By Rama Gaind
PS News Books
The Idea of Home
By John Hughes (Giramondo Publishing, $24.95, softcover, 224 pages)
This prize-winning autobiographical novel features unembellished recollections from John Hughes of growing up in the Hunter Valley coal-mining town of Cessnock.
It chronicles how the family narratives affected his childhood, shaped his imagination, determined his idea of himself as a student in Newcastle followed by a prestigious scholarship at Cambridge University.
His home was dominated by memories of the Ukraine, which his family was forced to flee during World War II.
Hughes intertwines five essays and poetically delivers a memoir that deepens the value of a modern-day confession, shattering some home truths on narrow-mindedness in Europe and Australia.
Mulling over the cliché ‘home is where the heart is’, Hughes uncovers a weird and wonderful love story, as he remembers bits, fragments, slivers of his upbringing. Dazzling reflections conjure images with vibrant intensity.
The Idea of Home, written over a decade, is the NSW winner of the 2012 National Year of Reading awards. His deliberations are deeply moving.
Hughes speaks of loving his grandfather whose influence was intellectual, but he couldn’t talk this way with his father.
“While my father talks I say nothing. The beer has made us close and I remember a school night in Maitland, or perhaps in Singleton, watching his greyhounds race and eating a pie and shaking vinegar on my chips ... I remember being carried into the house, the warmth of my father’s body, his sports coat itchy against my face.
“Why do such things stay? ... The things I learned from him you couldn’t get from talking (how do you teach openness, responsibility, curiosity, loyalty, respect, integrity, attachment, temper?). They were inherited bodily, transferred like rubbings: his mannerisms, gestures, actions, values. The things I do whose origins I can see...”
Edition 313, 15 May 2012
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