Violin Lessons by Arnold Zable

Arnold Zable is a bit of a bower bird; he can’t help collecting stories and – to the joy of most readers – he can’t help retelling them. In this collection, based on over 40 years of encounters, he retells the fragments of the lives of some of the people he has met. His eye wanders to the marginalised, the disenfranchised.

A boy walking along a Baghdad street is transfixed by the sound of a violin coming from a balcony and it changes his life. A street boy in war-torn Saigon takes a rare break from his pimping and running errands for the occupying forces and opens up to the writer, recounting how his village was bombed and his family killed. In Poland, Zable meets a woman and her son who yearn to escape from their village, from their crude alcoholic husband/father. They beg Zable to help them … ‘they knew, as well I did, that I would not help them’. On the island of Ithaca a young man, a university student, is lost in a diving accident and his father blames himself for the accident: ‘there are times when I have dived down and not wanted to return … I infected my boy with the same madness’.

The most profound and moving tale is that of Amal, a survivor of the terrible SIEV X disaster; Amal has made it her mission to make sure that the story of that terrible incident is not lost and tells the story over and over to those who will listen, even though she is dying of cancer. After years in Australia on a temporary protection visa, she is finally granted permanent residency and feels ‘a free woman in a free country’. In Violin Lessons, Zable displays the wisdom and kindness that has permeated all his works – the reason they are so loved.

Mark Rubbo is the Managing Director of Readings

Violin Lessons