Valerie Murray, born Valika Morelli in Hungary during World War II and, for the past half century, wife of poet Les Murray, has written an enchanting memoir of her early life in Europe and Australia. The description ‘enchanting’ is used deliberately. The brothers Grimm and their terrifying tales are deployed throughout the work. The metaphor extends to the writing style – spaced paragraphs of fractured nightmarish episodes interspersed with mordant humour.
Murray began to write about ‘the early me and how I got this way’ in 2003. With her parents both in nursing homes and deteriorating mentally, the project gathers urgency.
There are two children at the heart of this work; Valerie and her younger brother, Steve, both damaged by the war. Steve never fully recovers. His life is dogged by depression and a lack of self-esteem. Valerie too has suffered from depression and anxiety attacks. Identity is a confounding variable. The mother, Berta, is German-Swiss; the father, Gino Morelli, Hungarian with Italian antecedents. He is declared missing in action, presumed dead, after the failed Nazi invasion of Soviet Russia. Due to his skiing prowess and ability to survive harsh winters, Gino manages to walk home.