Once, Only the Swallows Were Free by Gabrielle Gouch (
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Twenty five years after she left her native land, the author, now an Australian, returns to visit her long lost half-brother, Tom. An erudite man cursed with a limp but blessed with insight.
The years of separation stand like a wall of tangled weeds between them, but he eventually opens up. In a cosy room with red Persian carpets and photographs of his mother, whom he has never known, gentle Tom shares stories of his life, often funny, sometimes heartbreaking but never self-pitying.
Though the story is factual, the author uses her strong eye for detail and the techniques of fiction to create this engaging and thought-provoking account about ordinary people who have lived through war, fascism, communism and the transition to capitalism.
The story explores issues of identity, disability, emigration and family relationships against a background of the major political events of the time, from a perspective that challenges some accepted views.
Through a gripping and beautifully written personal history, Gabrielle Gouch succeeds in creating a memoir as strange, rich and fascinating as fiction. This story moves beyond the life of a family, it depicts neighbours and friends, colourful characters who breathe life into the times.