Between Mexico and Poland
Picador, $30 pb, 442 pp
Lily Brett a beguiler. Little by little, she draws you into her world until you become as fascinated by it as she is. In this series of recollections of such places as Mexico, New York and Poland, she intertwines past and present to become our guide in a kind of travelogue of the soul. She does not just observe, but processes and filters everything through a dramatic persona.
Brett moved to New York from Melbourne more than a decade ago, and has produced several books since then. Her reputation as a writer has continued to deepen as she has become the voice of the children of Holocaust survivors. Beginning with her first novel, Things Could Be Worse (1990), she has explored and explained the profound effect Hitler’s murder of six million Jews has had not only on its survivors, but also on their descendants.
Surprisingly, the chapter on Mexico is faintly irritating. It describes the minutiae of domestic life to no great purpose. The observations seem to be made through the eyes of a New Yorker uncomfortable outside her comfort zone: ‘I think I was expecting towns with police stations and hospitals. And road rules. Not dogs and donkeys and dust. And tacos being fried on the side of the road.’ Even Americans, one imagines, know enough about their closest neighbours’ way of life not to be uneasy around them. The short, punchy sentences set up heightened expectations that are not met by the bland observations on Mexico and Brett’s daily routine. You wait for something to happen, but it never does.