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Every family has a past, most of which is concealed in collective and individual whispers. The resulting silence creates wide gaps between parents and children, brothers and sisters. Yet the time eventually comes when some people, tired of distance, look for answers.
My Father’s Ears, the debut novel of New Zealand-based travel writer Karen Goa, tells the story of Sophia Sanzari, the daughter of an Italian-Canadian immigrant, Lou. Right at the beginning of the novel, Sophia finds out that she has a brother. His name is Alex and he comes all the way from New Zealand. The purpose of his visit in Canada is to get to know more about the history of the Sanzari family, now that he has a son.
At the arrival of Lou’s long-sought son, Sophia is initially sceptical. She gradually warms up to Alex and finds herself discovering new truths about her family, which has been pulled apart by their history of journeys and mysteries. She learns not only about Lou and Alex, but also her own mother, Rose. As he relates his childhood experiences, Lou (“Luigi” in Italian) reveals that he and his brother, Antonio, suffered at an internment camp during World War II. They faced abuse simply for belonging to the nation headed by the fascist dictator, Mussolini. What made matters worse for the boys was their separation from their mother and their sisters, Carmina and Margherita. Through her father Lou, Sophia learns about the bleak reality of war and loneliness, the eagerness to escape and the conflict between one’s needs and those of others.
This story of familial relationships is set against an emotional backdrop of war and immigration history. Through the character of Sophia, the story is painful, comical, dramatic, and sincere. And Goa’s skillful incorporation of Italian culture, language and gastronomy enlivens the narrative, inviting the reader to travel through time, from continent to continent, with the reassuring thought that anyone can open a door to the future despite a past of darkness.
Reviewed by Azariah Alfante
My Father’s Ears
By Karen Goa
Published by GoaNotesNZ