Delicious descriptions from Down Under: Arnold Zable on survival and stories

Arnold Zable is not, I believe, very well-known even in Australia, but I think he is a beautiful writer. He has a lovely way with words but, more importantly I think, his writing is warm and generous. I’ve read two of his novels – Cafe Scheherazade and Sea of many returns – and enjoyed them both. Zable was born in 1947 in New Zealand to Polish-Jewish refugees, a fact which clearly has driven his interest in human rights in general, and the migrant experience in particular. He has a new book out – Violin lessons – and so I thought now would be a good time to introduce him.

Cafe Scheherazade (2001), which is based on the stories told by Jewish refugees in the real Cafe Scheherazade in Melbourne, is, as much as anything, about survival – and, as is obvious from the title, about the importance of stories to this survival.

… but they persist with their opinions as if to argue is to know they are alive. They continue to tell their tales, as if to talk is to know they have survived.

and …

I feel the limits of my craft, the limits of what words can convey.

and …

panic … that … I would perish; and my tales would perish with me.

and, reflecting the practice of many survivors of the Holocaust (and other trauma) …

This is when the stories began to be suppressed … an urgent need to forget and to rebuild their aborted lives.

It’s a beautiful book … and well-worth reading if you ever get the chance.

PS If you Google Cafe Scheherazade Melbourne you’ll find some images (including those from a play that was adapted from the book) but I couldn’t find any that were free for me to use here.

20 thoughts on “Delicious descriptions from Down Under: Arnold Zable on survival and stories

  1. I’m currently about twenty pages from the end of ‘Violin Lessons’, and it is a wonderful book. I think one of the things I’ll be looking at in my review is the link between fiction and reality – with this collection the ever-wonderful Mr. Z is treading a fine line between creating and narrating 🙂

    • Oh great Tony … I’m glad to hear this because I have so liked his other works and that fine line is a bit of his trademark. I think he’s a journalist by trade. How did you come across this book as it’s pretty new.

      • I managed to get a review copy, one of the few I have ever received. It probably helped that I had just posted a review of ‘Scraps of Heaven’ when I asked for a copy 😉

        I’ve just finished, and I googled a few things, including Amal Basry and SIEVX, and one of the things I came up with was a eulogy to Amal Basry in The Age written by…

        …well, I’m sure you can guess.

  2. I went and heard Arnold Zable talk at the Melbourne Writer’s Festival and it was so interesting to listen to him talk about his background and how that influences his stories as well as his work as an advocate for refugees.

  3. I have read most of Arnold’s books and loved his lyrical and poetic style. I come from a similar background so his first book, ‘Jewels and Ashes’, really spoke to me. He is a passionate and eloquent writer and speaker, and does great work with students. Im glad you’ve made others aware of him.

    • Thanks Anna … it’s great hearing others come out and agree about him. The passion comes through the writing and it’s accompanied with such warmth. I can imagine he’d be great with students. I’m really sorry I can’t see/hear him this weekend.

  4. Arnold was a friend of mine when I was at Uni back in the 60s, so of course I’ve heard of him. Perhaps because he was a friend, I’ve been reluctant to read his books, so haven’t done so. I suppose I really should give his books a go.

    Also I’m familiar with Cafe Scheherazade , sadly no longer in business. We often ate there before attending concerts at the Palais Theatre in St Kilda.

    • Oh, did you? I think I can understand your reluctance, but you should give him a go. Perhaps you could read the memoir and see if you agree! I’d love to have gone to the Cafe. It only closed relatively recently didn’t it.

      • A bit of confusion here – I’m English, but I’m actually based in Melbourne 😉

        From what I’ve seen online, The Book Depository only has ‘Jewels and Ashes’, Amazon has several on Kindle (and a couple in paperback) while there are lots of second-hand copies available on Abe Books (especially of’Jewels and Ashes’). Hope that helps 🙂

        • Silly me … And how rude of me! I didn’t check your gravatar and mixed my Tonys! There’s an American Tony who likes Aus Lit and in my current blur I made a mistake! Thanks all that info, English-Aus Tony! And many apologies …

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