This narrative diary explores the gaps and myths of family history, identity, and expressiveness through the retracing of a many-generational voyage. In this new work, the focus is on his own family and its, at times, troubled and troubling history.
The story-line of The Missionary, The Violinist And The Aunt Whose Head Was Squeezed follows a five month journey that he made into the past, with his wife JoAnn as a companion. His father, John, had been born in Tokyo, and studied at Melbourne Grammar School before coming to Vancouver. His father’s father, Ernest, from St Ives, a journalist turned missionary, married Ethel Mercer, described in Melbourne’s Age as “Australia’s leading woman violinist”.
Keith Harrison discovers himself in the inadvertent circle shape of their voyaging, especially in the published writings of his father and grandfather. Of particular interest are the articles from Japan by Ernest during World War I and those by John that just precede World War II, that give a depth of time and range of tone to this composite, many-voiced book, that catches ancestors shaped by love and war.
Other documents found on this extended journey not only fill in the past but disrupt myths that had been transmitted down through the years. Key to this re-visioning of the past is the figure of Aunt Betty who suffered brain damage at birth. Ultimately and paradoxically, through an embedded work of fiction, she finds an imaginative rest.
This remarkable and honest fusion of travel writing, family history, and cultural anthropology is also a quest for meaning, and an understated love story.