22. ilb 07. - 17.09.2022

Brian Castro

Portrait Brian Castro
© Hartwig Klappert

Brian Castro was born in Hong Kong in 1950. His mother was of Chinese-English descent and his father was born to a family of Spanish, Portuguese and English merchants who settled in Shanghai at the turn of the 20th century. Castro was sent alone to Australia in 1961 to boarding school. He studied at the University of Sydney and subsequently worked as an author and teacher in Australia, France and Hong Kong.

In his first novel, »Birds of Passage« (1983), Castro examines questions of personal and national identity against the backdrop of the »translatability« of cultures. In this book, he intertwines the respective stories of Lo Yun Shan, a Chinese man who emigrates from Kwangtung to Australia during the gold rush in the 1850s, and Seamus O’Young, an Australian of Chinese ancestry in the contemporary era. When Seamus discovers and translates notes written by Shan, he realizes the extent to which their lives are linked to one another. Castro’s novel »Double-Wolf« (1991) received three Australian literary awards and explores the life of Sergei Pankejeff, best known in the history of psychoanalysis as being the patient to whom Sigmund Freud gave the pseudonym »Wolf Man«. In this witty and profound text, Castro uses historical facts to examine what exactly comprises the truth and observes how creating myths helps us understand and process reality. »Shanghai Dancing« (2003) is a fictitious biography told from an Australian perspective in which Castro recounts the life of his family in Shanghai, Hong Kong and Macau from the 1930s to 1960s. The book received multiple awards and impressed critics as a historical account, as a work of fiction and as a novel that stretches the literary form and speaks to the universality of human experience. »The Garden Book« (2005) takes place in Australia’s Dandenong Ranges in the years between the Depression and the Second World War. The plot follows the turbulent life of a beautiful woman named Swan Hay (born Shuang He), who remains unaware that a French translation of her poetry has made her famous. Long after her life has been spent in poverty and destitution, a male librarian and »expert at self-denial« reconstructs her story. In the course of perusing her scattered writings, the librarian also uncovers the reality of early 20th-century Australian life shaped by racial prejudices. Castro’s most recent novel, »Blindness and Rage« (2017), smashes to pieces the form of the novel; comprising 34 cantos, its short, rhythmic lines recall the work of Virgil, Dante and Pushkin’s »Eugene Onegin«.

Castro has received numerous prizes for his literary work, including the Patrick White Award for Literature 2014. He lives in Adelaide Hills.