…tragedy, with its calm pity for the affliction it depicts, was the genre that first attracted my passionate allegiance: I recognised in it the concepts that had illuminated the events of my childhood. They enabled me to see Mitru, my mother, my father and Vacek, living among his boulders, as the victims of misfortune, in their different ways broken by it, but never thereby diminished. – p. 124.
Raimond Gaita’s slight but detailed autobiography about his father, Romulus, and Gaita’s own early childhood is filled with both tragic and heartwarming moments. Born in the former Yugoslavia, Romulus was thrown out on the world at the age of thirteen and forced to make his own way. During the second world war he moved to Germany where he met and married Christine who soon after gave birth to Raimond. This happy little life, however, would be peppered with drama and tragedy. Christine, young, attractive and bubbly,was unable to settle down particularly when the family emigrated to Australia and settled in country Victoria. She displayed signs of mental disturbances when Raimond was born, which we can now label as post-natal depression, refusing to take care of her newborn baby. Christine eventually leaves Romulus and embarks on a string of affair. She become a floating figure in young Raimond’s life as she weaves in and out of the family home and, later, psychiatric wards.
Despite this, Romulus, turning his back on the gender conventions of his day, does his best to raise Raimond up alone and, with the help of Romulus’ best friend, he succeeds tremendously. Gaita portrays his father as a strong, moralistic and compassionate man which is all the more heartbreaking when Romulus’ life unravels further down the track.
Despite being a slight volume, Gaita elegantly details his father’s life until his death. It is very clear throughout the book that, despite having a difficult childhood, Gaita felt very loved by his father and that there was not much he missed out on. The book also has a historical element as it details the post-war years of the European migration to Australia and it’s setting of country Victoria.
I was slightly reluctant to pick up this book because I was afraid of reading another depressing but heartwrenching autobiographical story. However, Gaita writes so movingly and simply, with a touch of philosophy thrown in and a nice mixture of heartwarming anecdotes that it becomes a wonderful read. It was a pleasure reading about the life of such a wonderful man.