22. ilb 07. - 17.09.2022

Tom Keneally

Thomas Michael Keneally was born in Sydney in 1935. He spent his childhood and youth in different boroughs of the Australian metropolis, and in Kempsey, New South Wales. As a student he dreamt of being a defence player in the national Rugby team, and of receiving the Nobel Prize in Literature. However, his rugby career ended while he was still at school. Before dedicating himself to literature, he studied to become a Catholic priest. However, he dropped out of the seminar just before his ordination in 1960 and opted for the professional career of a teacher. After having published his first novel »The Place at Whitton« (1964), he finally settled to being first and foremost a writer.

In his debut and his subsequent novel »Three Cheers for the Paraclete« (1968) Keneally deals with his experiences at theological college. His protagonists struggle with the dogmas of the Catholic Church. Moral and ethical conflicts are a main theme in this writer’s oeuvre. His plots are usually set against the backdrop of historical transformations, and external factors restrict the scope of action of his characters, thus causing situations of stress. »Gossip from the Forest« (1975) is about the truce negotiations at the end of the First World War seen from the perspective of the German envoy Matthias Erzberger. »Season in Purgatory« (1976) focuses on Tito’s partisans during the German Occupation of Yugoslavia in the Second World War. His most successful book, »Schindler’s Ark« (1982) was turned into a movie by Steven Spielberg in 1993. Once again the author discusses the complexity of moral behaviour in view of the turmoil of war times. Based on historical documents and interviews with witnesses of the period the novel tells the story of the German entrepreneur and bon vivant Oskar Schindler. The hero, whose ethics are ambiguous, skilfully manipulates the Nazi war machine in order to save the lives of thousands of Jews. Keneally sees Schindler’s actions as a model case to show that »good will emerge from the most unlikely places«. The story in his most recent work »The People’s Train« (2010) unfolds during the Russian October Revolution of 1917. The protagonist is a Socialist revolutionary, the themes are flight, exile and return. Keneally’s novels have been compared with the narrative art of Graham Greene and Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn. The author also writes non-fiction and plays.

Thomas Keneally has received numerous literary awards, including the Man Booker Prize and twice the Australian Miles Franklin Award. He lives and works in Sydney.

© internationales literaturfestival berlin