For a Chinese reader accustomed to dramatic, breath-taking plots, Australian author Alexander McPhee Miller's "Landscape of Farewell" (2007) is not an enticing choice. But its Chinese translation published this January proves to be a fascinating book as the author leads the reader in a journey of self-salvation.
The opening pages depict Max Otto, an old German professor who recently lost his wife, carefully preparing his suicide after a final reading of a thesis on genocide. But his life is totally changed when Vita McLelland, a feisty Australian academic, harshly criticizes Otto's thesis.
The two strike up a surprising friendship, and Otto is introduced to McLelland's uncle Dougald Gnapun, who turns out to be an Aboriginal community leader.
There are two intertwined story lines: One is blurred and hidden on Otto's family history; the other heavy and realistic about a slaughter in Australia. The stories cross the boundaries of time, race and memory, calling on the reader to examine tragedies in mankind's history.
Throughout his life, Otto cannot gather courage to find out what roles his father played in the genocide in World War II, though he has been fascinated by the topic of genocide.
What makes the novel thought-provoking is the concept of "accomplice in crime". Otto and other people of the younger generation didn't take part in the genocide but their silence and unconscious efforts to forget that part of history allow the crimes to spread.
The author is wise in keeping Otto's father a blurry image, which symbolizes the dark history in Germany. In contrast, he gives full play to the story of Gnapun's great-grandfather, a mighty warrior who led his people to kill white settlers because they were destroying the Aboriginals' heritage without knowing it.
The slaughter is told differently from the rest of the book and takes on an epic tone. By recording Gnapun's story and following him on a perilous journey to search for his ancestor's remains, Otto finally gains confidence in facing his own history.
"Landscape of Farewell" is Miller's third novel published in China. The 73-year-old said he was very touched by the enthusiasm for his books in the country when he won the 2008 Weishanhu Award for Best Foreign Novels in Beijing this February.
(China Daily June 9, 2009)