Returning to Carthage by Ben Sharafski

Life, love, and loss.

In this book of six interconnected short stories, Israeli-Australian writer Ben Sharafski takes us on a journey around the world, through different perspectives on life and involving different cultures and generations. Of the six stories, my least favourite was ‘Love and Lies in Laos’. Not, I hasten to add, because of any deficiency in the writing, but because of the story:

‘Could duplicity be that simple, just a matter of brushing aside any inconvenient truths?’

My favourites were ‘Two Lives, Intersected’ and the final story, ‘Waiting’.  The first of these reminds us of the impact of past lived experiences on contemporary life, as World War II Manchuria has its own impact on a contemporary wedding in Sydney. The second, ‘Waiting’ is a story many of us will be able to relate to: the illness and decline of a parent; strength replaced by weakness; independence surrendering to dependency; the importance of the past as the future disappears and the present is consumed by the minutiae of maintenance and the indignity of a body’s failure. In ‘Waiting’ this is heightened by distance: the need for the son to travel from Australia to Israel, leaving his own family behind to be with his mother.

The other three stories are also thoughtful and enjoyable. ’Returning to Carthage’ takes us into the past, while considering unrest in the present. When is a good time to take a young family to Israel? The visit is important to maintain family ties, but unrest makes the young father cautious.

‘On Childcare and the Human Condition’ takes us to a different space, one in which the questions of children cause adults to stop, to think and to wonder about life (and death).

‘Annabelle’ is a reminder of the drudgery, the draining routine that is part of suburban family life. Our narrator has moved well beyond the excitement of a tryst in Laos but does not yet have to face his mother’s mortality.

I enjoyed this collection of six thoughtful stories, illustrating different phases in the life (and associated responsibility) of our male narrator. I will be revisiting these stories and will be looking forward to reading more of Ben Sharafski’s writing in future.

Note: My thanks to the author for providing me with a free copy of this book for review purposes.

Jennifer Cameron-Smith