Castro, Brian (Albert) 1950-
CASTRO, Brian (Albert) 1950-
PERSONAL: Born January 16, 1950, in Kowloon, Hong Kong, China; immigrated to Australia, 1961; naturalized Australian citizen; son of Alberto Jose and Jessie Maria (Ewing) Castro; married Josephine Mary Gardiner, August 10, 1976 (marriage ended); married Maryanne Elizabeth Dever, December 7, 1997. Ethnicity: "Portuguese-Chinese-English." Education: University of Sydney, M.A., 1976.
ADDRESSES: Home—Melbourne, Australia. Agent—Bettina Keil, Keil & Keil Literatur Agentur, Schulterblatt 58, 20357 Hamburg, Germany.
CAREER: Mount Druitt High School, New South Wales, Australia, teacher, 1972-76; Lycée Technique, Paris, France, assistant in languages, 1976-77; St. Joseph's College, Hunter's Hill, New South Wales, French master, 1978-79; Asiaweek magazine, Hong Kong (now in China), literary journalist, 1983-87; Nepean College, Kingswood, New South Wales, visiting fellow, 1988; All-Asia Review of Books, Hong
Kong, literary journalist, 1989-91; novelist, 1992—. Mitchell College, writer in residence, 1985; University of Western Sydney, tutor in literary studies, 1989-91.
MEMBER: Australian Society of Authors.
AWARDS, HONORS: Shared Australian Vogel Literary Award, Allen & Unwin, 1982, for Birds of Passage; Australian Council fellowships, 1983, 1991, 1992-93, 2003; Cité Internationale des Arts, Paris, senior fellow, 1997-98, resident at Keesing Studio, 2000; fiction prize, National Book Council; book of the year award for fiction, Age, for Double-Wolf; three Victorian Premier's Prizes.
Birds of Passage, Allen & Unwin (North Sydney, New South Wales, Australia), 1982.
Pomeroy, Allen & Unwin (North Sydney, New South Wales, Australia), 1990.
Double-Wolf, Allen & Unwin (North Sydney, New South Wales, Australia), 1991.
After China, Allen & Unwin (North Sydney, New South Wales, Australia), 1992.
Drift, Heinemann Australia (Port Melbourne, Victoria, Australia), 1994.
Stepper, Random House RRP (Australia), 1998.
Shanghai Dancing, Giramondo (Sydney, New South Wales, Australia), 2003.
Writing Asia and Auto/Biography: Two Lectures, Australia Defence Force Academy (Canberra, Australia), 1995.
Looking for Estrellita (essays), International Specialized Book Service (Portland, OR), 1999.
Contributor of fiction to anthologies, including Picador New Writing, edited by Helen Daniel and Robert Dessaix, Picador (Chippendale, New South Wales, Australia), 1993; and Risks: An Anthology, edited by Brenda Walker, Fremantle Arts Centre Press (Fremantle, Australia), 1996. Contributor of essays and literary criticism to books, including Writing in Multicultural Australia 1984: An Overview, edited by Jacques Delaruelle, Alexandra Karakostas-Seda, and Anna Ward, Australia Council for Literature Board (North Sydney, New South Wales, Australia), 1985; and Striking Cords: Multicultural Literary Interpretations, edited by Sneja Gunew and Kateryna Longley, Allen & Unwin (North Sydney, New South Wales, Australia), 1992. Contributor to periodicals, including Australian Book Review, Heat, Meanjin, Australian Literary Studies, Island, Mattoid, and Outrider.
Castro's novels have been translated into French, Chinese, and German.
ADAPTATIONS: After China was adapted for the stage by Peter Copeman and produced in a series of workshops and readings at Queensland University of Technology, 1997-98, and in Sydney, Australia, 1998.
SIDELIGHTS: Brian Castro is "undoubtedly one of the most inventive and original Australian writers," according to Australian Book Review contributor Helen Daniel, reviewing Castro's 1992 novel After China. Born in Hong Kong in 1950, the scion on his father's side of a family of Shanghai merchants of Spanish and Portuguese heritage, and on his mother's of Chinese and English ancestry, Castro moved to Australia to pursue his education in 1961. He worked for several years as a schoolteacher, specializing in languages, and briefly taught creative writing on the university level. His 1982 debut novel, Birds of Passage, was a cowinner of the Vogel prize given annually by its publisher, Allen & Unwin. Since becoming a prominent novelist Castro he has been writing full-time.
The novel Double-Wolf is based on a historical figure in the field of psychoanalysis: Sergei Wespe, better known as Freud's patient "the Wolf-Man." Born in 1876 into the Russian aristocracy, Wespe experienced childhood sexual traumas and grew up to believe himself a werewolf. The novel follows him, not only during the time covered by his psychoanalysis, but into his later life when he married a woman who committed suicide after the Nazi invasion of Vienna. Later still, he was analyzed by a fraudulent psychoanalyst in Australia. The narrative follows events discontinuously, punctuated not only by shifts in setting but by passages that are intended to make the reader question the validity of narrative itself. According to John McLaren in the Australian Book Review, "I am not sure what secrets Castro's maze of signs and stories offers, but I am confident its obsessional images will continue to haunt its readers." Daniel, in her review of After China, looked back upon Double-Wolf as simply "splendid."
