Book review: Wanderers No More by Michelle Saftich

Having read and thoroughly enjoyed Port of No Return by Michelle Saftich, I am delighted to share my review of its sequel, Wanderers No More.

“The war may be over, but the fight to belong is just beginning.

Left homeless, starving, and almost killed by the Second World War, the Saforo family are refugees fleeing Italy for a better life. The shores of Australia are calling to them and they head off, packing dreams of jobs, a home and … soccer.

But from the moment they get off the boat, adapting to the Australian way of life is harder than

it seems. Their family doesn’t speak right, eat right or even look right. As they struggle to build a simple life against the backdrop of 1950s racism, they start to wonder if they will be outsiders forever.

A true family affair, Wanderers No More will make you laugh, remind you of your family, and warm your heart.”

My thoughts:

Stories of migrant refugees form an important part of the fabric of Australian, and indeed global society, as many many millions of us have been or are refugees, refugees of war, oppression, famine or environmental catastrophe. Port of No Return describes how a small group of families from northern Italy become refugees in World War II, and in Wanderers No More, Saftich portrays the everyday life for these families from the moment they set foot in Australia. The novels fall into the genre of family history memoir, as they are based on true events and real people.

Wanderers No More is an endearing coming of age story sure to put a smile on every reader’s face. Told mostly through the eyes of young Martino Saforo, who arrives with his family in Newcastle after spending four years in various refugee camps in Europe, the novel engages from the first page. The early part of the novel describes the harsh life for European migrants sent to government-run labour camps where they are bonded for two years, the men working on infrastructure projects, including the Snowy River hydro-electricity scheme, mining and roadbuilding. Or on farms slashing sugar cane and the lucky ones in factories. Accommodation was Nissan hut style.

Wanderers No More centres on the trials and tribulations of Martino, his brothers and their friends. The women in the story, the sisters and the mothers, have lesser roles which are not developed but provide texture nevertheless. The cameo role of Martino’s ever-present Nonna represents not only the female element, but Italy itself, with all of its traditions. Through Nonna and Martino, Saftich depicts the homesickness, the coping skills, the resilience and the determination to learn Australian ways and language with enormous sensitivity and insight. Simple acts of kindness are juxtaposed with relentless ethnocentric bullying, mostly in the schoolyard. For Martino, Australia seems a harsh and unforgiving land filled with harsh and unforgiving people. Yet hope is ever present, as is Martino’s passion for soccer, which consumes much of the narrative as the novel progresses. Tragedy is ever present, a ghost at first haunting between the lines, and when it finally manifests, it strikes hard.

Throughout the novel which spans two decades, Saftich deploys emotional restraint, the narrative voice commensurate with the heart and mind of a young boy finding his way, a boy who grows up lost, confused, alienated and hurting in so many ways. Anyone familiar with This Boy’s Life by Tobias Wolff will understand the narrative approach. With its easy, engaging style, and themes of migration, alienation and belonging, this novel belongs on the set text lists in Australian schools.

Buy this book

Catch up with the author here

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RESPECT at Pave Festival

When musical duo Savannah Rose invited me to speak at their RESPECT show I was honoured and baffled all at once. What would I talk about?

With their smooth and dulcet harmonies, Suzanne Diprose and Bree Cleal sing dark and old-school country. Their awareness-raising show depicts how women are portrayed in song lyrics. They are joined by Moonshine Coalition, Heidi & Jules, and The Borrowed Boys. I needed to fit into all that and I don’t have a country bone in my body.

But I am a story teller. I’ve led a rich and interesting life. So I decided to write a five-minute memoir. My life, through the lens of song lyrics.

I’ve a tiny part in a grand event filled with fun and games and lots of laughter. The show packs a punch too. The message is strong. Especially for songwriters!

Officially endorsed by White Ribbon Australia. 

The RESPECT show’s next date is at Emerald’s Pave Festival, Thursday 6th April 2017 @ 7.30-9.30pm. $12 entry ($10 conc).

I’m donating 20% of all book sales to White Ribbon Australia to help raise awareness about domestic violence.

 

 

Lovesick re-released!

My memoir, Lovesick, came out in 2011 to popular acclaim. I decided to re-release the book and give it a new lease of life after a friend and high school teacher told me he thought it should be much more widely read.

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A wild adventure through Thatcher’s Britain, set against a backdrop of the British Indie Music Scene. Naïve, defiant and incisively witty, Isobel Blackthorn fashions her own path through the counter-culture, poverty and politics of the eighties. By turn absurdly funny, sexually charged and heartrendingly sad, Lovesick is an unforgettable, tragi-comic tale of a young woman’s search for her identity.

Pretty girl, nice smile is all Isobel can say about herself. That, and she’s working class. What matters to her is she’s different. After devouring Camus’ The Outsider she realises for reasons strange to her, she is strange to the world. And she’s searching for love. It’s a disastrous mix. Her unquenchable need for romance leads her to Lanzarote, Canary Islands, were she takes unconventionality to extremes. She’d determined to be truly herself, face her fears and go with the flow. But her obsession with the charismatic Miguel, her thirst for danger and an acquired taste for cocaine launch her into the island’s criminal underworld.

“Seen through the eyes of a woman of heart and mind, this is a story that takes the reader on a tempestuous journey through the music and politics, the frenzies and phobias of Thatcher’s England in the 1980s. The passions of the era are enacted in Isobel Blackthorn’s headlong pursuit of love and sexual fulfilment, leading her eventually to the fabled beauty of Lanzarote in the Canary Islands, a type of anti-England. The hedonism Isobel ‘adopts’ on Lanzarote as a corrective to the bleak outcomes of her political commitment and her quest for love take in, unavailingly, free-wheeling experiments with a smorgasbord of drugs. What shines through in these pages is Isobel Blackthorn’s determination, despite setbacks and episodes of despair, to engage with life truthfully. ” Robert Hillman, The Honey Thief

Here’s a trailer created by the late songsmith and troubadour Alex Legg (1952-2014)

Available in e-book format from Amazon  and Smashwords