Boy, Lost: A Family Memoir

By Kristina Olsson
UQP


Kristina Olsson

Judges' report


Kristina Olsson’s story of her half-brother Peter, stolen by his father from his mother’s arms, is a beautifully understated family memoir in which the writer barely features: this is the story of Peter and his mother. Told compassionately and even-handedly, it follows Peter from his birth in 1948 through a difficult childhood of abuse, illness and homelessness, a gradual finding of his adult feet, an eventual reunion with his mother, and its less than happy aftermath. It also tracks the life of Peter and Kristina’s mother, Yvonne, showing her caught up in a situation she could neither understand nor control.

The book reflects the social history of Australia in the 1950s: the lack of accountability in cases of domestic violence, the tolerance of gambling, the lack of freedom that was women’s lot in the decade before the Pill and the rise of second-wave feminism, the ravages of the polio epidemic. Peter’s childhood is shaped first by the cultural tensions of a Greek–Australian marriage in the wave of postwar immigration, and then by the effects of polio, which he contracts only a couple of years before the availability of the vaccine that would have saved him. Much of the power of this book lies in the way that it reflects the fates of all children lost to a parent or parents, whether through familial dysfunction, government policy or personal tragedy, and that lifts it beyond the level of merely personal memoir to give it some of the force of fable and folktale.