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Sound of One Hand Clapping Paperback – April 27, 2001

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Tasmania--vast, mysterious, like "the unknown country of the heart"--is the setting for this powerful tale of a father and daughter who struggle to rise above the forces of history and personal tragedy. Sonja Buloh barely remembers the night 35 years ago when her mother, Maria, walked out the door of their crude hut in the dismal construction camp at remote Butlers Gorge, never to return. The mystery and heartache surrounding that event echo through Sonja's young life all the way to 1989-90, when the pregnant Sonja returns from mainland Australia, longing to see Tasmania and her estranged father. Bojan Buloh was just another "reffo" from a Slovenia ravaged by WWII, recruited "to do the wog work of dam-building," when he found himself the lone parent of three-year-old Sonja. Bojan's poverty and his memories of his wife and of wartime atrocities made Sonja's childhood difficult; his brief hopes for another marriage were dashed, and Bojan fell into drinking and beating his daughter. Sonja's painful memories mix with those of her sober artie's (the affectionate Slovenian word for father) tenderness and his inspired woodworking ("his hands knew a restraint which lent him grace"). Though her father cannot articulate his suffering (one of the themes here is the inadequacy of words to express the totality of existence), she remains bound to him in deep understanding of his despair. Only after confrontations, revelations and Bojan's symbolic and apocalyptic rebirth is the past redeemed and the pair reconciled. Australian writer Flanagan (Death of a River Guide) brilliantly illuminates the lives of those who are "forgotten by history, irrelevant to history, yet shaped entirely by it." His characters here transform tragedy as they discover their individual worth. (Mar.) FYI: Flanagan won the Australian Booksellers Book of the Year Award for The Sound of One Hand Clapping. He directed a film, released in Australia and Germany, based on the novel.
Copyright 2000 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Library Journal

Winner of the Australian Booksellers Book of the Year in 1997, this, Flanagan's second book, relates the story of Slovenian immigrant Bojan Buloh and his daughter, Sonja. Buloh, scarred by the World War II horrors he has witnessed, emigrates with his wife, Maria, to labor on Tasmania's hydro dams. When Sonja is three, Maria walks out into a blizzard and is never seen again. Written in poetic prose, sometimes verging on purple, the book's 86 short chapters veer wildly back and forth, often with no apparent purpose, from 1954 to the 1960s and on to 1990. There are some stunning set pieces--a tiny abandoned girl methodically breaking her tea set--but the story is largely one of repetitive brutality and alienation. The inarticulate and alcoholic Buloh, longing for the absent Maria and haunted by visions of evil, beats the teenage Sonja until she freezes all feeling. Collections of immigrant fiction will want this; for others, it is optional.
---Judith Kicinski, Sarah Lawrence Coll. Lib., Bronxville, NY
Copyright 2000 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

Product Details

  • Paperback: 425 pages
  • Publisher: Grove Press; Reprint edition (April 27, 2001)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0802137849
  • ISBN-13: 978-0802137845
  • Product Dimensions: 1.2 x 5.5 x 8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.1 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (116 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #259,035 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

