Autobiographical account of the changes observed in Australian society in the years following World War II as experienced by the author and his family after leaving Hungary. The author's return to Budapest in 1990 prompts comparisons to the situation in Australia.
Riemer, a thoughtful Australian critic and professor (English/Sydney Univ.), turns to autobiography, presenting a literate, considered work with a curious evasion. Born in Budapest in 1936 to well-to-do parents, Riemer arrived in 1946 with mother and father in provincial Sydney, a displaced person with no knowledge of English. That lack, and confusion regarding the manners and mores of the antipodeans surrounding him, promptly landed him in a class for incompetent students, where he started his cultural osmosis into the world down under. His well-crafted narrative, despite the local argot ("the chocko-covered dunny under a superb jacaranda") and references to writers often best appreciated by the locals, is finally cosmopolitan. A visit to his birthplace 44 years after leaving it acts as a Proustian madeleine that unleashes memories of a half-remembered past and fully prolix ruminations. Child of a secular Jewish family, later confirmed as a communicant of the Church of England, Riemer, in his tale of assimilation, ultimately depicts a human Mobius strip; there's no inside, no outside, just a continuum. His analyses of Mittel European lifestyle, the meaning of citizenship, a migrant's disorientation, and the effect of memory, true or false, are fine. But one wonders through to the end of the book: What happened during the reign of the Nazis and then the Russians? How did the Riemers survive well enough to revive a subscription to the opera and later to make the first-class voyage to the other side of the globe? (There is a photo of the author's father in military uniform in 1942, but how did he contrive to get into and out of the costume?) The writing about cultural identity couldn't be nicer, but unavoidably one is left with a lingering disquiet because, despite veiled references to a world of brutality left behind, the otherwise frank autobiographer never describes the transcendent facts of his Central European life. (Kirkus Reviews)