by Jane Alison
Once there were two families: one Australian, one American. Each family had a mother, a father who worked for his country’s foreign service, and two little girls. The older two girls were the same age, while the younger two — one of them Jane Alison, whose memoir this is — shared the same birthday, although Jenny was a year older. In The Sisters Antipodes (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2009), Jane describes the events that followed when the adults got divorced in order to exchange spouses: Jane was four and her older sister, Patricia, was seven. In less than a year, it was all over: the divorces and remarriages, the new fathers, and the new lives. For Jane, this meant leaving her native Australia and moving to the U.S., always conscious of the fact that there was another family, almost identical, that was living a kind of mirror life to theirs. (One of the other almost uncanny similarities was that both couples had a third child, a boy, born two weeks apart, two years after the marriages.) Although Jane and Patricia got frequent letters from their father (and fabulous birthday presents), they didn’t see or talk to him for seven years. This was, of course, well before the days of Skype, or inexpensive long distance phone service, or even email. During her difficult, wild adolescence, there was always Jenny’s shadow, a few dozen steps ahead of her, the mirror sister who had somehow stolen Jane’s father, Jane’s grandparents, and even Australia from her. This gripping memoir is marked by writing that is searing in its honesty and pain, but never maudlin or over the top. And the question (never really answered) that will haunt readers, as it still haunts Jane, is this: Which father decided first to abandon his daughters in favor of a new wife and a new life?