Good Reading : April 2015
GOOD READING APRIL 2015 33 Writing on the wall UP CLOSE 2 Suzana, Jovan’s wife, suspects that her husband is proud of his thick accent. Why would it be a source of pride? Suzana and Jovan have been living in Australia for about five years. When the novel opens, Suzana has found a way to begin to move forward again. For Jovan, Australia is an underworld, a variety of afterlife. They lost both their children in Bosnia so ‘moving forward’ is more than difficult. A person might be proud not to learn the language fluently if he still has his lips pressed to those he loved in another place and in another language. Every day Jovan scrubs and bleaches away new graffiti in the hospital. What makes the graffiti in the book so powerful? Nature abhors a vacuum, and if that’s true, then big blank spaces draw words out of some people. In my novel, the graffiti is provocative, as disturbing as it is creative, but the real issue is that the graffiti in the hospital is the work of a doctor who, when not using blood for messages on the walls, is perfor ming surger ies and prescribing medicines. From the outset there’s a dialogue between Dr Graffito and Jovan, who finds the poetry of his past life rising to the surface every time he’s forced to clean away another brutal message from the walls of the hospital. Why did you focus on Bosnian War? You would think that a major conflict in the centre of Europe would have generated a great deal of literature, yet it hasn’t. Such a recent war should be better understood, especially as it offers a perspective on the way in which fault lines can open up within multicultural communities and nations. I think I’d be able to give you an outline of the Bosnian War if I were a journalist, but as an Australian writer of fiction I’m more interested in histories that find confluence here in Melbourne, eddying into stories about contemporary life. Many people would have unwittingly walked past a refugee on the street who may have faced unfathomable cruelty. Are most Australians oblivious to the terrors that refugees may have experienced? Our government has been fuelling xenophobia for many years, and how we respond to refugees has become radically politicised. Literature can return us to our humanity. Why do people foster such a violent infatuation over nationality and religion? Are people by nature discriminatory? Religion and nationality are forms of community; both are derived from love. History shows us that they are often corrupted by hate. Violence in humans perverts every institution. And fear destroys everything else. Jovan and Suzana’s story is vast in breadth and decades in length. Why have you condensed the story of a war into the suburbs of Melbourne? Black Rock White City is not the story of a war. It’s about Melbourne. More specifically, it’s about the love of a husband and wife that survives the loss of nation, faith, family and children. Melbourne is a city made by such resilience. Strife and disaster is in the histories of most people who settled here after the First Fleet. If you were to tell Jovan’s story in a poem, how would it go? White Cloud Over Blue Water Red Sky Weeping Black Ocean Black Rock White City by A S Patric is published by Transit Lounge, rrp $29.95.