Stone by stone the basilica was being dismantled in order to be put back together again. Each stone was painted with a number and laid with care onto pallets spread over the ground...I kept thinking about those numbered stones. Some purpose began to take shape. I began to wonder if I might re-trace and recover something of my own past, to reassemble it in the manner of the basilica. It was a matter of looking to see if any of the original building blocks remained, and where I might find them.
? A History of Silence is a book about a country and a broken landscape. It's about the devastation in Christchurch, after the 2011 earthquake. It's about how easily we erase stories we find inconvenient. It's about the fault lines which that cataclysmic event opened up in Lloyd Jones' understanding of his own family history.
In A History of Silence Jones embarks on a quest for the truth about his family. What happened? Why do there seem to be so few stories? Why are there so few mementos? The answers he finds are completely unexpected and change everything.
Read Caroline Baum's Review
The Christchurch Earthquake caused more than buildings to crumble and the very earth to liquefy. It opened up chasms in a family's memories and exposed its long buried secrets. In this remarkable unsettling and sad, sad memoir, Lloyd Jones harnesses his unsentimental, unvarnished prose to exhuming the tragic truth around his mother's yearning for her own mother and to a closer examination of the unhappiness that corroded his family without ever being named. A painful book to read, and, one imagines, an even more painful one to write.
By the end, far more than the ground has shifted.
About the Author
Lloyd Jones was born in New Zealand in 1955. His best-known novel is Mister Pip, which won the 2007 Commonwealth Writers' Prize, the 2008 Kiriyama Prize Fiction Category, the 2008 Montana Award for Readers Choice, the Montana Fiction Award and the Montana Medal for Fiction or Poetry. It was also shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize, and has been made into a major feature film, directed by Andrew Adamson (Shrek and Narnia). His other books include Hand Me Down World, The Book of Fame-which won the Deutz Medal for Fiction at the 2001 Montana New Zealand Book Awards and the Tasmania Pacific Fiction Prize-Here at the End of the World We Learn to Dance and Biografi. He has also published a collection of short stories, The Man in the Shed. Lloyd Jones lives in Wellington.
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"There might have been more to tell if more had been shared, if questions had been asked, if information had been offered and passed along at the moment it lit up in memory. But the family trait was silence. Great wreaths of it were wound around our lives and stuffed in the windows and hallway of our parents' house, and that is what was absorbed, that and, speaking for myself, a finely tuned ability to gauge the air in the room which at any moment might explode with the slam of a door"
A History of Silence is a memoir by New Zealand author, Lloyd Jones. Asked by a BBC radio producer to comment on the Christchurch earthquake of February, 2011, Jones travels there from his home in an old Auckland shoe factory to observe, perhaps to help? What he sees sets off a need inside him to discover the true history of his family, of which little has ever been revealed.
Jones turns his wonderful talent for descriptive prose to this memoir of his forebears: "I have never felt as lightly tethered to the earth as when the nor-wester is at full bombastic strength. Even my face feels rearranged – I can feel the nose bone sticking up and the wrong patch of skin where the forehead normally sits. Eyelids have to be prised open. The nose drips"
His research takes him to Pembroke Dock in search of a paternal grandfather allegedly "lost at sea", but his narrative also tends to go off on loosely-related tangents, like relating a visit to Russia to meet his wife's ancestors. In his search, he regularly draws parallels with both the earthquake and, later, Nathaniel Hawthorne's The Scarlet Letter. Thus it takes a while to reach the most interesting part: the court transcript of his maternal grandmother's divorce.
"Of course the earthquake struck when and where it did, and to the naked eye of course the pattern of bad luck would seem random, unless of course you knew about the old city map indicating ancient subterranean waterways, and of course I would find myself born into a world of silence because that is precisely what the shamed bestows upon the progeny – a wilful forgetting"
Different values in a different world. Fascinating.
Jones manages to weave the disaster of the Christchurch earthquake with the story of his own ancestry, both springing from hitherto unrecognised fault lines. Of particular significance to this reader who was born in Christchurch and has recently traced another very personal family saga. A very interesting and satisfying narrative.
'Jones is a daring writer who can be relied on to ignore expectation, and is becoming one of the most interesting, honest and thought-provoking novelists working today.' Guardian 'Poetically observed detail and an affecting evocation of the past will reward readers interested in the way our history (even, or especially, that which we don't know about) can shape us.' Bookseller and Publisher 'This is a poetic and deeply felt musing about what can be discovered, or what can simply be remembered, and the effect this has on one's purview. Set against the literal and figurative backdrop of the 2011 earthquake that devastated Christchurch and that shook his own foundation, Jones's memoir is a melancholy and luscious exploration of the amnesia that allows us to move forward in life.' Booklist 'A knockout, a fresh and immaculately paced study of the process by which old information becomes new, and one of the bravest and best-written memoirs I have read.' Telegraph 'This memoir of a family life of secrets is an evocative and lyrical piece of writing that springs to life at the first page and never lets up...Jones is an intriguing and unpredictable writers, and this memoir is almost poetic in its stark and literary quality...An exquisitely written [book] and one that is remarkably well crafted.' 5 star review Good Reading 'It would be difficult to think of another novelist as original or fearless as...Lloyd Jones.' Monthly 'A History of Silence quickly establishes itself as a captivating memoir...Jones has written a brave and remarkable tribute to his forbears.' Readings Monthly 'Memoir shrinks themes and holds them close to the bone. It brings out the poet in Jones as he scours family letters and bureaucratic records in New Zealand and Wales for clues. It's a meandering investigation...but with Jones the meandering is a pleasurable experience, gently paced and studded with lovely phrasing.' Weekend Australian 'The stories Jones uncovers speak of loss, displacement, unbearable sadness, but also courage.' Canberra Times 'Jones skilfully gives the reader the point of view of the growing child making the best of things in a charmless Wellington suburb, but as the child becomes the man...the book gathers an urgency and poignancy that at times becomes as painful as pulling flesh across barbed wire, and we become aware the lineaments of grand tragedy can be found in the back streets of Lower Hutt.' Otago Daily Times 'A History of Silence is as strange, wilful and compelling as his fiction.' Saturday Age/Sydney Morning Herald/Canberra Times 'Throughout this brilliant memoir the ultimate impact of the book lies with how openly and humanely Jones responds, as an author and a son, to a truer picture of his family. In this, it does what I suspect we'd like all family memoirs to do. Before filling the silence, it listens for what might lie behind it.' Australian Book Review 'Scenes from Jones's childhood bubble up into consciousness, circle and are absorbed back into his search for the truth that lay behind them. It's this most of all that give Silence its poetic, haunting quality.' NZ Books 'Those who enjoy quality literature should savour this deeply moving and beautifully communicated memoir.' Library Journal 'Achingly poetic.' Seattle Times
Number Of Pages: 288
Published: 21st August 2013
Country of Publication: AU
Dimensions (cm): 23.39 x 15.3 x 2.1
Weight (kg): 23.4