Problematising ‘the border’ in Dead Europe

There is a line in English rhetoric that leaves open more questions than answers. Such is the case when one talks about the “border” between fiction and non-fiction. It will be noticed here that said “border” is enclosed in quotation marks. This is done because the “border” between fiction and non-fiction is very much debatable.  Meanwhile, putting ‘so-called’ in place of quotation marks makes it appear as though it is an imaginary concept more than anything else. I will commence by examining briefly the concepts of fiction and non-fiction. Subsequently, the “border” between fiction and non-fiction as being never fixed will be analysed in relation to Dead Europe (2005). Thereafter, the question of whether historical and imaginary experience is always interwoven will be discussed in relation to the aforementioned text.


The issue of the difference between fiction and non-fiction is a lot easier to deal with as compared to the “border” of these self-same ideas. To put it rather bluntly, fiction is imaginary, unreal, invented and conceived.  Examples of fiction include novels, plays, film scripts and short stories. On the other hand, non-fiction is the exact opposite. Non-fiction pertains to those compositions that have entirely truth in them. A prime example of non-fiction is the autobiography. Other examples are biographies, travel books, manuals and dictionaries.


In stark contrast, the “border” between fiction and non-fiction is much more difficult to pin down. The question of where fiction ends and where non-fiction begins will baffle even a polymath. Fiction should have at least some part that is fanciful while non-fiction is absolute in its retelling of truth. However, this is where the confusion reigns over. What categorises as truth has always been up to debate and in the world today, sensing does not necessarily equate to believing. There is so much irony, satire and sarcasm in humankind nowadays that it renders the old school notion of truth rather outdated and, in a sense, obsolete. On a similar note, the line between fictitious and part fictitious is mighty blurry as well. Employing half-truths and painting a panoramic landscape through colourful yet vague ideas is the perfect recipe for bewilderment. As one could see, it is pretty tough to separate notions of truths, untruths and half-truths and this leaves the reader feeling dazed.


In Christos Tsiolkas’ novel Dead Europe, it is easy to see that fact and fiction collide and leave the reader puzzled “beyond repair”. Looking into the techniques that Tsiolkas employed in his book, he focuses on four, namely, the naturalistic narrative, stability of subjectivity, secondary historical narrative and Gothic narrative. Here, it is obvious that the “border” between fact and fiction is not quite stable. The author, Isaac, is clearly fictional and so are his family, religion, and basically everything else that is connected to him. If there is something wrong, it is not apparent or it could be ignored, somewhere between the staunch lines.


However, this supposed perfectly fictional status is thrown into disarray as one turns the pages. The story progresses from a simple family history to parts with sexual innuendo. This at first is barely noticeable, as the gap that needs to be bridged between the two is quite plain. However, the succeeding themes become heavier and heavier as the weight of the material is wedged against a current of softness. Everything ‘comes to a head’ when Isaac is seen on the train to Alemania (Germany). Then there’s the other things that just absolutely confuses the poor reader beyond repair. Apparently, the people that Isaac talked to were either a) dead or b) not there. Examples of the dead people who Isaac apparently had fruitful conversations were this Greek grandmother in Thessalonica and Gerry in Paris. The conversations were laden with too much politics and Sophia (knowledge) at times that it seemed like nothing else mattered to these people’s lives. So many tempests are intertwined in this curious piece of literature. Sometimes, one does not know whether to laugh or cry or do both at the same time.

On the other hand, stability of subjectivity is an entirely different animal. In the beginning, Isaac is quite a stable young man who takes random photos of everything he deems dainty. While the book progresses and his sleep recesses, he gets more acutely unaware of doing things that he’ll later regret or otherwise talking to people that are not there and never will be. In short, stability of subjectivity diminishes as the narrative of the story’s protagonist progresses. Gothic narrative is particularly clear to see. This in fact commences in a very confronting part of the book. It was that scene wherein he meets a chick from Sao Paolo, Brazil on the train to Alemania. What transpires next is a disturbing fusion of the abject and the surreal, something more reserved for urban legends. Not your average Gothic encounter, the scene reinforces the inhuman within Isaac and sprinkles yet more notoriety to a text already oozing with controversy.


The looming question is whether that historical and imaginary experience is always interwoven. This is blatantly pronounced in Dead Europe at the very least Obviously, it starts with the entire story itself. The writer comes from a Greek background, living in Melbourne. The principal character in his novel is a photographer who lives in Melbourne and decides to go to Europe. At the time the novel was published, Mr Tsiolkas was around thirty years old, which is five years younger than Isaac in the novel. A photographer is an artist, no matter what is said to the contrary. Mr. Tsiolkas is himself an artist in his own unique style. We can go on and on with the similarities between the two, although I doubt that the author could be as imprudent as his protagonist. But the main selling point of the novel which in fact makes it clear that fiction and non-fiction, or rather, the question of it, is so very incomprehensible and troubling in this novel, is that both the author and his protagonist are gay. While being gay may or may not define others’ identity, the consequential placement in the book is conducive by leaving open much room for further criticism.      

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