Matryoshka by Katherine Johnson

Ventura Press 2018

Brisbane born Katherine Johnson’s third novel is set mainly in Tasmania where she now lives. The rugged beauty of the landscape is a powerful backdrop for this complex story.

Estranged from her mother since birth and brought up by her Russian emigré grandmother, Nina, geneticist Sara Rose (neé Barsova) has never been allowed to know the identity of her father. It is these absences that drive much of the story.

Nina’s death and the breakdown of Sara’s marriage lead her to move with her young daughter back to Hobart, where she spent her childhood, and to take up the inheritance of her grandmother’s cottage. There she finds evidence of a long-buried secret.

There she also meets Abdhul, an Hazara asylum seeker from Afghanistan who is caught up in the interminable process of the immigration system’s bureaucracy. She develops a friendship with him and an empathy for the other members of the (Muslim) Hazara community whom she meets. She also finds employment in her field of training and embarks on some significant epigenetic research on the issue of inherited trauma.

It is Katherine Johnson’s weaving of these story strands that takes us into a myriad of philosophical and ethical questions, but all through the vehicle of excellent story telling. This is such a worthwhile and satisfying read – as much for the questions it throws up as the answers it gives.

Listen to Barbie’s interview with Katherine Johnson