In the widely reviewed After China, the protagonist is a Chinese architect named You Bok Mun, who, while staying at an Australian hotel that he had designed, meets and becomes symbiotically involved with a dying female writer. Flashbacks not only fill in You's life, but take the reader as far back as the final years of the great Chinese philosopher Lao Tzu (499 B.C.). As in Double-Wolf, the narrative structure is fragmented and complex in the postmodernist vein, leaving one reviewer, David Coad in World Literature Today, to express disfavor. Daniel, however, applauded this "vast labyrinth of narrative," one which occupied a mere 145 pages. Daniel felt that after some awkwardness at the beginning, the novel grew, "its movement becom[ing] more delicate and poised," until it reached "an ending of brilliant design, resonant with millennial images." In Meanjin, Rosemary Sorensen praised the novel's "surface shine and sparkle," which made it, for her, "rewarding reading."
Castro has also written several other novels. Drift is a partly imagined, partly researched tale based on the work of a real, though obscure, British novelist, B. S. Johnson, who lived from 1933 to 1973. Taking off from some of Johnson's published and unpublished work, and using Johnson as a character with only the most minimal of name changes—Bryan Stanley, his first two names, became Byron Shelley—Castro constructed a novel on two historical planes, one of them resting in contemporary London and the other in colonial Tasmania. The novel "is a monument to narrative complexity" and an examination of the author's own quandary as a person of a mixture of cultural and ethnic ancestry, according to Journal of Australian Studies contributor Miriam Wei Wei Lo, the critic adding that Drift "plays with parody on many levels." Writing in the Australian Book Review, Katharine England called Drift a "funny, fascinating, fabulous book."
Published in 1998, Stepper is a psychological novel of espionage set in Tokyo during World War II. Stepper, the protagonist, is a German journalist who is also a spy. Lonely, suspicious, and complex, he has an affair with a modernized Japanese woman named Reiko that prompts his gradual emotional self-exploration during the course of the narrative. Castro described his novel Shanghai Dancing as "a mixture of autobiography, history, memoir, and outrageous tales" that "traces the secrets and lies of a cosmopolitan family from Shanghai in the 1920s through to their translation to Australia in the 1960s. In search of a legacy, the narrator discovers all kinds of skeletons, and before too long he is himself drawn into the machinations of families and gangs. Episodic in nature, elegiac in style, the jigsaw chapters" are intended to reveal "a picture of both heroism and shame."
In addition to novels, Castro has published the essay collection Looking for Estrellita, a 1999 work that brings together two decades of articles, memoirs, and speeches that follow his development as a writer and his rise to literary luminary status within his native Australia. Noting that Castro remains concerned primarily with "language and the writer's concern for words" in the fourteen works included, Journal of Australian Studies contributor Hugh Martin noted that the collection illuminates "the many contradictions and tensions that make up one of Australia's most interesting writers."
BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:
Contemporary Novelists, St. James Press (Detroit, MI), 1996.
Davis, Geoffrey V., and Hena Maes-Jelinek, Crisis and Creativity in the New Literature in English, Rodopi (Amsterdam, Netherlands), 1990.
Heseltine, Harry, editor, Literature and Psychiatry: Bridging the Divide, Australia Defence Force Academy (Canberra, Australia), 1992.
Ommundsen, Wenche, and Hazel Rowley, editors, From a Distance: Australian Writers and Cultural Displacement, Deakin University Press (Geelong, Australia), 1996.
Proceedings: Association for the Study of Australian Literature, 16th Annual Conference 1994, Australia Defence Force Academy (Canberra, Australia), 1995.
Antipodes, December, 2000, Nicholas Birns, review of Looking for Estrellita, p. 156.
Australian Book Review, July, 1991, John McLaren, review of Double-Wolf, pp. 38-40; July, 1992, Helen Daniel, review of After China, pp. 4-8; July, 1994, Katharine England, review of Drift, pp. 12-13; May, 1997, pp. 6-10.
Australian Humanities Review, April, 1996.
Australian Literary Studies, Volume 14, number 4, 1990, pp. 464-475; Volume 17, number 2, 1995, pp. 149-156; May, 2002, Karen Barker, "The Artful Man: Theory and Authority in Brian Castro's Fiction," pp. 231-248; May, 2002, Karen Barker, "Theory As Fireworks: An Interview with Brian Castro," p. 241; Volume 20, number 2, 2003, pp. 201-214.
Australian's Review of Books, April, 1997, pp. 3-4.
Eureka Street, Volume 4, number 8, 1994, pp. 41-42.
Independent Monthly, Volume 4, number 7, 1993, pp. 27-28.
Journal of Australian Studies, June, 2000, Peter Copeman and Rebecca Scollen, "Of Training, Tokenism, and Productive Misinterpretation: Reflections on the After China Project, " p. 35; June, 2000, Miriam Wei Wei Lo, review of Drift, p. 69; June, 2000, Hugh Martin, review of Looking for Estrellita, p. 215.
Law Society Journal, August, 2000, Ross Bell, review of Looking for Estrellita, p. 95.
Meanjin, summer, 1993, Rosemary Sorensen, review of After China, pp. 778-783.
Southerly, Volume 58, number 2, 1998, pp. 59-66; Volume 59, number 2, 1999, pp. 74-84; autumn, 2000, Bernadette Brennan, review of Drift, pp. 39-50; winter, 2000, Bernadette Brennan, review of Stepper, pp. 168-177.
Tirra Lirra, Volume 5, number 2, 1994, pp. 10-13.
World Literature Today, summer, 1993, David Coad, review of After China, p. 667; summer, 1995, David Coad, review of Drift, pp. 641-642.