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George Dunford

Pickle to Pie by Glenice Whitting & The Whisper of Leaves by K.S. Nikakis

April 2008, no. 300

In Glenice Whitting’s début novel, a dying man, Frederick, recalls his childhood in Footscray from before World War I to the end of his life at the close of the twentieth century. The theme is the split identity of an Australian-born man who has strong connections to his German heritage. His formative influence is his charismatic grandmother who raises him when he is rejected by his mother. This remains the centre of his personality even when, as he grows older, he craves acceptance as an Australian. Frederick is more like a first-generation immigrant than a second, especially as the grandmother names him Frederick Joseph Heinrich Frank Fritschenburg, a name destined to become a burden in his childhood as Australia succumbs to rabid anti-German propaganda during World War I. A similar predicament impels the family to change their name to Fraser.

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In the acknowledgments to this collection of short stories, Stephanie Green tells us that these stories came to her over sixteen years. Several stories draw on her life as a teacher, academic and freelance writer. There are university yarns and staffroom intrigue, along with busy pieces from family history. Overall, these are stories of women in states of change: a wife, returning to the childhood farm, considers leaving her husband; a faded jazz singer reflects on the highs and lows of her career; an artist returns to her roots in the country.

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Australian novels about World War I are typically tales of youth sacrificed and innocence destroyed in foreign lands for the Commonwealth. A good example is David Malouf’s coming-of-age novella, Fly Away Peter (1981). Nation and character matured simultaneously in the necessary baptism of fire. From the outset, John Charalambous’s second novel, Silent Parts, proves itself to be atypical and complex, with a forty-something anti-hero caught up in the not-so-Great War.

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