Act of Grace (Anna Krien, Black Inc.)
Anna Krien’s debut novel is an ambitious and compelling study of trauma and how it’s transferred and inherited, told through the points of view of four disparate but interconnected characters. The novel opens with Toohey, an Iraq war veteran with a young family and probable PTSD. Memories of his actions in combat override his attempts to establish a traditional life at home in Australia as a worker, husband and father. Later, we see Iraq from the perspective of Nasim, a young woman who comes of age in the era that predates the US-led invasion; she falls in and out of favour with the ruling Ba’ath Party before her life intersects with Toohey’s. This narrative pattern—a long, focused experience with one character before picking up the story from the perspective of another—is an effective technique for drawing together the lives of a diverse set of characters, and Krien is a polished writer of fiction. The book’s settings—from Alice Springs to the Standing Rock Indian Reservation—are vivid, and each central character carries a distinctive voice, in particular Robbie, who we first meet as a teenager grieving her father’s early-onset dementia. The book is also recognisably Australian, interrogating ideas of Indigenous identity and land rights, as well as a nuanced consideration of the different forms and ethics of activism. Act of Grace is recommended to readers of topical, contemporary literary fiction and fans of Krien’s nonfiction work.
Brad Jefferies is the digital editor of Books+Publishing