Book Review: A Break in the Chain

July 16, 2011 by Alan Gold
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Alan Gold reviews the first published work of….an amazing new Australian writing talent. An enlightening view of one Jew’s life in 19th century Melbourne…..

 

A Break in the Chain – the Early Kozminskys

By Tangea Tansley

Affirm Press

ISBN: 978-0-9807904-6-7

320 pps; $27.95

 

When the art of historical biography is blended with the art of fiction, the resultant book often leads to a deeper and more satisfying understanding of people and events than the bone-dry recitation of times, dates and places.

Tangea Tansley’s first novel, A Break in the Chain, is a bold and imaginative re-writing of her famous family’s history, told with the dedication of the historian and the imaginative flair of the novelist. Her narration of the adventures which led to the creation of the Melbourne jewellery dynasty, the Kosminskys, shows that Tansley is destined for an exciting career as a writer.

Her book tells the story of the arrival in Australia from his Prussian home of a dreamer, a wastrel and an amateur violinist, Simon Kosmanske, whose father Moses realises that the only way for his son to succeed is to stand on his own two feet.

Sent to Australia in 1856 with neither the language to understand, nor the education to negotiate his new homeland, Simon uses an innate natural cunning, assisted by a street urchin named Ted, to earn enough to survive.

Moving around the Victorian goldfields in the height of the rush, Simon decides not to become a hapless prospector, but instead a supplier of the goods and chattels needed by the thousands who have arrived from all over the world to strike it rich. His decision leads him to prosper, and he opens a shop in the countryside, and then another shop in the heart of Melbourne.

Marriage and a family enable him to establish a level of prosperity which he could never have entertained in his European homeland, and Simon, now Kozminsky, becomes a jewellery retailing icon in the commercial world of the fast-growing city.

And the break in the chain? As with so many Jewish migrant families, it’s the fracture which occurs when a child falls in love and marries out of the faith.

Tansley has a gift as a story-teller and a skill as an historian who can transform  the veiled landscape of the past into an enthralling panoply which speaks to her readers in the present.

This is a well-written and gripping book and far more than the story of a migrant family. Anybody today whose parents or grandparents arrived as strangers to these shores, should read this novel to understand the hardships involved in the act of migration, as well as the tribulations of those men and women who established the Jewish community in Australia.

 

Alan Gold is a novelist, columnist and literary critic.

 

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