Once, Only the Swallows Were Free

Once, Only the Swallows Were Free

Twenty five years after I left my native land, communism fell and I set out to find my half-brother Tom, with whom I had lost contact. Tom, the young boy with a limp who I spent my childhood with, was now an erudite man, stuck as a gateman, punishment for his social origins.

In a cosy room with red Persian carpets and photographs of his mother, who died giving him birth, he told me stories about his life under communism, sad and funny stories which needed to be told.  I interleaved these with stories of the rest of the family, a riches-to-rags saga, then their eventual emigration to Israel. Not the Land of Milk and Honey for them, but hard work, poverty, relentless heat and wars.

This story moves beyond the life of a family, it depicts neighbours and friends, communist authorities and everyday people, colourful characters who breathe life into the times.

What some of reviews say:

Gouch’s writing style is picturesque. It is filled with glorious anecdotes and written with fiction-like narrative flair and its overall impact is a beautiful story, notwithstanding the trauma it describes

Nicolette Snowden, Eras Journal, published by Monash University

Exceptional times call for extraordinary measures and Gouch takes a complex true story and delivers an exceptional chronicle.

Rama Gaind, PS News

Beautifully written, I found this memoir both compelling and moving.

Amanda Hampson best selling author

The sweeping events of 20th Century Europe confront familial love, chance and fate in this beautifully written treatment of ordinary lives in extraordinary times. …. But it all stops too soon! Can’t wait for the next instalment.

Richard Matheson, goodreads

Thoroughly enjoyable! This is a beautifully crafted memoir. The skill of the writer is evident on every page.

Lee-Anne, goodreads

This is a story that had to be told: ripples of history from a unique time and place via one family’s journey from the ravages of World War II in Transylvania to the desert fringes of the fledgling state of Israel and, for the narrator, on to Australia. Gouch’s voice is at once elegiac and compassionate. Her love of the natural world paints the landscapes through which she has travelled.

Marilla North, freelance journalist

The book is available at Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Book Depository, Booktopia and others. In Australia, you can order it from good bookshops eg. In Sydney Abbeys https://www.abbeys.com.au/

In the USA the book is also available in a number of university libraries eg. Stanford, Harvard, Michigan

Read an extract

‘It is fascinating how unpredictable life can be,’ my father mused on one of our long walks. I loved those Sunday strolls in the cool of late summer afternoons, or in the winter when the snow scrunched under our shoes and snowflakes danced in the breeze and vanished. He had a warm, reassuring voice, and though I was a young adult by then, his way of thinking and the way he looked at the world and his life – detached, as a spectator – still intrigued and charmed me.

I thought of my father’s words as my taxi travelled eastwards on the way to Transylvania. It was December 1990. It had not snowed that year; the fields were dark and bleak, but I still hoped for snow and a white Christmas. Having talked non-stop for an hour, the driver had fallen silent.

A few short hours away was the border of Romania and its prov-ince of Transylvania. Not the land of Dracula and vampires, but of mountains and rivers and exquisite birdsong. The land where stories and legends are born. The land of my birth.

Yes, life is unpredictable, and what could have been more unpre-dictable than the event which had sent me on that journey: the col-lapse of communism. The eternal and invincible communism. Who would have believed it? Part of me still could not.

‘The ripples of History again,’ my long-dead father whispered in my ear as the featureless scenery slid past the window.

Twenty-five years had passed since we left that part of the world, since our family emigrated – well, most of us did. Twenty-five years since the red and grey roofs of Romania had vanished into milky mist. Moments after, we emerged into blue sky and sunshine. Ahead of us, freedom. And there, above the clouds, I promised myself and the universe: I would never, ever, return.

By the time the plane started its descent to Vienna, I could think only of the future. The heavenly West was only minutes away. The past was irrelevant. And it remained irrelevant for years. Now and then a memory would surface like a bubble in water, but it soon vanished. There was an Iron Curtain between me and my past life.

The years passed. Sometimes at night, when the wind rufled the leaves of the elm tree in front of our house, I remembered the leaves of the oak trees whispering in the wind in my native land and images of that other life, our life in Romania, would come flooding in. Good times and dreadful times. Etched in my memory, imprinted on my senses. The hills, the grazing sheep, the smell of the pine forest, the trill of the birds were alive again. Suddenly I missed my native land. No, not just the land – I missed much more. 

And as I watched the dark fields beyond the window of my taxi, this afternoon in 1990, those memories were with me again and I was transported to the other side of the border, to Romania, and a little flat in a two-storey block in the Southern Carpathian mountains.