Boy, Lost by Kristina Olsson

Bringing her journalistic skills to what is described on the cover as a ‘family memoir’, Kristina Olsson uses perfectly balanced prose to weave breathtaking beauty into this sad yarn.

As a 19-year-old, Olsson’s mother, Yvonne, got on board a train bound for Brisbane, hoping to escape the violent man she was married to. Her one-year-old son, Peter, was cuddled in her arms and a second pregnancy – kept secret from her husband – was underway. As she waited for the train to leave the platform, her husband entered the carriage and snatched her little boy out of her arms, telling her that if she ever tried to take his son again, he’d kill them both. The train left the station and Yvonne didn’t see her son again for nearly 40 years.

The response of Yvonne to the theft of her baby is one of the most compelling aspects of this story. Her decades-long internal struggle works as a complex counterweight to her son Peter’s desperate attempts to find his mother. He continually runs away as he gets older, receiving beltings when he’s brought back home.

While Peter has to battle his father, his stepmother, and other people besides, Yvonne has her own demons to wrestle with. And while family can be cruel, it’s the kindness of strangers that helps Yvonne and Peter move painfully forward.

There are no fairytale endings in this book. The damage that’s been suffered by these people is deep and irrevocable, but the dignity and the resilience they demonstrate is at the heart of this beautiful, wistful story. Highly recommended.

Gabrielle Williams is a bookseller at Readings Malvern.