I’d like to welcome my awesome friend Angela Long to Welcome to my Library. She has generously agreed to join me here in reviewing books written by our many talented Australian authors. Angela will be focusing on adult fiction and memoir in all genres with any titles by women writers reviewed as part of the Australian Women Writers challenge. Read more about it: Australian Women Writers Challenge. I will remain reviewing children and young adult books in all genres, along with the occasional adult speculative fiction title.
We have some amazing writers in Australia – I am proud to showcase some of them here and very pleased to now be showcasing adult fiction as well as children’s and young adult books.
Boy, Lost by Kristina Olsson was read and enjoyed in the book club that Angela and I are a part of. It was well received by all of us and was a great discussion book. What prompted the purchase of the novel was hearing Kristina Olsson speak at the Sydney Writers Festival last year where she reflected on her complicated family history – Final Wrap-up Sydney Writers’ Festival.
Kristina Olsson has received many accolades for Boy, Lost including: Winner 2014 Western Australia Premier’s Book, Non-fiction Award, Winner 2014 Kibble Literary Award, Winner 2014 NSW Premier’s Literary Awards – Douglas Stewart Prize for Non-fiction, Winner 2013 Queensland Literary Awards, Non-fiction Award, Shortlisted 2014 Victorian Premier’s Literary Awards, Non-fiction Award, Shortlisted 2014 Stella Prize, Courier-Mail People’s Choice Queensland Book of the Year. Wow!
- Title: Boy, Lost
- Author: Kristina Olsson
- Category: Memoir
- Publisher: University Of Queensland Press 2013
- Pages: 264
- Reviewed by: Angela Long for Welcome to my Library
Summary: Kristina Olsson’s mother lost her infant son, Peter,when he was snatched from her arms as she boarded a train in the hot summer of 1950. She was young and frightened, trying to escape a brutal marriage, but despite the violence and cruelty she’d endured, she was not prepared for this final blow, this breathtaking punishment. Yvonne would not see her son again for nearly 40 years.
Kristina was the first child of her mother’s subsequent, much gentler marriage and, like her siblings, grew up unaware of the reasons behind her mother’s sorrow, though Peter’s absence resounded through the family, marking each one. Yvonne dreamt of her son by day and by night, while Peter grew up a thousand miles and a lifetime away, dreaming of his missing mother.
Boy, Lost tells how their lives proceeded from that shattering moment, the grief and shame that stalked them, what they lost and what they salvaged. But it is also the story of a family, the cascade of grief and guilt through generations, and the endurance of memory and faith.
Review by Angela Long: Kristina Olsson fuses memoir and fiction narrative to produce a hauntingly beautiful story of a family shadowed by the past, by a missing piece that was needed to make her ‘family’s broken cup’ whole. From the opening lines the reader is gripped with a sense of foreboding and wrapped in a sadness that permeates the pages, as the story of a young boy, torn between his parents, becomes the catalyst for the shape of a family’s future.
Olsson was challenged with the writing of this story by her brother Peter, the stolen child, the missing piece and yet the story she pieced together from the various memories of the family around her, records available and her storytellers eye, is one that reflects a tale of all lost and stolen children, all lost and stolen families, their secrets, their scars. The taking of Peter from his mother Yvonne’s arms as she tries to flee the abusive relationship with his father, Michael is a poignant portrait that is coloured and etched over as we are revealed the years leading up to the event and the outcomes for the future.
A family memoir is a minefield of interpretation. No two memories are exactly the same, differing viewpoints, emotional investments, biases; must be pried apart and reinterpreted. Written after Yvonne’s death, Olsson carefully smooths the gaps of information, ones that only Yvonne could tell and reconstructs, with a journalist’s skill, a picture that is whole. To this end there are small pieces of writing that show Kristina’s own longings and emotions, ‘In my head, it happens like this:’ her own need to know and have known the pain that her mother endured ‘all the things you didn’t say, all the things we didn’t know’ and it’s reflection of the pain of any parent who loses her child; ‘And if a child was removed from is or her mother, whether Aboriginal, illegitimate, poor or all three, then it was generally agreed it was in the child’s best interests …. the mother wasn’t up to it’.
This story could have easily sunk into the depths of despair and tragedy with no hope for those whose lives were changed permanently. Instead the edges have been softened. Like a watercolour of memories we are presented with hope for the future, the past absolved. As Olsson ponders the words that Yvonne may have said, a sense of the strength and soul of the characters is captured.
‘The life I made, was much more than the life that I lost’.
Poetically written Boy, Lost is a richly woven tapestry that will stir many emotions, anger, empathy, sympathy, love; one to be savoured over a long rainy weekend with a tissue at hand, just in case.
Read the first chapter of Boy, Lost HERE
Read all of Welcome to my Library’s Book Reviews HERE
Kristina was born in 1956 and raised in Brisbane of Swedish and Australian heritage. She studied journalism at the University of Queensland and went on to write for The Australian, The Courier-Mail and Sunday Mail, the Sydney Sunday Telegraph and Griffith Review. She has also worked as an advisor to government and as a teacher of creative writing and journalism at tertiary and community level. She supervises and mentors several post-graduate writing students and also works as a manuscript assessor and editor. Kris has two adult children, as well as two grandchildren. She lives in Brisbane.