After Darkness Synopsis:
The winner of The Australian/Vogel’s Literary Award 2014
It is early 1942 and Australia is in the midst of war.
While working at a Japanese hospital in the pearling port of Broome, Dr Ibaraki is arrested as an enemy alien and sent to Loveday internment camp in a remote corner of South Australia. There, he learns to live among a group of men who are divided by culture and allegiance. As tensions at the isolated camp escalate, the doctor’s long-held beliefs are thrown into question and he is forced to confront his dark past: the promise he made in Japan and its devastating consequences. (Allen & Unwin)
After Darkness, the debut novel from Aussie author Christine Piper, is something special. It is everything literature should be.
literature: a body of artistic writings of a country or period that are characterized by beauty of expression and form and by universality of intellectual and emotional appeal
From the opening line the reader is engaged. Although a reserved personality outwardly, the narrative voice of Dr Ibaraki is open, perceptive and without pretence. Piper’s descriptions of the Australian landscape are filled with emotion, artistry and a sense of longevity.
Gazing at the mallee trees as we walked to the river, I once more admired their inconspicuous quality, the grey-greeen leaves that stirred so gently in the breeze. Taking a wider perspective, I realised that every element of the landscape — from the grass and trees to the pebbly earth — seemed at pains not to outdo the others, and it struck me as a very noble quality indeed.
In After Darkness Dr Ibaraki’s story is conveyed through multiple narrative streams that serve as windows into different time periods and experiences in his life. In alternating between these narrative streams Piper subtly cultivates tension and propels the reader onward to the surprisingly satisfying conclusion. This novel was very difficult to put down.
There is an understated and refined, almost ageless quality, to Piper’s prose. Any musician understands it is the quieter passages of a concerto that draw in the listener and heighten their emotional engagement with a piece. Piper has translated this knowledge to the pages of After Darkness.
Above all, it is the way Piper has written so openly about discrimination and the atrocities of war without ever veering towards sensationalism that most impressed me. She exposes the light in the dark without subjecting readers to cloying sentimentality. An unerring respect for all people is what sets After Darkness apart from its peers and is the core of its universal appeal and currency in today’s society.
My response to this piece is best described as admiration. After Darkness is captivating and haunting for all the right reasons – the work of a truly gifted writer that all should have the opportunity to read.
BOOK RATING: The Story 5 / 5 ; The Writing 5 / 5
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Genre: Literature, Drama, Historical
Author Information: Christine Piper’s short fiction has been published in Seizure, SWAMP and Things That Are Found In Trees and Other Stories. She was the 2013 Alice Hayes writing fellow at Ragdale in the United States. She has studied creative writing at Macquarie University, the Iowa Writers’ Workshop and the University of Technology, Sydney, where she wrote a version of this novel as part of her doctoral degree. She has also worked as a magazine editor and writer for more than a decade. Both in South Korea in 1979 to an Australian father and a Japanese mother, she moved to Australia when she was one. She has previously taught English and studied Japanese in Japan, and currently lives in New York with her husband. Christine is also the 2014 recipient of the ABR Calibre Prize for an Outstanding Essay. After Darkness, her first novel, is the winner of The Australian/Vogel’s Literary Prize 2014.
* My receiving a paperbook copy of this title from Allen & Unwin (thanks to the author) for review purposes in no way hindered the expression of my honest opinions in the above.