Sea of Many Returns – Arnold Zable

Sea of Many Returns by Arnold Zable
Sea of Many Returns by Arnold Zable

As with all of Zable’s books I was moved, not moved to the point of tears but still moved. Sea of Many Returns is a great book about immigration and return from and to Melbourne and Ithaca.

This book looks at Xanthe as she goes to Ithaca, the land of her ancestors and retraces their steps, their stories and recounts their stories and her own. It looks at her father and grandfather as they travel to Australia and their travails as they travel around Australia finally coming to rest in Melbourne. We see how Australians have treated Greek immigrants during WWI (not well) and how homesickness hits.

What I loved about this book?

Just about everything. The writing is Zable’s usual, excellent. He is a sensitive writer and ensure the reader understands the culture he’s writing about as if we were within that culture. He uses words in Greek but then translates them.

Learning about the Greek culture in Ithaca. I felt the cycle of the seasons as people worked their way through gathering food, pruning olive trees and making things. The amount of work they do makes me feel I do absolutely nothing. I loved learning about Ithaca and the yearning many men have for the sea and when they’re on the sea the yearning they have for Ithaca.

I have a better understanding of what it must have been like to have been a Greek immigrant during WWI. They had a very hard time, if they had shops then those shops were looted and they were very lucky to escape with their bodies undamaged.

One thing I’ll be doing tomorrow after class is to wander past Capitol Theatre in Swanston Street. One of the characters narrates part of the creation of this historic building. The architecture was designed by Walter Burley Griffin and his wife Marion Mahoney Griffin, Burley Griffin designed Canberra, our nation’s capital so it was very exciting to actually see him depicted in a book.

What I didn’t like about this book?

Not enough detail in so many places. It leaves the way open to so many spin offs in order to explain in much greater detail. I’d love more about Mentor moving to Melbourne, much more about Fotini moving to Melbourne and her troubles. That would include much more detail of the troubles the Greeks had here during WWI, they were treated very shabbily as Australians had little sensitivity about foreigners and which part of the world they’d come from (not much has changed as this insensitivity still exists and I promise I won’t name any prominent politicians showing these traits).

Do I recommend this book?

Yes, but then I recommend every book by Zable. This is the first book of his that hasn’t generated tears but it was still incredibly moving. Zable is a master storyteller and has the ability to recreate worlds and show us what they must have been. Here is his book available for sale at Booktopia.