My oldest brother has written an extended essay, which he describes as a biography of our father, the details, the background to and arrival of our parents in Australia.
It is beautifully written and for me a pleasure to read however disturbing. The disturbing aspect for me relates as much to what my brother writes as to what he excludes.
I do not feel at liberty to write about this essay in detail yet, other than to reflect on Jim Murdoch’s comment that ‘the moment we start selecting we start fictionalising’. As well, I think of Paul Lisicky’s words, that for something ‘to shudder with mystery’ we need sometimes to hold something back. Lisicky uses the word ‘elision’.
My brother has a tendency to write about the ‘we’ of it all, referring to us, his brothers and sisters, as though he is a spokesperson for us all, a dangerous thing to do, given that as a group of individuals we are unlikely to see things the way he does.
But he is the first born and as the first born I suspect he claims that privilege, especially in so far as he is writing about the early years of his own life and the experience of our parents even before any of the rest of us were born.
He can claim that privilege here, but beyond it he sets himself up for challenge.
He reckons that the piece is not yet fully edited yet and for this reason wants me to keep it to myself, namely not to share this knowledge with my siblings, but I suspect that he is as fearful, as I am fearful, of how our siblings might react to any of our writing that purports to chronicle family history.
We see things so differently from one another. My oldest brother is big on ‘facts’ and big on genealogy, whereas I prefer the minute detail that emerges from my memories. My brother occasionally offers the detail of his own memories but mostly he prefers to rely on ‘written evidence’, which he considers to be much more reliable as evidence about what ‘really’ happened.
And so there are these letters that our grandparents wrote from prison in which they make no reference to their alleged crimes and write only about basic necessities or the hope that their children are well.
But I know the nature of the crime. I have the person cards that the historian and researcher, Barbara van Balen, gathered for me from the archives in Amsterdam. The person cards detail exact times of imprisonment and the charge. My brother does not want to talk about the charge, at least not yet.
He does not want to look too closely at the incest that preceded even his birth. Our grandparents were imprisoned around the time our parents were married and around the time this brother first entered the world.
What a legacy.
Here is a photo of my grandparents and father when he was a baby, well before it all happened.