It’s 1965 in Australia. The Sydney Opera House is being built, and compulsory National Service for men means they could be sent to Vietnam. Both are political hot-button issues.
Pearl Keogh, a journalist, has been relegated to the women’s section of her paper because her political bias became obvious when she was seen at rallies opposing Australia's entering the war. Thirty-something Pearl was 14 when her mother died, and the care of much younger siblings fell to her. When her father became emotionally unable to care for the family, Pearl went to a convent and her two brothers, to a nearby orphanage. Pearl lost touch when she got her first professional job and (selfishly, in her mind) stopped visiting her brothers. Later, she was horrified to find they’d run away. Now, at 19 and 20, they run the risk of being drafted and sent to Vietnam. Pearl is determined to prevent this from happening, but first she must find them. She meets Axel Lindquist, a Swedish immigrant glassmaker. When Axel was a child, his father’s death by suicide left him feeling that it was his fault. He carries the weight of his past heavily, as does Pearl. They form a bond more for physical pleasure than love and begin to unwrap their pasts for the other’s inspection. Through this slow reveal, the reader comes to learn of the burdens they’ve carried unnecessarily. The book is cerebral rather than plot-driven and moves slowly to its final resolution. Readers who like a sense of forward momentum may feel forced—or perhaps encouraged—to slow down and enter the characters’ inner lives. And while that will be worth it for some, others may find the pace too slow to sustain interest.
Olsson’s subtle and nuanced tale displays how deeply the past—or at least one’s perception of it—informs life in the present.