Black Rock White City

A.S. Patric

Black Rock White City
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Black Rock White City

A.S. Patric

Winner of the Miles Franklin Literary Award 2016

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.

‘What impresses first about A.S. Patric’s novel is the assuredness of the writing, his accomplished and confident language. But what is most moving is the humanity of his story, the vividness and truth of his characters’ emotional worlds. Black Rock White City is a bold, mature and compassionate novel, and I couldn’t put it down.‘ - Christos Tsiolkas

Review

Serbian academics, poet Jovan and teacher Suzana, have fled the Bosnian war. Reeling from the loss of their children, they attempt to start over in bayside Melbourne. Beneath the banality of the suburbs and the apparent ‘fully functional moral economy’ of the hospital where Jovan works as a cleaner, a sense of chaos bubbles to the surface, exploding in the work of Dr Graffito, an anonymous graffiti artist who begins defacing the wards with his cryptic and disturbing messages.

As Graffito picks at the psychological wounds of the hospital staff, Patric sustains an atmosphere of suspicion, paranoia and genuine tension: ‘Whoever Dr Graffito is, he would know Jovan is the man obliterating his words. That they would drip from his elbows in black foam when he washed the graffiti from the walls.’

Brutal and often confronting, Black Rock White City bursts with an intensity that will shock and surprise readers. Part intimate portrait of a flailing marriage, part literary thriller, it is a richly textured exploration of the profound effect human conflict has on individuals and the possibility of remaking one’s identity in the wake of trauma. Full of strikingly beautiful and often horrific symbolic imagery, there’s a sense of poetry thrumming through every page. Patric’s bold excavation of language burns brightly. He skillfully mines itsdepths and limitations, breaking it down in order to channel the unspeakable and give voice to the ‘absurdity of life’.

Jovan and Suzana are portrayed as deeply flawed and as such, deeply human in their suffering. Their relationship with English is unsettling, insightful and humorous, spotlighting the power language has to both define and diminish us, personally, socially and politically. Brimming with energy and ideas about the complex connection between language and identity, this exciting novel captures the immigrant experience with elegance and compassion.


Sally Keighery is a freelance reviewer.

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