Jennifer (JC-S)'s Reviews > Matryoshka

Matryoshka by Katherine Johnson
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really liked it
bookshelves: australian-womens-writers-challenge, net-galley, review-books

‘My grandmother’s life story comes to me in staccato flashes, for she refused to tell me many of the details, perhaps even the most important ones.’

Sara Rose has recently separated from her husband in Brisbane. Sarah’s grandmother, Nina Barsova, has recently died and left her cottage to Sarah. Sarah decides to return to Hobart with her daughter Ellie. She needs space in which to think about the future, and where better than the cottage in which she was raised by her grandmother at the foot of Mount Wellington. But returning to Hobart raises other issues for Sara. She is estranged from her mother, who has refused to tell her who her father was. And while Nina raised Sara lovingly, she has never known why Helena abandoned her. Sara is a geneticist: these gaps in her self-knowledge matter, and she would like some answers. This is even more important now: she may be separated from her husband, but she wants her daughter to know him.

As Sara settles into life in Hobart, she meets a number of men who have travelled to Australia by boat seeking refuge and who are waiting to have their status as refugees determined. One of those men, Abdhul, is an Afghani whose wife and children are in Pakistan. Sara befriends Abdhul and tries to help him. Sara’s friendship with Abdhul leads her to take tentative steps towards establishing a relationship with her mother. But there are family secrets to be uncovered as well.

For me, the major themes of this novel are identity, belonging and the impact of family secrets. Sara wants to find out who her father is and why her mother abandoned her. Abdhul wants a place of safety, and to be reunited with his family. Sara’s past contains secrets, some of which will be painful. And what can I say about the plight of those, such as Abdhul, who seek refuge in this country? I enjoyed this novel because of the setting, and because Ms Johnson raises some important albeit uncomfortable issues. Those issues for me include: just how important is the past in shaping the future? How do our perceptions of those around us guide our responses to their needs? How easy is it to erect the ‘us’ and ‘them’ barriers?

Note: My thanks to NetGalley and Simon & Schuster (Australia) for providing me with a free electronic copy of this book for review purposes.

Jennifer Cameron-Smith
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Reading Progress

September 20, 2018 – Started Reading
September 24, 2018 – Finished Reading
September 27, 2018 – Shelved
September 27, 2018 – Shelved as: australian-womens-writers-challenge
September 27, 2018 – Shelved as: net-galley
September 27, 2018 – Shelved as: review-books

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