Black Rock White City

Black rock white city

Black Rock White City – A.S. Patrić (2015)

Three stars
* * *

Read me if you…

  • Fancy a tale of immigration and identity
  • Don’t mind a graphic scene or two
  • Can read a heartbreaking, emotional rollercoaster

He has been overcome before. No matter how much time passes he knows it is there, that it will descend and lay a heavy blanket of suffocation over him again. He has tried to think his way out. He has tried to allow it to wash away; ease it through to nothing. It persists, perches on a cornice of his brain, glaring down on his mind like a gargoyle. A different kind of monster. Not a flesh-eater at least. This one, a devourer of peace and soul, memories, sleep and dreams.

— A.S Patrić, Black Rock White City

Black Rock White City by A.S. Patrić wasn’t the kind of book I’d normally read. It’s dark and damaged and Patrić lures you down a rabbit hole of madness, grief, war and alienation. While I’m fine reading a thriller or crime novel, this book just felt sad. It literally had sadness seeping through to its core. Which has clearly resonated with me, so a success on that level. However, If you’re looking for something fluffy before bed, this probably isn’t the book for you.

Set in Melbourne, the reader follows the story of Jovan and Suzana who have fled their home country of Yugoslavia during a time of conflict in the 1990s. Their lives literally are blown apart and they arrive in Australia with haunting memories snapping at their heels. They’ve lost more than possessions, they’ve lost family and they seem to have lost each other.

The walls between native and immigrant becomes clear from the outset as the language barrier transforms itself into a question of intelligence. Both Jovan and Suzana were respected members of a university, both writers of poetry and literature in Yugoslavia. The reader finds them in the midst of their mundane in Australia. Suzana is a carer and Jovan is a janitor.

The infiltration of the hospital where Jovan works is the main story-line of the novel. A vigilante starts terrorising staff, carving words into cadavers, leaving hidden messages for Jovan and others to find. It uses the notion of language to taunt and undermine. A nice parallel between normal life and these (quite unrealistic) acts of malevolence.

This plot line entwines itself with the personal ‘journey’ on the side. As the ‘hammy crime thriller’ needs solving, so does the mystery and struggle with identity Jovan and Suzana are experiencing. As this progresses, more is revealed about the horrors of their past and present. Poetry extracts and flashbacks are spliced in, leaving the overall feeling of the book as one of discomfort and detachment.

I’m not sure I’d be reaching for it again any time soon. I’m glad I read it when I was commuting in Melbourne as I felt like I connected with the foreigner in a new city in Australia. But hey, give it a go yourself – if you’re looking for something raw then this is the book for you.

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