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The Ancestor Game

Steven Muir, August Spiess and his daughter Gertrude, and Lang Tzu all acknowledge a restless sense of cultural displacement, an ambivalence in their relations with the culture of European Australia. Steven left England for Australia as a young man and his one attempt at returning is unsuccessful. August Spiess, although he speaks frequently of returning to his native Hamburg, fails to make the journey, as does his daughter Gertrude. Lang Tzu's very name defines his fate: 'two characters which in Mandarin signify the son who goes away.' The 'game', however, does have winners. For despite their yearnings for the home of their ancestral dreams, a desire to belong somewhere that is truly their own, none of Miller's characters leaves Australia, and each in their own way comes to see that to be at home in exile may be a defining paradox of the European Australian condition: the paradox of belonging and estrangement that perhaps lies uneasily at the heart of all European cultures. The Ancestor Game, which Robert Dessaix described as 'one of the most engrossing books I've read in a long time', is an enthralling journey into the ancestral dreams and present dilemmas of a rich cast of characters. 'A wonderful novel of stunning intricacy and great beauty.' - Michael Ondaatje 'Takes the historical novel to new frontiers. It is fabulous in every sense of the word.' - Commonwealth Writers Prize judges 'Extraordinary fictional portraits of China and Australia.' - New York Times Book Review 'A major new novel of grand design and rich texture, a vast canvas of time and space, its gaze outward yet its vision intimate and intellectually abundant.' - The Age
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Table of Contents

BOOK ONE 1 Death of the Father 2 Only Children 3 The Lotus and the Phoenix 4 The Winter Visitor 5 No Ordinary Child 6 Portraits 7 The Mother: Homecoming, Men, The Campaign, Signs 8 An Interlude in the Garden 9 A Memoir of Displacement BOOK TWO 10 The Entrance to the Other-World 11 Reflections From the Gazebo: Thirty-Four Days, War, Present Reality, The Gift of Death, Victoria, Into Regions of Uncertainty 12 The Lovers 13The Little Red Doorway

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An enthralling journey into the ancestral dreams and present dilemmas of a rich cast of characters.

About the Author

Alex Miller has twice won the prestigious Miles Franklin Literary Award, Australia's premier literary prize; the first occasion in 1993 for The Ancestor Game, and again in 2003 for Journey to the Stone Country. He is also an overall winner of the Commonwealth Writers' Prize, for The Ancestor Game, in 1993. British by birth, he now lives in Victoria.


While noble in ambition and geographically broad in scope, Miller's attempt to unite the spiritual destinies of three disparate characters across a variety of international settings is marred by a less than fluid narrative and confusingly similar character voices. The players include Lang Tzu, the son of a Chinese landowner, who collaborates with the Japanese when they invade the mainland; August Spiess, the family doctor who delivered him; Speiss's artist daughter Gertrude; and Steven Muir, an Australian whose narrative overview is intended to integrate the various parts and pieces of the nomadic plot. Most of the story takes place in mainland China in the 1930s and concerns the decision of several characters to emigrate to Australia following the tumultuous collapse of the feudal mandarin system. Miller's third novel (winner of last year's Miles Franklin Award for Fiction in Australia) will reward those patient readers with a bent for the more obscure spiritual fiction by such writers as Hesse, Goethe and Mann with many eloquent passages about the links between art, identity and sense of place. (Aug.)

A wonderful novel of stunning intricacy and great beauty. -- Michael Ondaatje Extraordinary fictional portraits of China and Australia. * New York Times Book Review *

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