Posted by: Lisa Hill | August 12, 2016

Sensational Snippets: My Sister Chaos (2014), by Lara Fergus

My Sister ChaosI was reading the award-winning novel My Sister Chaos by Lara Fergus, when I came across a superb evocation of loss…

The unnamed cartographer, like everyone else, was unprepared for war.  She was leading a unit working on an international project, the Global Map…

On the day that they told us that they were closing up the building and we had to evacuate I was stunned.  I was still working, the project wasn’t finished, there was no way I could leave it.  In the end someone got a security guard to stand in my office doorway. That was enough.  I didn’t wait for him to come any closer, my horror of being touched by strangers being stronger than my desire to stay.  And I could see that it would seem ridiculous to listeners, when told later, as a story.

But I saved it all.   I was the only one who possessed the data in its entirety.  The people working for me only had access to the small areas for which they were responsible, and the UN agency that funded the project only got the summarised versions I sent them in reports. I took the data without the programs that would enable me to read it, to save space.  It took up surprisingly little memory: a single USB stick which I hung around my neck, tucked into my clothes.

I did it for safety’s sake, as a backup, thinking I’d return in a few weeks to continue.  I had no sense of heroism, otherwise I would have been more methodical; insisted colleagues save the data on their own projects, made more backups in different forms. We could have emailed the most important files to each other, or ourselves. But we were all sure we’d be back, and it was all still there on the server, in the basement. It was still there as I tidied my desk, filed away the documents I’d been working on, washed my coffee cup in the office kitchen, the security guard shadowing me. It was all still there as I swiped my way out of the building.

It was all still there until I heard, two days later, exiled in my apartment, that the building had been bombed to rubble. The weight of it collapsing in on the basement and its blinking servers, full of irreplaceable data.  Lost, of course.  Except what I have, still on the USB stick. My country on a scale of one to one million; my country the way it was before the war anyway.  It hangs weightless around my neck.

(My Sister Chaos, by Lara Fergus, Spinifex Press, 2014, ISBN 9781876756840, p. 27)

It’s not possible to read this without thinking of Syria and those buildings bombed to rubble, of UN maps of the Middle East that bear no relationship to reality at all, and of countries that can never be the way they were, if they can be countries at all…

You can buy a copy from Fishpond:My Sister Chaos or direct from Spinifex Press.


  1. This reminds me – though it’s completely different really – of the experience of an ex-colleague of mine during the Serbian/Bosnian war in 1992. Her office wasn’t bombed but basically she was away on holidays when the Siege of Sarajevo started and was advised she shouldn’t go back to work. She came to Australia as a refugee instead. She never really recovered from that essentially forced displacement though last year, when she retired, she moved back to Sarajevo. I really hope she’s happy.


    • It must cause an incredible sense of displacement – and I can see why you’d worry about your colleague, because, well, it would be like people emerging from the cellars after carpet bombing and finding that the whole landscape is entirely different.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. […] the language of her new country, others have made assumptions about her competence.  (See a Sensational Snippet here). She makes sense of traumatic experiences that are gradually revealed by bringing order to […]


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