is able to hold the reader's attention throughout the tale. Skipping from present to past in a narrative is too often a distraction, but Flanagan manages the feat with unusal precision. Given the depth of feeling presented, he deserves high praise for his accomplishment. His story disturbs, sometimes repels, the reader, but the tale is never false nor the events contrived. His writing contains no cliches, nor is it tired. Only the reviewer is guilty of those sins. [stephen a. haines - Ottawa, Canada]