01 September 2009

The Sisters Antipodes - A Memoir

by Jane Alison

Allen and Unwin. Adult Non-Fiction, Biographical. Paperback rrp $32.99

Guest Reviewer - Anastasia Gonis

This is a spellbinding, painful dissection of self; a compelling and courageous memoir. It is related by Jane, one of the elder daughters of two families who inflicted unspeakable damage on their children through adult betrayal.

They all began as close friends and the two families were identical in many ways. Both had two daughters each, of which the eldest, Jane and Jenny, were very similar in looks and shared the same birthday. The fathers had powerful, diplomatic positions that demanded extensive travel and a lifestyle of luxury and privilege. Later, with their new partners, both had a son, almost at the same time.

The shift in the family structure meant that the fathers swapped wives and replaced their own daughters with the others’ children, leaving their own girls in shock, ‘a silent, numb shock, like a crack inside stone, not enough to split it but inside, quietly fissuring’, thus to war a lifetime with feelings of displacement and loss of identity, deep resentment and worthlessness; unable to love or be loved.

The most shocking thing appears to be that both sets of parents seemed oblivious or indifferent to the desolation and the wreckage they left behind; that the fathers too easily accepted the exchange of children. This is reflected by the infrequent correspondence and personal visits with their own daughters over the years, and the overall lack of interest shown in their biological children.

Jane holds nothing back and the writing is exquisite, so that the reader is caught between the beauty and eloquence of the writing and the simultaneous caustic yet cleansing nature of the narration. So much so, that by the end of the book, the reader wants to run out and search for everything else this author has created.

This is a not-to-be-missed memoir of high standard. Make time to read it in one sitting if possible. It will be hard to put down.


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