"Here is a powerful and disturbing love story about two families and the madness that invades not only their dreams, but their lives. The novel stretches from the fatal and desperate politics of Eastern Europe to the comparative innocence of Australian suburban life.
"Terry Delaney is leading a relatively satisfying life - a companionable marriage, an undemanding free-lance job, and an upcoming career as a professional Australian Rugby League player. But Terry's comfortable life turns upside down when he falls obsessively in love with Danielle Kabbel, the daughter of his employer, Rudi Kabbel. Rudi, a half mad/half charming immigrant from Eastern Europe who is possessed of visions of the approaching apocalypse, must grapple with his own demons from a tormented childhood. The family madness runs deep, from the Kabbel family patriach, Stanek, a Nazi collaborator who betrayed his wife to save his own neck, to Rudi's traumatic childhood in which he was a pawn between the Nazis and the Russians. But it is Rudi's madness which has enthralled his family and into whose destructive spiral Terry is drawn to his own desperate peril.
"In his most ambitious novel yet, Thomas Keneally interweaves Terry Delaney's contemporary Australia with Rudi Kabbel's traumatic wartime experiences and the Belorussians' dream of an independent Baltic state, confounded by the machinations of German and Russian oppressors."
"A Family Madness is a dense rich novel...Out of passionately rendered history and disastrous obsessions in the present, Keneally gives us a fine, exciting and highly original novel. He remains a novelist who can work with history in the present as well as the past and make it hurt and shine." - Marge Piercy
"A novel of great power, both more imaginative and more subtle than Schindler's List" - The Listener
"A dark and thrilling novel that derives tension from the antipodes of human experience, existentially, historically, and even geographically, bringing together the worlds of Belorussia and Australia. In its fusion of actual events and their long resonance in fictional personalities it succeeds outstandingly, for me." - Nadine Gordimer
"A brilliant book." - The Guardian
"A Family Madness is an ambitious and successful book which makes connections we need to think about, and its deepest subject, the one that links all the odd and various strands of the story, is not history or violence or craziness but loyalty: the price of loyalty, and the blindnesses loyalty permits." - The Times Literary Supplement
Terry Delaney's father often remarked on the state of Main Street, Penrith, in the hard times of the 1980s. "The shops that sell real things close down," he said, "and in their place you get the bloody juju medicine stalls."
By juju medicine stalls Delaney the elder meant the agencies of anxious governments, local, state, Commonwealth; the nine-to-five havens for those to whom heroin, spouses, or employers had been cruel; the shopfronts behind which the bewildered were counseled. Off Main Street, on the western edge of the park, stood the house which offered financial advice to those who no longer had finances. This was municipal mercy. If you wanted the mercy of the state you went to Youth and Community Servics, and the grace of the Commonwealth was incarnated in Social Services. They all, according to observation and the opinion of Delaney senior, did more business than the barber. At any of them you could meet the same tousled and bruised wives, and men who had once worked at the abattoirs at Homebush or Riverstone or at the forklift factory at Flemington or the heavy engineering at Clyde. As workers they had been loudly discontented and whinsically bought Lotto tickets each week, prepared to wait a lifetime for the gods of the numbers to do them a favor. Now they were reflective and awesomely docile, half-shaven, a sort of fluff of ennui caught in the crevices of their faces. They tried to turn out the world's thinnest roll-your-owns while they waited for the bureaucrats of small bounties to get around to them.
From the Lester & Orpen Dennys hardback edition, 1986.
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Last modified: March 26, 2001.