The Man behind "Schindler's Ark"

Autor: Maike Reiß

He was always interested in history. The author Thomas Keneally became especially known because of his book Schindler’s Ark. He wrote now a trilogy about the development of the Australian regime. But he is not just a writer. He is also a social person. In connection with a book presentation he calls for donations for a good cause.

There are about 30 people on a long corridor which is leading to the venue. A blue carpet on the floor and the typical walls of an old building create an own, very pleasant atmosphere. Everyone is laughing and indulging themselves with one more tiny glass of champagne, which is served by one of the waiters who are running around in premises like penguins.

The event runs under the name “A night with Thomas Keneally – Proudly supporting Bear Cottage”. It is a book presentation of his latest work in combination with a fundraiser in a form of public sale. This auctions should support the children’s hospice Bear Cottage. This facility is dedicated to caring for children with life-limited conditions and their families. They want to enable great final days and quality time for the persons concerned.

There are tables build up and standing in a row on the right side of the window. Different hampers with care products, flowers and other accessories are upon them. There are also some Keneally books from all categories. There are some paper sheets with columns for „name“ and „bid“ traceable in front of the presents. The columns are just filled from one or two persons. But no bid starts under $50. A good sum.

He stands in the presentation room talking with some elder ladies - the charmer Thomas Keneally. The women’s golden earrings wiggle from side to side while they are seemingly amused by pretty much everything the novelist is says.

“Another mozzarella ball?” asks one of the penguins, but the round waves dismissively.

“For me, the first volume was the best so far”, praises one of the ladies and reveals her brilliant white ceramic teeth.

Australians. That is the name of the trilogy which is published by the experienced author Thomas Keneally. The first volume - named Origins to Eureka - was published in September 2009. It deals with the history of Australia and how the national story was formed and influenced by various social ranks. In his research Keneally involves convicts, soldiers, bush rangers, gold seekers and Aborigines. The story pictures how this period of time has been experienced through the convict’s eyes and the free early Australian society. The book which is 596 pages long mainly underlines the Eureka uprising and inspires to continuously read on.

The presentation room is located in a castle. The castle serve as a college and housing for their students. Additionally, some parts are an event location for activities like the book reading. The International College of Management was not quite innocent in the organisation of this meeting. Two event management students have organised a talk with the author and convinced him of the idea to combine the publication of the third volume from Australians with the fundraiser for Bear Cottage.

He is standing in the middle of the room. Proudly presenting the full trilogy on a little stall. The book covers are similar in the basics. The colour sequences are matt. While the first and the second volumes show a poor developed landscape, shows the third cover clearly a development cycle with details of a city and good well-dressed people.

 “I was always interested in history. Specifically in the Australian one. It is my nationality and we all should know where we come from and how our actual environment, natural as well as social, was formed.”

Keneally has always shown an interest for facts of the past. One of his first novels, named The Chant of Jimmie Blacksmith is considered as an absolute classic among people from Australia. This work was published in 1972 and deals with the racist treatment of  Aborigines by white settlers in 1900. Reviewer from the New York Times praised him for a “history, psychological insight and an epic adventure with great skill”.

Ten years later, his work Schindler’s Ark, better known as Schindler’s List, was published. The worldwide success is also based on a historical event. It plays during the Second World War. Following, in 1985, he wrote a tragedy named A Family Madness with a contemporary setting. Tom Keneally, as he is often called, specifies in an interview in the same year: “I believe the historic phase is nearly over for me and was merely a preparation for the understanding of the present.”

It soon became apparent, however, that he couldn’t dissolve himself from this topic. He also admires the historical material in his new edition of reading material. He stands on a wooden platform behind a desk with a microphone upon it. He wears a striped shirt in different grey tones under his black jacket. In front of him are several rows of chairs and almost all of the seats have been taken by the interested audience. Clearly delighted Thomas Keneally announces that he is always extremely happy to see how many people are interested in his work. It makes him proud.

Behind him is a large mirror, which appears the small stage more impressive. On one side stands an armchair and a side table. It is a water carafe and the latest edition of his trilogy on it. He wants to read out of it, but in order to tie with the recent events on the previous book, he tells of some facts from Australia: Eureka to the Diggers.

The story goes that the nationhood and the social maturity from Australia was formed by a vast range of characters. The novel plays in the time between 1860 and the First World War. It was the time of social experiments and glimmering visions. However, the time was perceived differently across the social classes. These different perspectives become clear in this novel. The situations from bushrangers, Aborigines, pastoralists, politicians and even pioneering women are described. Also the women’s role in society should get a whole new meaning.  

Keneally is trying to clarify the situation back then as good as possible with surprising characters and lively stories within his trilogy.

He stands on a podium and describes the feeling to be an author. He speaks slowly, but clear. The spectators are looking at him. They are looking respectful and signalize him their attention. He relaxes the atmosphere with little jokes and everyone is laughing merrily. “It isn’t easy to be an author. Working at home searching for concentration. Especially when your wife is at home all the time!” He halts for a moment: “Back to the essential. I brought you the last volume of Australians. I will read a little bit for you. I chose a part in which you can empathize yourself very well without requiring a high level of previous knowledge. Enjoy it.”

The third book of Australians is named Flappers to Vietnam. It is based on the rethinking of this continent during the time period by the year 1950. There was an atmosphere of fear in the population. They were afraid to be the next victim of an attack in the war. The fall of Singapore and the bombing of Darwin didn’t really make it easier. Meanwhile, South Australia was a region for testing nuclear weapons. Most of the Australians believed that there would be a nuclear war. Probably before the end of the decade.

The book describes very clearly how the recent history of Australia expired and recalls the reader the bygone days.  “That’s what we all do. We’re constantly developing ourselves and don’t know in which direction. And the aim is to find out what awaits us. Thank you for listening.” He is going to the armchair and sits down. He drinks some water and awaits with interest the viewers questions.

Questioner: “How would you describe the time in which the novel plays?”

T. Keneally: “Innocent. We look back and realize that that period of time no longer exists. It was an innocent time.”

Questioner:”By reading on, one learns, that every character in your book, regardless from which society class they are, have a job. Why?”

T.Keneally:” Well, it was another life in the 1950s. Some people say, it was an age of full employment. It is a fact that everyone made his job, even if they liked it or not. Australia aspired on evolution and everyone was involved.”

Questioner: “Can you imagine, reaching a stage, where you don’t write anymore?”

T. Keneally: “No. I could not live without writing. I am so pleased."

The author gets up and thanks with a tired suggestion. He shows on the small stand where the books from his trilogy stand next to each other.

He sits down behind the stand and begins to sign all the books by the interested ladies and gentlemen.  “For my lovely dear, Peter”, asks a woman for her signature. “And now, the last point of the evening”, speaks a woman in a pink shirt with the writing “Bear Cottage” and holds a piece of paper. “The fundraiser. The book The Daughters of Mars goes for $180 to Mr…”

All auctioned things go to its rightful owner and no sheet of paper remains blank. The right side of the window got empty and the pocket of the Bear Cottage has been filled.