Black Rock White City is a difficult book to sum up, as there are so many themes and ideas at play. But I’ll do my best to do justice to this unique read.
Set in Melbourne’s suburbs, Black Rock White City follows a couple, Jovan and Suzana, who have fled war in Sarajevo. Not far into the story, it emerges that they lost more than their homes during the war – their two children also died.
These deaths shape the lives of the couple, who struggle to maintain normality as they cope with their loss.
In Australia, they also confront violence at the hospital and instability where Jovan works, when strange and poetic graffiti appears on walls, floors and medical equipment. The unexpected acts of vandalism eventually result in greater disturbances and acts of violence.
The book reflects the immigrant experience and the challenges faced by those escaping their own tragedies and it is hard not to think of those seeking asylum in our waters.
I was very affected by Jovan and Suzana’s situation, and their difficulties relating to each other after the trauma they had endured. AS Patric holds the two at a distance, and I interpreted this as a reflection of their inability to communicate with each other after the death of their children. In one passage of the book, he suggests that by talking of their children, it made their deaths seem less important.
An interesting element of the book was the way AS Patric treated Jovan’s infidelity. Rather than casting Jovan as an adulterer who was hurting his wife, he was sensitive to both Jovan and Suzana, who were coping in the best ways they could. Their love was clear in the way they each allowed the other to bear their grief in their own ways, with little judgement or accusation. The idea of right and wrong is murky in a relationship which has endured such sadness.
There is a darkness to the book that not all readers would enjoy, but I found that this tone suited the kind of story that was being told, of confusion, regret, sadness, violence, and eventually, hope. I thought Black Rock White City was very thought-provoking and enjoyed it for its unusual approach to relationships, the familiarity of its suburban Melbourne setting and its compassion, but would not recommend it to anyone who wants a light and airy read. It is challenging, but satisfying.