Pickle to Pie
Hira Press, $26.95 pb, 246 pp
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.
There is much delightful detail about German cultural practices – cooking and food in particular, and his grandmother’s knowledge of herbs and natural healing – and a well-observed account of working-class Australian life in the first half of the twentieth century. The suffering of the unemployed during the Depression of the 1930s is well drawn, as Frederick frantically seeks work. There are some editing oversights that slightly mar the book for me, the most egregious being the remark made by a character during World War II (when the name-change from Fritschenburg to Fraser is under discussion) that, ‘Queen Victoria changed her family name from Gotha to Windsor after the last war’. Victoria died in 1901; her grandson George V was on the throne during World War II and the family name, in full, was SaxeCoburg Gotha.