A young Aboriginal girl wears an abaya because she wants to see how it feels to inhabit someone else’s experience, someone else’s history. An exiled Iraqi musician plays a piano in a shopping centre in suburban Melbourne. Native Americans protesting the construction of a pipeline on their traditional lands are shot at with water cannons and rubber bullets. Countries are lost, sacred sites invaded by careless tourists, lines on maps exclude and dispossess, sacrifices and compromises are made, and individual lives are disfigured by historical circumstance.
Leaping back and forth in time, spanning continents and cultures, and inhabiting shifting perspectives, Anna Krien’s first novel is a high-wire performance. With its vast historical rigging, epic scope, ethical complexity, and kaleidoscopic view, Act of Grace is enormously ambitious; everything rests on the execution and the stakes are high. The reader watches, breath held, as the novel unspools, but Krien is a skilled funambulist; her step is sure, and she does not fall.