‘She wanted to photograph time: everything lost to time, and everything returned by it.’
Anna grows up in a third-storey unit in Parramatta with her adoptive Russian mother Sophia. When her teacher Miss Glass gives her a Box Brownie camera, small acts of observation coupled with the art of photography become her escape. On visiting the suburb of Castle Hill with her schoolfriend Lisaveta she falls into a seductive world of gardens and orchards.
At the Thompson’s place she embarks on a mission to photograph the orchard by night and day. It is there she meets Friedrich, an older man of German origin but from the Soviet Union, who lives in a shed on the property. She eventually learns that he was once a celebrated writer, his ambitions destroyed by the war.
As events unfold Anna realises that her connections to the orchard and to Friedrich are deeper than she ever could have imagined. The mysteries and secrets of the past unravel in the most shocking, tender and unexpected of ways.
Set in Sydney, and in Russia, Past Life is a glorious novel about the various ways the gifts and traumas of the past play out in the present. It is the affecting story of relationships across generations and William Lane’s most hauntingly beautiful work to date.
‘Throughout this moving narrative, the traumas and triumphs of the past transform in the light of letters, poems, novels, paintings, photographs, dreams, and memories. Developing with the eerie precision of a photographic plate, old wars, lost loves, swim into view, then intersect, blossom, fade – and take on new meaning.’ Carmel Bird