I was reading one of Arnold Zable’s articles at the Age and at the bottom it said that Scraps of Heaven was his last novel. The wonderful thing about the internet is you can go straight to your library, find the book, reserve it and pick it up a few days later.
More often than not I find myself picking up recently published novels and putting them down after 50 or so pages. You just think, oh, I’ve seen this done a hundred times before. Or the novel is so self consciously written, with a view to winning awards and being lauded to the skies by like minded people, that you wonder, doesn’t anyone follow Dr Johnson’s famous rule on writing: whenever you are particularly fond of a sentence, then strike it out?
My last attempt at such a novel was by a runner up in the Vogel award. I read barely five pages before becoming exhausted with it. It read like something that had been workshopped to absolute death.
Anyhoo, happily I made it to the end of Scraps of Heaven. It’s really quite a good novel. Written in an impressionistic, elegiac style (there is not much dialogue) it describes a young 12 year old’s growing up in inner city Melbourne in the 1950’s. Joshua’s parents, Romek and Zofia, are Polish refugees, survivors of the Nazi camps.
The novel concentrates more on the mother, who has the most dreadful memories. The constant refrain of her singing, Enjoy yourselves/ Enjoy yourselves/ It’s later than you think, makes her portrait all the more poignant. You just know that these deeply traumatized people can never, ever be the same again, no matter what.
I am presuming that Arnold Zable’s parents were Holocaust survivors. The whole novel has that ring of being heartfelt and true. You can feel the constant weight of having Holocaust survivors as parents on Joshua’s shoulders. The ABC once showed a doco about the children of Holocaust survivors and the impact it has on them. I also recall an interview with Ruby Wax (her parents fled the Nazis just in the nick of time) where she said she never talked about the Holocaust. It’s too traumatic to even speak about.
Scraps of Heaven also has lots of local colour. There are plenty of descriptions of Carlton streets, running for trams, shopping at the Vic Market.
Arnold Zable has admirably documented one aspect of the Australian experience. Readers of his novel will find it a rewarding experience.