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