Short Reviews: Dead Europe by Christos Tsiolkas (2005)


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To my amazement last night, I discovered they’ve made a film out of one of my favourite novels, Dead Europe by Christos Tsiolkas ( The Slap, Loaded)

The novel tells the story of Isaac, a Greek-Australian photographer, as he makes his way through Europe after establishing a small (and underwhelming) exhibition of his photography.

Isaac is a man estranged by his ancestral diaspora, not quite feeling at home in Australia, and feeling little to no connection with his Greek roots.

As he makes his way around Europe, he’s confronted by the various states of decay he finds in the continent – both economically and spiritually. He is not seeing the Europe of post-cards, but dying cultures struggling with the march of time and globalisation.

Told concurrently to his journey is a twisted-fairytale narrative, and as it’s revealed in bits and pieces, the reader is given clues to Isaac’s lineage, and the tragedies, secrets and dark tales of his family’s past.

Dead Europe is a compelling read, but an undeniably haunting one. As Isaac’s travels take him deeper into the underbelly of Europe and its various corruptions, the tale becomes more and more malicious, and culminates in some genuinely horrific tales.

Tsiolkas is not one to shy away from grim reality, and it’s perhaps this audacity that allows him to take a travel narrative and turn it into a Dante-esque account of Hell, only seen through the cold light of reality.

I can’t lie – the book disturbed me. As I finished the final pages, I closed it and hurled it across the room, such was the insidious success of its disturbing events. It is not a read for the light-hearted, but a challenging and rewarding tale of corruption, virulent racism, bloodshed and the despair of being trapped with a family’s sins.

I haven’t seen the movie, but will – and I must sadly predict that it will not be able to even remotely cover the depth of the novel. That said, the novel is well-worth a read, and I highly recommend it if you don’t mind feeling your skin crawl as you read.

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