A profound and moving story about the land, the past, exile and acceptance.
Alex Miller has twice won the prestigious Miles Franklin Literary Award, Australia's premier literary prize; the first occasion in 1993 for The Ancestor Game, and again in 2003 for Journey to the Stone Country. He is also an overall winner of the Commonwealth Writers' Prize, for The Ancestor Game, in 1993. British by birth, he now lives in Victoria.
Readers familiar with Journey to the Stone Country will feel a comforting sense of deja vu right from the start of Alex Miller's superb new novella. In the first paragraph of both titles the main character stands contemplating their reflection in a hallstand mirror. Both are historians, and both are alone. But while Annabelle Beck had come home to find her husband had walked out, Professor Max Otto, the main character in Landscape of Farewell, is about to leave a home made empty by his wife's death. Max, an elderly German academic, has come to the end of a disappointing career, and is now resigned to delivering a second-rate valedictory paper about massacres in history, which he knows is ‘concocted from yesterday's leftovers.' Duty done, he will then return home and take his own life. But the end of his speech is interrupted by Vita McLelland, a visiting Australian academic who angrily accuses him of ignoring the massacres of her own Aboriginal people. Max is fascinated by the no-nonsense Vita, who bullies him into visiting Australia for an international conference. After the conference, she takes him to stay with her uncle Dougald Gnapun, an Aboriginal elder who lives in a remote township in the central highlands of Queensland. At first Max is dismayed by the primitive conditions and the preoccupied silence of Dougald as he struggles with the troubles of his people. But Max finds comfort in the simple daily household chores, and an unspoken bond slowly grows between the two widowed men- almost like an old married couple. Both share a common inability to come to terms with the past. Max cannot forget his traumatic wartime childhood in Germany and the death of his beloved wife, and Dougald is troubled by conflicting memoires of a violent but loving father, and the burden of a terrible secret passed on by his grandfather. Like Annabelle and Bo in Journey to the Stone Country, the two men undertake not just an exhausting physical trip, but a spiritual journey, when the time comes for Dougald to revisit his grandfather's resting place in the mountains. This book is a truly remarkable achievement. In only 220 pages of unhurried, exquisitely paced storytelling Miller has enriched universal themes such as love, ageing, memory and friendship, with particularly Australian themes such as colonial violence, inter-racial relationships, Indigenous history, and reconciliation. The result is a book that will resonate with readers all over the world. Graeme Moore is a freelance writer and online bookseller
Alex Miller is a wonderful writer, one that Australia has been
keeping secret from the rest of us for too long. Landscape of
Farewell is at once elegiac and bracing and, as always,
limpidly written. -- John Banville
Landscape of Farewell provides a compelling account of interactions between past and present... with luminous descriptions of place, dryly matter-of-fact evocations of character and incident, and humorous affectation for human foibles and perverseness... By the end of the novel we are glad to have known its numerous characters. * Times Literary Supplement *