#TasmanianLitMonth: The Sound of One Hand Clapping

A review by guest contributor, Jim Fidler

The Sound Of One Hand Clapping by Richard Flanagan

The Sound Of One Hand Clapping, published in 1997, resonated with me on several levels. One level was as a boy growing up in Launceston, Tasmania and going to school with friends whose parents had escaped war-torn Europe to work in Tasmanian Hydro developments. Hearing Polish spoken in homes along with the very different traditional Polish food on offer, was a real eye opener. The other connection was through the setting of the novel- the isolated settlements run by the Hydro developers as the dams and power stations were built.

I spent days in the field during my university geology studies exploring the dense temperate rainforest, experiencing the extreme weather conditions and visiting mining sites old and new. Then there were my four years as Principal of Waratah Primary School, on the west coast of Tasmania. Many meetings were spent in and around the Hydro towns. Horizontal rain and being confined to indoors made for some challenging times. This was an atmosphere so clearly described by Flanagan.

The sadness and despair of isolation are clearly displayed within Flanagan’s prose. An isolation as much cultural as it was physical. Not having the language of the local workforce must have been so difficult for many immigrants given the scars they brought with them. Bojan’s consequential anger from loneliness and frustration is so acutely shown by Flanagan.

The overwhelming sadness is highlighted by both Bojan’s anger and its associated problems along with Maria’s disappearance into the wilderness, leaving her husband and daughter behind. Forever hopeful that she would not lose him as well Sonja’s distance and tenuous relationship with her father made for another layer to the narrative.

The shuffling between time frames also adds to a sense of dislocation.

This is a book that is very thought-provoking with a deep personal knowledge of its context. The title itself has always been a talking point. The sound of one hand clapping is silence. Silence in a world when one does not belong, unable to shed the trauma of war and its atrocities.

The Silence of One Hand Clapping, by Richard Flanagan, was chosen as the 1997 Australian Booksellers’ Book of the Year.

I would like to pay my respects to the traditional custodians of the land, the Palawa people of Tasmania, and to their Elders, past, present, and emerging. I acknowledge their deep spiritual connection to the land and their ongoing contributions to the culture of this nation.  

About guest contributor, Jim Fidler

Location: Wurruk, Gippsland, Victoria, Australia
Occupation: Retired school principal, teacher and education consultant

Growing up in Tasmania, reading and the pursuit of knowledge and understanding was such an important part of my formative years. This lead into a career as a teacher with a love of literature and the joys of reading.

Teaching was such a great way to share the benefits and joys of reading. It opened up so many different genres. Wonderful authors like Roald Dahl, Ray Bradbury, Brian Caswell and Tim Winton played such a key role in enjoying reading and the worlds that are out there to explore.

My own reading for pleasure outside the classroom has been extensive and varied over the years. Young adult fiction became a favourite along with the afore mentioned Tim Winton and over the past 20 years fellow Tasmanians Richard and Martin Flanagan.

I have been a fan of Richard Flanagan’s work not just as a fellow Tasmanian, but as a lover of wonderful, incisive and evocative writing.

Guest curator’s note: Jim is my father and the reason I am such a passionate reader. It has been my absolute pleasure to work alongside Dad this month as he pushed me towards titles and creators I didn’t know about, as well as reacquainting me with the places and stories of my childhood.

About guest curator, Bec Taylor

I’m Bec Taylor, the EY3 – Grade 2 cybrarian* at the International School of Beijing, China. I’m a global nomad with Australian roots and a Chinese family home – all my immediate family have lived and worked in Beijing as international school teachers for many, many years.  

Overly enthusiastic about everything especially children’s literature, Australian Rules Football (go Doggies!) and food, glorious food, I am easily bribed with coffee and dark chocolate. I am a passionate advocate of social justice, female financial literacy, and finding ways to tread more lightly on the planet. Alongside the demands of a busy family and professional life, I enjoy cultivating community through volunteer work that focuses on healthy families.

I am the current Chair of the Chinese international schools reading promotion, the Panda Book Awards. Titles chosen for the shortlists of the Panda Book Awards meet selection criteria that focus on social justice, diversity and inclusion by up and coming authors and illustrators from across the world. There is an added spotlight on titles that feature Asian settings, characters or creators. 

Twitter is my favourite professional development space so please come find me there: @becinthelibrary

The educational hills I will die on are:

  • a child’s right to choose what they love to read,
  • there is serious magic in reading aloud,
  • and the belief that schools are happier, more equitable places with better academic outcomes when the properly funded school library is well staffed with qualified, collaborative and passionate professionals.

*a fancy name that formalises and acknowledges the incredible work teacher librarians do each day to find authentic ways to integrate and explore educational technology in order to capture, expand, and enhance student learning.

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