Despite what is known about the importance of belonging, too many people experience its opposite: loneliness and isolation. For these individuals ‘belonging’ remains a tragically elusive goal. Immigrants are perhaps the most vivid examples of social isolation. Social isolation is a complex and mysterious phenomenon that permeates many, if not all, aspects of an individual’s life. Migrants are often linked together as a community by a common sense of not-belonging. The non-fictional novel ‘Romulus My Father’ by Raimond Gaita effectively explores how ones sense of personal and national identity can be affected by the experience of migration. The novel traces the childhood of the author, Raimond, but in particular the experience of his father Romulus Gaita from post-war Yugoslavia until his death in Australia in 1996. It particularly focuses on the migrant experience during the conservative era of the 1950’s, a time when “immigrants were tolerated but seldom accorded the respect they deserved,” the difficulty facing ‘New Australians’ and the changes in Australian society which lead to modern day notions of multiculturalism.
Gaita uses a memoir as a vehicle to extend the aspects of his father’s migrant experience to the audience. Romulus’ experience is seen mainly through Gaita’s eyes – the title of the memoir alerts the audience to this first-person perspective. Gaita rarely intrudes into the narrative, but relays events as he saw them happen applying his own knowledge of psychology and philosophy to enable the audience to explore the minds of each character. He utilises personal emotive language to invoke this, “Mitru’s suicide and my father’s madness had convinced me that sexual love was a passion whose force and nature was mysterious, and that anyone who came under its sway should be prepared to be destroyed by it.” Gaita also inter-relates external texts in the memoir to describe the nature of characters, in particular his father when he uses an extract from the ‘Prayer for the Dead’ found in The Book of Common Prayer to express the effect of Lydia’s betrayal upon Romulus, “Man that is born of woman hath but a short time to live and is full of misery. He cometh up and is cut down like a flower.” This simile effectively describing the effect Lydia had upon Romulus’ moral world that remained vital to his sense of fulfilment. The only incidents Gaita describes in any detail throughout the narrative are those which affect the audience’s understanding of Romulus.
Within Australia Romulus is seen as a social outcast. When he comes to Australia he is unable to fathom the natural landscape and feels he belonged to Europe. The landscape becomes symbolic of Romulus’ alienation, deprivation and isolation which damages his ability to belong, thus hampering any sense of fulfilment. Despite the beauty of the Australian landscape, only its bare desolation became highlighted in Romulus’ eyes, “Though the landscape is one of beauty, to a European or English eye it seems desolate, and even after more than forty years my father could not become reconciled by it”. However not everything of Romulus is left behind in Europe, much of what he