The Unearthed

Written by Lenny Bartulin
Review by Marina Maxwell

Old bones – ‘mossed and soft’ – are discovered in the wilderness near Queenstown. Forensic scientist Antonia Kovacs arrives from Hobart to investigate them, also to see her father, retired policeman, Dicky Nolan. Tom Pilar inherits a house from Slavko Cicak, a man he can barely remember who was a friend of his late father, Ivan. The unresolved hit-and-run death of a child in 1959 is what links them all.

From the ravages of war in Eastern Europe to the 1950s and beyond, these are characters who have been shaped by stark environments. Many are refugees from the Fascist or Communist regimes in Yugoslavia: hard-bitten individuals, carrying scars, secrets, and grudges.

This psychologically astute novel is concise but also rich with haunting prose, such as Tom’s impression of the mining town with its: ‘Centuries of silence, stillness, dead rock … cold remnants, chipped facades, weeds in the cracks. The air chalky, refrigerated, old. Nothing moved, nothing flickered; the few trees stood dark, asleep … There was no grass in Queenstown. The gravel was thick, like running over a lake of poured teeth.’

And Antonia’s observations of unreliable memory, being: ‘… merely an impression … wavering, thinning, changing. Not like DNA … The body couldn’t escape time, it held on for eternity, even when it was rotted and transformed and worn down to dust. But everything in the mind was fleeting, smoke, tenuous images reflected in mirrors of water.’

If you have experienced the rugged West Coast of Tasmania, then the setting will resonate on many levels. And for those who have never been there, the brooding and challenging atmosphere with its broken characters is just brilliantly conveyed. An inspiring and highly recommended fictional exploration of Australia’s post-war migrant experience.