The Ancestor Game
"For certain people exile is the only tolerable copndition. For these people, to be in exile is to be at home.
"What mysteries relate the past to the present? What is the alchemy of myth-making?
"From a dilapidated mansion in Melbourne, to an ancestral home in Hangzhou, near Shanghai, a mystery is being unravelled. It is a mystery that links the life of one human being to another, connecting the past to the present, entwining history with fiction.
"Piecing together the puzzle of exiled artist Lang Tzu, last of a wealthy Chinese lineage, writer Steven Muir finds himself caught in a strange and haunted landscape. Both men know the solitude of the only child, and the exquisite poignancy of the relationship with parents. But beneath the familiar are the twisted threads of Lang's past - the sweep of ancestry and its lingering inheritance.
"The Ancestor Game is an irrestible adventure story, a mysterious and beautiful novel of pursuit, of longing and wondering, of intimacy with the past, and disorientation in the present."
"A wonderful novel of integrity and beauty" - Michael Ondaatje
"The Ancestor Game takes the historical novel to new frontiers...It is fabulous in the fullest sense of the word." - Commonwealth Writers Prize Judges
"Extraordinary fictional portraits of China and Australia..." - New York Times Book Review
In a wintry field in Dorset less than a year ago, I enquired of my mother, You don't want me to stay in England with you then? She, clipping her words as if she were trying out a new set of shears on a privet, replied, No thank you dear. I waited a minute or two before venturing the merely dutiful alternative, You could come out to Australia and live with me? Thank you dear, I think not.
We resumed watching a pair of swans. Their pale forms merged with the river and the flat fields and the sky, then emerged again mysteriously, as if propelled by the unseen hands of giant children at play. Nothing else moved. Everything around us was grey, luminously grey, and very cold. We were closed in by fog. There was only the rushing sound from the motorway a mile off. As I stood beside my mother I realised I'd arrived at a moment of decision. Ill-defined anxieties flickered in my mind. I remembered the Chinese refer to these moments as dangerous opportunities.
We watched the swans glissade into and out of our view, on the river that was indistinguishable form the sky, and we waited until the bruised sun had dissolved. Our cold vigil in the field at sunset was our homage to the memory of her husband and my father. There was to be no lasting memorial. There had been no service. There was no patch of ground to remain sacred to his memory. He probably would have liked there to have been: a headstone set among others’ headstones and incised with a couplet from Burns: Nae man can tether time or tide; The hour approaches Tam maun ride.
From the Penguin paperback edition, 1992.
This novel won the 1993 Miles Franklin Award, the 1993 Commonwealth Writers Award and the 1993 Barbara Ramsden Award for best novel.
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Last modified: January 26, 2006.