Black Rock White City is a novel about the damages of war, the limits of choice, and the hope of love.
During a hot Melbourne summer Jovan’s cleaning work at a bayside hospital is disrupted by acts of graffiti and violence becoming increasingly malevolent. For Jovan the mysterious words that must be cleaned away dislodge the poetry of the past. He and his wife Suzana were forced to flee Sarajevo and the death of their children.
Intensely human, yet majestic in its moral vision, Black Rock White City is an essential story of Australia’s suburbs now, of displacement and immediate threat, and the unexpected responses of two refugees as they try to reclaim their dreams. It is a breathtaking roar of energy that explores the immigrant experience with ferocity, beauty and humour.
Black Rock White City won the Miles Franklin Literary Award for Literary Fiction this year (2016) and it’s easy to see why. A.S. Patric’s story of an immigrant couple trying to cope amidst present day Melbourne, is beautifully written. It is rich in it’s descriptions, which at times are heartbreaking, breathtaking and confronting (and sometimes all three at the same time).
Jovan and Suzana are haunted by the life they left behind when they fled Sarajevo. Both were literature professors at the university, and yet living in Australia, they find themselves limited by language and the pain of loss.
The story begins in present day, as we follow Jovan and his attempts to clean up after acts of grafitti (and later violence) in the hospital. We unravel his history as we progress through events, sometimes circling back to events earlier in the story, too, as we meet peripheral characters and discover the impact they have on Jovan and Suzana’s lives. Jovan and Suzana’s marriage is strained, to the point of disfunction (not unsurprisingly so) and they both attempt to cope with with this in their own ways, while there’s enough of an undercurrent of love to keep them together.
Black Rock White City was not an easy book to read; it took a while for me to warm up to it. Occasionally I had to reread parts to make sure I was understanding it. It was, however, a book that I am grateful to have read. It offers a perspective on the immigrant perspective that I don’t have personally and despite the heartbreak and some time horror of the events that transpire, there is hope woven through the ending.
I rated Black Rock White City 4 out of 5 stars.
author // A.S. Patric
publisher // Transit Lounge Australia
genre // Literary Fiction
publication date // April, 2015
format // Paperback