Title: The Freedom Circus
Author: Sue Smethurst
Publisher: Penguin Random House Australia
Sue Smethurst’s The Freedom Circus is not only a well-written novel but one that perfectly exemplifies the power of people. While it can be a difficult read, it is also a valuable piece of literature in society’s current climate.
Each week Smethurst would bring a cake from her favourite shop in St Kilda, a bottle of the brightest nail polish, a selection of old pictures, and her tape recorder to capture her grandmother-in-law’s history. Through conversing with Mindla, Smethurst learned the story of a young woman who lived in Warsaw and fell in love with a performer in one of Poland’s premier circuses. The two embarked on a daunting journey through the USSR and the Middle East to Africa and eventually Australia.
The Freedom Circus is an exceptional novel that shines an uncomfortable light on the experiences that are not often at the forefront of dialogue regarding World War Two. Concentration camps, gas chambers, and fighting on the front—while still within the text—are not at its core. Instead, the pure brutality of people is made central to the story.
When reading, I often forgot that The Freedom Circus outlines the trajectory of an actual person and not a fictional character. Smethurst’s eloquence makes it easy to believe that this story is the imagined product of an experienced writer; however, it is not. Smethurst seamlessly blends the information given to her firsthand by Mindla with information uncovered through extensive historical research.
Essentially, Sue Smethurst’s The Freedom Circus is a tribute to the people that have shaped our lives today—those who did not simply come out the other side but did so with grace, strength and love. I look forward to seeing the novel’s success in Australia and beyond.