The Return by Silvia Kwon
Review copy provided by publisher
Hachette Australia, March 2014
Synopsis- War ends and the world changes, as it always does. The enemy are no longer the enemy – just people living their lives. But hate is hard to extinguish. The scars of war are not always visible, and they don’t always fade. They haven’t for Merna Gibson and they definitely haven’t for her husband, Frank. He won’t ever forget what was done to him and his mates. The nightmares, the aches, the pain of seeing things a person should never see stay with him, always. The long-ago war colours their family life.
For Merna, at home on the farm, Japan is very far away. For Frank, it isn’t far enough. But their son, Paul, doesn’t carry the same beliefs. For him, Japan is a place of possibility, a country to embrace. Father and son live worlds apart even when at the same table. Hate and prejudice has created a gulf between the two.
When a woman comes into their son’s life, it is left to Merna to try to bridge the gap. Caught between the two men she loves she is determined to keep her family together, while still everything keeps changing.
Review- The return is the debut novel by Australian writer Silvia Kwon. Set in a rural town in Victoria; Merna and Frank Gibson are about to have their life turned upside-down.
Never the same since he fought to protect Australia from the Japanese during the war, Frank is a man who is content with making a life on the land. He’s temperamental and at times unpredictable, but Merna has accepted their relationship for what it is and has made a life for herself alongside her husband.
However, Frank’s patience is tested when his son not only starts working for Toyota but goes off to work in Japan for three years. From a different generation, Paul doesn’t completely understand Frank’s reticence, but then again they’ve never been close enough to share their feelings and Frank’s antagonism only encourages Paul’s rebellious streak. Merna mourns the absence of her son and she’s desperate for her family to be close and in contact. But it’s the icing on the cake when Paul returns to Australia, pulls up in his Toyota and presents his beautiful Japanese wife.
While the war is in the past, the trauma of his days fighting the Japanese is still very real for Frank. There’s a sense of betrayal and anger toward Paul for his decision. Paul on the other hand simply fell in love with a foreign woman in a foreign place and was brave enough to not only face his parents but their local community with choice he makes.
This story really surprised me. To be completely honest, when I first started reading this story I thought to myself “here we go, this story is going to be really slow and I’m going to find it boring because I can’t relate to the age group of the main characters Frank and Merna.” Interestingly, the author skilfully presents the perspective of each of the characters through the eyes of Merna and I could empathise with Frank’s hurt, Paul’s open-mindedness, Merna’s protectiveness and Miko’s curiosity. The intergenerational relationship issues, traumatic memories, and present-day family dynamics are wholeheartedly explored in a respectful and honest way. The divide of the father-son generation was profound and I must admit I felt myself siding with Paul’s openness to new experiences and his non-judgemental attitudes- though not at the expense of seeing the importance of Frank’s experience and the war that stole his youth.
A though provoking and fascinating exploration of family, identity and change. A brave debut novel by a talented Australian author.
“I loved this book!”
The Return can be purchased from Fishpond and other leading book retailers
This book was read as part of the AWW2014 challenge: