Black Rock White City by A.S. Patric

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.

Cover image for Black Rock White City

Black Rock White City

A.S. Patric

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