Book-club this month had selected the book Cafe Scheherazade, which it turns out is actually based on a real cafe in St Kilda. Not unusually at all for Melbourne, it’s an eating establishment created by migrants for migrants (and anyone else wanting to sample traditional food from the motherland). But as this was a novel, it focussed on all the stories of those migrants…
Intermingled tales of escape from war and oppression
This book by Melbourne literary author Arnold Zable is a set of stories within stories. It is at a superficial level the story of a journalist trying to capture the stories of the founders of a Jewish restaurant/cafe in St Kilda, but this is really just an excuse for characters within the novel telling their own tales. And they are not exactly pleasant tales.
The characters (all based on real people) have endured World War II and the subsequent atrocities, and journeyed to Australia as refugees. It was eye opening to read about life in Russia, life as a guerrilla fighter, and the role of Japan and China in the migration of Jews out of Europe.
Unfortunately, the sheer number of stories, and the style used in jumping between them, doesn’t make it an easy read. The lyrical style used principally at the beginning of the book allowed me to treat the writing as poetry, and let the words wash over me without spending too much effort keeping track of the story. Towards the end of the book the style changes into more of a linear narrative that was easier to follow.
I found it an okay read, certainly educational, but probably wouldn’t recommend it to most.