Day 9: Boy, Lost
On the ninth day of Christmas, my literary love bought for me…
Kristina Olsson’s Boy, Lost!
Kristina Olsson’s Boy, Lost is the story of a family, the cascade of grief and guilt through generations, and the endurance of memory and faith.
Is this your perfect Christmas gift?
The 2014 Stella Prize judges said of Boy, Lost:
Kristina Olsson’s story of her half-brother Peter, stolen by his father from his mother’s arms, is a beautifully understated family memoir in which the writer barely features: this is the story of Peter and his mother. Told compassionately and even-handedly, it follows Peter from his birth in 1948 through a difficult childhood of abuse, illness and homelessness, a gradual finding of his adult feet, an eventual reunion with his mother, and its less than happy aftermath. It also tracks the life of Peter and Kristina’s mother, Yvonne, showing her caught up in a situation she could neither understand nor control.
The book reflects the social history of Australia in the 1950s: the lack of accountability in cases of domestic violence, the tolerance of gambling, the lack of freedom that was women’s lot in the decade before the Pill and the rise of second-wave feminism, the ravages of the polio epidemic. Peter’s childhood is shaped first by the cultural tensions of a Greek–Australian marriage in the wave of postwar immigration, and then by the effects of polio, which he contracts only a couple of years before the availability of the vaccine that would have saved him. Much of the power of this book lies in the way that it reflects the fates of all children lost to a parent or parents, whether through familial dysfunction, government policy or personal tragedy, and that lifts it beyond the level of merely personal memoir to give it some of the force of fable and folktale.
Links and Media
- Read Agnes Nieuwenhuizen’s review for The Australian.
- Read Paula Grunseit’s review for the Newtown Review of Books.
- Read an interview with Kristina on the Wheeler Centre’s website.
- Read Kristina’s discussion of Boy, Lost and the Stella Prize on Kill Your Darlings.
Kristina’s recommendations: The best books by women she read in 2014
‘I read Joan London’s The Golden Age in one sitting, and had to turn back immediately and read it again. Its tender portrayal of young people in a polio convalescent home brought them fully to life as vital, intelligent and yearning for connection, as indeed their friends, their parents and carers are. Elsa and Frank, who form a touching, forbidden bond in the home, are still with me. An unflinching but deeply compassionate look at a bleak time in Australia and in the lives of many families.
Ellen van Neerven’s Heat and Light is a stunning debut from this young Indigenous writer, and marks her as someone to watch. Assured and lyrical, it mixes the unvarnished with the mythic, and wraps it around a fine intelligence that shines through. More please, Ellen.
My third recommendation is for a book not yet published: The Fifty-Year Silence by Miranda Richmond Mouillot, due early in 2015. Another remarkable debut, the book looks at the responsibilities and weights of inherited memory, and the legacy of unspoken grief and trauma through the generations.’