The Sound of One Hand Clapping by Richard Flanagan

1. First lines. 2. Published 1997 Penguin 3. Photograph – Tarraleah village under snow [Public Domain] Source: Archives Office of Tasmania 4. Window. Photo by Will Malott [Public Domain] via Unsplash

This is the story of Bojan Buloh, a Slovenian refugee, and his daughter Sonja. In the wilds of Tasmania on a dam-building site in 1954, Maria (Bojan’s wife) walks out into the forest and doesn’t return. She has left her husband and 3-year-old daughter. The story tracks back and forth through the years that follow, tracing the father-daughter relationship, until 1990 when Sonja returns to Tasmania after decades away to reconnect with her father.


“No-one would see in the professional woman that skinny frightened child with eyes always cast sideways in expectation of the unexpected.”

“All that remains, she thought, was her and him, but apart there was nothing more than than a home become a barn, an orchard ploughed under to become an empty paddock, the smell of a tree without blossom, the look of Jean’s window without lace, the sound of one hand clapping.”

“In those cowering corrals of huts had to live the workers, for in this remote highland country of the remote island of Tasmania that lay far off the remote land of Australia, there was no human settlement for many miles. There were just wild rivers and wilder mountain ranges and everywhere rainforest that only ceded its reign over the land to intermittent buttongrass plains, or in the higher altitudes, to alpine moorland. This is what she saw. What she heard was precisely nothing.”

My opinion:

This is an incredibly sad story. I appreciated some very good writing, but I found it rambling and repetitive at times, and the book too long.

The opinion of others:
  • CNN: “Although the flashbacks occasionally slow the story down, Flanagan brings the past and present together at times when it matters most, building the suspense to the final pages when he reveals what happened to Maria Buloh and why she left her family. Without spelling it out letter by letter, Flanagan lets readers draw their own harrowing conclusions. “The Sound of One Hand Clapping” is a story that Flanagan clearly had to tell, and one that should be read.”
  • Publishers Weekly: “Australian writer Flanagan (Death of a River Guide) brilliantly illuminates the lives of those who are “forgotten by history, irrelevant to history, yet shaped entirely by it.” His characters here transform tragedy as they discover their individual worth.”
Other editions:
Movie adaptation:

The Sound of One Hand Clapping is a 1998 Australian film, directed by Richard Flanagan.

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