WITH no author to sign books, the posthumous launch of Dr Serge Liberman’s compilation of his best short stories – in The Storyteller – at Kadimah in Elsternwick on April 15 was especially heartfelt.
The 432-page collection, suggested to Liberman by friend and colleague Alex Skovron, had the late author’s enthusiastic support, but his hopes to attend the launch were dashed when he lost his struggle with motor neurone disease at 75 last year.
Yet as Kadimah president Renata Singer reflected to the audience, Liberman’s spirit was most likely watching over the launch of his final collection.
Among Liberman’s many achievements, he was awarded an OAM and was a multiple winner of the prestigious Alan Marshall Award, editor of the English-Yiddish Melbourne Chronicle, former literary editor of The AJN and mastermind of The Bibliography of Australasian Judaica. Together with his prolific fiction, it was a proud record for the Uzbekistan-born child migrant who arrived in Australia in 1951.
Introducing the anthology of 28 of Liberman’s finest stories, La Trobe University emeritus professor Richard Freadman described him as a medical doctor whose creative works explored “colliding worlds” of the real and the metaphysical.
Among his themes were the doctor-patient relationship, the “disorientation and pain” of the Australian migrant experience, and intergenerational tensions, underpinned by a strong ethical code and flavoured with a bygone European world of “the shtetl, folklore and Chassidic tradition”.
Liberman was a universalist, said Freadman, who believed that “the more a Jew cares about [Jewish and non-Jewish] others, the more Jewish he is”.
His characters were “a voluble lot”, such as Gotteswill, the aptly named title character of Messiah in Acland Street, who praises Federman, a café scribe, for emphasising humankind.
Working in a style that was “elaborate [but] always charged with feeling”, like many fine writers, Liberman liked “to leave us uncertain”, said Freadman.
Reading from The Storyteller, Skovron chose the story, Music, about a Jewish schoolboy and his music teacher.
Liberman’s colleague, writer Arnold Zable, read from The House Behind Drawn Curtains, in which a physician faces conundrums transcending the physical.
Anna Mow, Liberman’s wife of more than 20 years, portrayed him as “a wise, gentle, kind man with a great big heart”, who sometimes appeared far off as he dreamed up new stories.
She paid tribute to Skovron and Freadman, and to Louis de Vries and Anna Blay of Hybrid Publishers, for making Liberman’s final book a reality.
“Although Serge, the mensch, is gone,” she said, “Serge, the writer, lives on.”
The Storyteller is published by Hybrid Publishers. www.hybridpublishers.com.au
REPORT by PETER KOHN