John Hughes (born 1961) is a Sydney-based Australian writer and teacher. His first book of autobiographical essays, The Idea of Home, published by Giramondo in 2004, was widely acclaimed and won both the New South Wales Premier's Literary Awards for Non-Fiction (2005) and the National Biography Award (2006).
Hughes was born in Cessnock, NSW to a father of Welsh descent, and a mother who was of Ukrainian descent. Hughes states that as a second generation Australian, he "lived in two worlds as a child": one world the routine, real world of Cessnock and the second the exotic foreign world of his European family's past. The sense that he was 'foreign' became central to his sense of self. He felt connected to an imagined past of his grandparents. As a child stories were told to him of how his grandparents fled Kiev during the Second World War and had walked on foot across Europe to Naples. From Naples, they emigrated to Australia. The text in "The Idea of Home" is devoted to the stories of this journey passed down from Hughes' grandfather, and their impact on a young John Hughes.
Hughes undertook a medical degree, but shortly realised it was not for him. He switched to an undergraduate arts degree at Newcastle University in the late 1970s, and at the end of his Honours year, was offered the Shell Scholarship to Cambridge. His preconceived notions of Europe as a place vastly more sophisticated than his provincial Cessnock prompted him to go. However, as he spent more time in England, and struggled through a PhD on Coleridge, he realised that his ideas were wrong, and that provincialism was, if not as obvious, certainly still as potent in what was considered the centre of the academic world. After this, he gave up his "life of letters", as he called it, and returned to Australia.
Back in Sydney, he unsuccessfully tried to teach at his old university, Newcastle, but his failure at Cambridge haunted him. He did, however, complete a PhD thesis at UTS, called "Memory and Forgetting". Hughes now teaches at Sydney Grammar School, where he is Senior Master in English and Senior Librarian. He took a position in the English Department of Sydney Grammar in 1995, under Townsend, who was soon replaced by one of Hughes' colleagues at Cambridge, Dr. John Vallance, as Headmaster.
This autobiographical novel was written over a ten-year period. It is a collection of five interlinked essays where Hughes describes his relationship with the Ukraine heritage of his mother and grandfather and his childhood experience of growing up as a second generation Australian. The essays are also about how the idea of Europe he developed as a young man clashed with the reality he found in Cambridge and when he travelled though Europe.
A manuscript written by an Australian art historian is discovered by his son. Claiming to have found a series of lost paintings by Piero della Francesca in Arezzo, the father's manuscript moves between Renaissance Italy and post-Revolutionary Russia - at its core is the relationship the father has with an ageing Russian émigrée who, haunted by the ghost of her murdered son, claims to have nursed the poet Osip Mandelstam in his final days. The remnants of the father's manuscripts, notebooks and diaries are brought together through the son's commentary resulting in a deeply philosophical novel about translation between languages, cultures and, ultimately, the translation of the father into the son.