Empire Day – Book Review

September 8, 2011 by Alan Gold
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Alan Gold reviews the latest offering from best-selling author Diane Armstrong…..


Diane Armstrong

Empire Day

, novelists are becoming our chroniclers of record. While academics write histories which record people, places, events, times and dates, their books are often dry, and devoid of personality. Which is why so many of us turn to novelists such as Di Armstrong to find our who we once were, and how we’ve arrived to become the people we are.

From her debut as an author Diane Armstrong has been more than a chronicler of events, more than a recorder of fact; she has become the voice and the soul of the Jewish story in the modern era.

She began her life’s mission with her seminal work Mosaic, which detailed a century in the lives of five generations spread out over four continents. Next came Voyage of their Life, the story of the passenger ship Derna which carried 545 refugees to Australia and New Zealand. These works were followed by Winter Journey, a forensic examination of a wartime atrocity in Poland, and then on to Nocturn, a story of wartime tragedy, love and redemption.

And now we are given Empire Day, set closer to home, a book in which Diane Armstrong cements her place as our most intelligent, perceptive and imaginative chronicler of the life and times of Jews during the past century and more.

Empire Day, just released by HarperCollins, is set in Bondi Junction during the end of the 1940’s, a time when Australia was being changed in look, character and ethos by waves of refugees arriving from a fractured Europe.

For the local inhabitants, life was changing at a pace which was too uncomfortable, and resentment was in the air. While there was sympathy for the European reffos who flooded into the area, it was pretty clear that they were far from welcome, especially as they brought with them their strange ways, their un-Australian foods and cooking aromas, their odd habits and customs, and their peculiar religious practices.

And worse, much worse, they brought with them the scars of hatred and bigotry which they had suffered under the obscenities of a jackbooted government.

Empire Day is a worthy successor to Armstrong’s previous works and is yet another gemstone in the mosaic which she has skilfully created, a picture of knowledge to tell us who we are, and where we came from

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