Elena Govor, My Dark Brother, Sydney, 2000
Nicholas Rothwell, Beyond the frontier [Extract], The Weekend Australian, 20-21 April 2002.
By chance, a compellingly nonconformist work of Australian family history, at once European and Aboriginal, has just been published. My Dark Brother, by the Russian Elena Govor, traces the story of a St Petersburg intellectual, Nicholas Illin, who emigrated in 1910 to north Queensland and founded a dynasty. His son, Leandro, an impassioned idealist, married a Ngadjon Aboriginal woman and became a champion of indigenous rights. Govor's mazy narrative paints a picture of the Russian exile colony on the Atherton Tablelands, of the texture of the Illins' domestic lives, of her own persistent search for their traces, of her friendship with the Aboriginal descendants of these captivating men. This is a rich, sprawling story: Russian and Aboriginal, archival and imaginative. It illustrates and completes a fusion and interplay of cultures.
Nothing quite like it has been written before; it lingers long in the memory. The author applied for a modest grant from the Australian Institute of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Studies, which subsidises many a book and research project. They turned her down. My Dark Brother appeared a year ago, and looms above its field: it is nothing less than a new way into the indigenous world.