Review: All the Beautiful Liars
Updated: Mar 24
All the Beautiful Liars
How true are the family histories that tell us who we are and where we come from? Who knows how much all the beautiful liars have embargoed or embellished the truth?
During a long flight from Europe to Sydney to bury her mother, Australian expat Katrina Klain reviews the fading narrative of her family and her long quest to understand her true origins. This has already taken her to Vienna, where she met her Uncle Harald who embezzled the Austrian government out of millions, as well as Carl Sokorny, the godson of one of Hitler's most notorious generals, and then on to Geneva and Berlin. Not only were her family caught up with the Nazis, they also turn out to have been involved with the Stasi in post-war East Germany.
It's a lot to come to terms with, but there are more revelations in store. After the funeral, she finds letters that reveal a dramatic twist which means her own identity must take a radical shift. Will these discoveries enable her to complete the puzzle of her family’s past?
Inspired by her own life story, Sylvia Petter’s enthralling fictional memoir set between the new world and the old is a powerful tale about making peace with the past and finding closure for the future.
The story of family secrets as deep and complex as history itself. Katrina becomes consumed with understanding her family’s story. Her travels reveal not only the convoluted ways we lie to protect ourselves and those we love, but also the way a family has maintained its position in society despite big cultural shifts in power and morality.
While I’m ambivalent about the structure of storytelling in this book, I found the overall story fascinating. My father lived in Germany in the late 1960s. He recounted similar stories to the one told here - families trying to understand and justify their place in one of the most horrifying epochs of modern history. I loved the nuances of truth in the family story - each bit of fact covered another small lie, which hid a more complex moral story.
I found the narrative clunky. The author uses flashbacks to tell the story. These are interrupted by 1-2 paragraphs of dialogue or description by an omniscient narrator. I skipped a lot of the narrative interruptions toward the end. It didn’t ruin the book, but it disrupted the flow of the story. It’s also written in present tense, which feels odd since it uses flashbacks and flash forwards. I get that the structure kept me emotionally aloof from what could’ve been a very powerful story, but didn’t interfere enough to stop me from binge-reading.
For a limited time, All the Beautiful Liars will be available for only 99p.
Author Bio –
Sylvia Petter was born in Vienna but grew up in Australia, which makes her Austr(al)ian.
She started writing fiction in 1993 and has published three story collections, The Past Present, Back Burning and Mercury Blobs. She has a PhD in Creative Writing from the University of New South Wales.
After living for 25 years in Switzerland, where she was a founding member of the Geneva Writers’ Group, she now lives in Vienna once more.