By Peter Purchase
Dune Publications, $62.02, 408 pages
In The Albatross Necklace, Peter Purchase has constructed a rather unique novel. Written in two parts, which are almost separate stories, one single character’s personal history unifies everything. In Part I, the reader meets Lennard Currie, an indigenous Australian with one blue eye. He has come to believe that he is a descendent of Gerrit de Waal, a senior carpenter aboard the Zuytdorp, a Dutch ship which sank and stranded survivors off the Australian coast in the 1700’s. Now Lennard, an internationally recognized glassblower, invites a down-on-his-luck glass technician named Stefan Novak to help Lennard construct a massive cenotaph to commemorate the deaths of approximately 20,000 Aborigines during Australia’s colonial times. During the years they construct the sculpture, Stefan discovers Lennard’s past as a member of the Malgana tribe in a land not that far removed from its colonial days. He also discovers Lennard is a descendent of a Dutch survivor from a very different world. Part I closes with Lennard choosing Stefan to write about de Waal’s life from the research Lennard has accumulated over his lifetime.
Part II finds Stefan revising his novel about de Waal’s life. Indeed, most of Part II involves a minor character listening to or reading extended passages of Stefan’s novel, a unique way to deliver de Waal’s story to the reader.
The Albatross Necklace is a diamond in the rough. Truthfully, this novel could benefit from a firm editor’s polish, especially in Part II where one character correctly notes that the novel reads more like a treatise. Furthermore, some readers will agree with that character when she argues that some passages should be cut. That said, the book appears to be meticulously researched. The character of Lennard is particularly compelling as he tries to understand these divergent elements of his past and how they shaped him. Finally, the author shows great sensitivity in addressing issues that affect not only Australians, but all cultures that have had experiences with colonization and domination of indigenous peoples.
Reviewed by Annie Peters