Tuesday, April 26, 2016

The Fighter: A True Story, by Arnold Zable

Staff review by Chris Saliba

In this very humane book, Arnold Zable gives us a story that begins on the streets of Melbourne and works its way back to the horrors of the Holocaust.

Arnold Zable is a well known Melbourne writer who has campaigned for the rights of refugees. In his latest book, The Fighter: A True Story, he has written a short biography of Henry Nissen, a former prize winning boxer. Nissen, who is now in his late sixties, works tirelessly with troubled youth in Melbourne’s inner city. He fronts up to courts, puts in a good word and manages to keep young offenders out of jail.

Henry Nissen is of Jewish heritage. He was actually born in Germany, after the war. His mother, Sonia, born in Odessa, fled the Nazis and spent years wandering around Russia. She never spoke much about what happened to her during the war, but it’s pretty clear that she saw and experienced some horrible things. Henry is adamant that she was raped. Sonia married a Polish man, had children, emigrated to Australia and ended bringing her family up in Melbourne’s inner city suburb of Carlton. Despite finding safety and security in Melbourne, Sonia continued to be haunted by all she had seen during the war. Her later years were tragically consumed by mental illness. She spend much time in and out of institutions.

In many ways it is Sonia’s story that forms the heart and soul of this moving book. Zable starts his story with a feisty old boxer and compassionate man, but slowly draws us into the darker world of the Holocaust. The sections that describe Melbourne’s Jewish post war community, their inner city enclave of Carlton, are brilliantly brought to life. For Melbourne readers, with the book’s description of many well known streets, it makes for an especially heart-warming read.

The Fighter’s lyrical style and evocative language means it reads more like a novel than anything else. Zable’s language is warm and sympathetic. A more human book you may not read this year.

The Fighter: A True Story, by Arnold Zable. Published by Text. ISBN:  9781925355062  RRP: $27.99

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