29 of 29 people found the following review helpful By cindyramone on March 4, 2002
Format: Paperback
The story begins with Maria, who is leaving her daughter, Sonja, and husband, Bojan. Forever. The images and sounds of the snow falling as she leaves her daughter are absolutely one of the finest passages I have read in a long time. I went back to it after I finished the book and it meant so much more. I could feel the snow and the despair of this family acutely the second time. Richard Flanagan takes us through present and past to tell this story, using prose that speaks like poetry. There were sentences I just read repeatedly because they were written so well. It is a sad book, beyond heartbreaking at times when we see how much hurt each member of this family has borne. There were times when I hated Bojan as much as his daughter did, but when his full story is revealed, he must be understood and forgiven.
The book ends with hope and redemption, and it is believeable and welcome. This book, its characters, images, and symbolism in the writing, are unforgettable.
This is another example of a superior novel that begs to be read by a larger audience.
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33 of 34 people found the following review helpful By sallyann on March 17, 2000
Format: Hardcover
Absolutely beautiful story of people who lose each other and the heartbreaking, vulnerable steps taken to find each other again.
I found that real emotion pored out of this book of real people, people with flaws, people who can't say the words that they know others need to hear. So much of the style reminded me of Alice Hoffman's books. An absolute beautiful story that I won't tire of reading.
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14 of 14 people found the following review helpful By Larry L. Looney on May 13, 2002
Format: Hardcover
The reviewer below who recommends that this novel not be read lightly or quickly has hit the nail right on the head. It's not so much that the subject matter is hard to grasp -- it's the fact that the author's well-crafted images, and the portrayal of the deep emotions experienced by the characters demand the reader's full attention. This is not something to be read lightly.
The novel is set in Tasmania, and centers around a young woman named Sonja Buloh, focusing on three periods of her life -- as a very young child living in the company of both her parents; as a slightly older child living with her father, after her mother walks out on them both during a fierce snowstorm; and as an adult, returned to Tasmania from Sydney, pregnant and filled with questions about her relationship with her difficult father, Bojan Buloh, an immigrant from Slovenia.
Much of the difficulty in their relationship stems from the intense pain and suffering experienced and witnessed by her father (and her mother, Maria) in their homeland, Slovenia, during World War II. The atrocities they have witnessed have scarred their psyches forever, like white-hot wires laid across their memories. Maria basically shuts down at long last, giving up on the dreams she has entertained about a 'new life' in Australia, seeing her husband slaving away on a hydro dam project -- work that seems to be reserved for 'wogs' like themselves.
Bojan has no idea of how to deal with the pain inside him. He feels inadequately eqipped to speak of it -- words mystify and then anger him in his inability to weild them to his satisfaction.
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13 of 13 people found the following review helpful By Roger J. Carter on December 4, 2001
Format: Hardcover
This is an impressive novel. The story of a post-war Slovenian immigrant family whose lives gradually fall apart. The journey of the main character (Sonja) and her father (Bojan) towards some kind of redemption, and a regaining of some meaning in their lives. (See other reviews for fuller plot descriptions). The quality of the writing occasionally reaches a quality I can only call stunning. Having said this, Flanagan's literary aspirations almost fail to come off in some passages as he seeks to wring every nuance of emotion out of a scene. This is far outweighed by the positives however, and I would rate one chapter in particular (I won't tell you which!) as one of the finest pieces of prose I have read anywhere!. As another reviewer has noted, this is a 'literary' read and not for the faint hearted. Those of us who actually live where the novel is set have the added bonus imagining the action in the precise geographical context that Flanagan himself had in mind. An appreciation of the harsh contradictions in Tasmanian history, climate and geography goes a long way to enhancing the appreciation of this fine novel. Regardless of this Tasmanian setting (which is extremely important in all Flanagan's work) any serious reader will be well rewarded by a careful reading of his fine literary craftsmanship.
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11 of 11 people found the following review helpful By Daniel Myers VINE VOICE on March 20, 2011
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
This, the third of Flanagan's books I have read - after the brilliant Gould's Book of Fish and Death of A River Guide - is, like them, preoccupied with the harrowing lives of individuals in Tasmania's brutal history as well as with using their lives as a synecdoche for the lives of us all. Also, like the other books, there is a poetic fascination with death in the stylised writing coupled with a disdain for what one might call the Jane Austen approach to life, the notion, masterfully rendered, that civilisation and mannerisms amount to nothing at all aside from self delusory window dressing.

But this book is also very different than the other two in lacking what I can only describe as a poetic fierceness defiantly facing death's onrushing triumph. The book is certainly poetic, but rather sloppily so at times - astute readers will note recurrent cribs from T.S Eliot's The Waste Land: "mixing memory and desire," "the pearls of his eyes" (actually a crib of Eliot's from Shakespeare's The Tempest) etc. - and the telling of Sonja's and father Bojan's dark history is so mind-numbingly bleak that it is - as an Australian writer has written in an otherwise glowing review - "almost unbearable." It has the poetry, but not the poetic energy of the other two books. This is the best way I know to put it.

Finally, there is what is called the "redemptive" ending about which one wonders, or I do. How long can the idyllic setting with which the book ends endure the hell that is life throughout the rest of the book?

How long before descriptions such as this one of the human condition prevail once again?
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