A few streets away, a car putting down the twisted hill. It halted outside a block of mulberry-brick flats. A small boy emerged from the back seat, out onto the pavement. He was carrying a suitcase. He stood there, looking upwards. His skin gleamed like snow.
in the middle of the road a sleek cat lay stretched out, absorbing the sunshine.
It is 1942, and Columba (who was named after a nun) is growing up in war time Sydney. A new boy – a refugee from ‘You-rope’ – appears in the neighborhood, at about the same time as a strange blue cat. Columba is intrigued by the new boy, Ellery, though he doesn’t speak English and Columba struggles to understand where he has come from and why he is here. This isn’t the only thing she struggles to understand. Why are the cloaks being put forward for an hour? Why do the adults talk about ‘taking people’s minds off things? And, with Singapore falling, and regular air raid practices, will they be safe here in Sydney?
The Blue Cat is an enchanting piece of writing. Historical fiction with just a tiny twist of magical realism, it is a gentle story of the confusion of a child faced with frightening, not-quite-understood events. With an insight into how the childhood experiences of Australians during the war years, and to harbourside Sydney life, this is an entrancing read.
The Blue Cat, by Ursula Dubosarsky
Allen & Unwin, 2017
When and where is the correct beginning for this retelling? Already I wonder. there are many choices:
I was born in 1929 in the Bavarian town of Bamberg –
Once upon a time there was an Old Man who owned a music shop –
What makes an artist become a tyrant and murderer –
none of these. We must begin with my father.
The son of a Jewish academic who has always loved Germany, Rafael Ullmann’s childhood is confrtable until Hitler’s restrictions start to take effect. When he and his family are sent to a concentration camp, life becomes little more than a battle for survival. As a musician, the boy has something to offer the Germans, though the price is high.
In remote Canada in the 1970s, Annie Ullmann grows up as a sheltered only child. Her parents don’t talk of their past, and Annie never asks, content with her quiet life, until a friendship with a hawk makes her wonder if there is a life further afield.
In contemporary Australia, Joe Hawker doesn’t know what he wants to do with his future. he has a talent for music, but no real passion, until he discovers a song written by his grandfather.
This is My Song is a multi-generational story of the impact of the most terrible war-time events, and of the importance of music as a form of solace and connection. The story of Rafael is particularly heart-wrenching, and the motif of music and song as a connection across the three generations is powerful.
A moving, important story.
This is My Song , by Richard Yaxley