Title: The Passengers
Author: Eleanor Limprecht
Genre: Literary Fiction
Publisher: Allen and Unwin
Published: 21st of February 2018
Synopsis: A luminous novel about love by an acclaimed rising star of Australian literature.
‘A stunning exploration of hope and desire, fear and control, this story is full of heart and heartbreak’
ASHLEY HAY, author of The Railwayman’s Wife
‘A compelling novel about the bruises inflicted by fate and by ourselves, and the blessings to be found in resilience, determination, and love.’
DEBRA ADELAIDE, author of The Household Guide to Dying
Sarah and Hannah are on a cruise from San Diego, California to Sydney, Australia. Sarah, Hannah’s grandmother, is returning to the country of her birth, a place she hasn’t seen since boarding the USS Mariposa in 1945. Then she, along with countless other war brides, sailed across the Pacific to join the American servicemen they’d married during World War II.
Now Hannah is the same age Sarah was when she made her first journey, and in hearing Sarah tell the story of her life, realises the immensity of what her grandmother gave up.
The Passengers is a luminous novel about love: the journeys we undertake, the sacrifices we make and the heartache we suffer for love It is about how we most long for what we have left behind. And it is about the past – how close it can still feel – even after long passages of time.
‘Two women, two generations, two countries, two journeys. Eleanor Limprecht gracefully navigates the crosscurrents of history and creates vibrant characters from the extraordinary true experiences of Australian war brides. Sarah and Hannah’s urgent search for love and wholeness moved me in both senses: they touched my heart and I still feel I am churning across the Pacific with them. A deeply satisfying novel.’
SUSAN WYNDHAM, former literary editor, The Sydney Morning Herald
Sixty-nine years after leaving her home in Australia, Sarah is heading home with her granddaughter, Hannah, on a cruise, the same way she left at the end of World War Two, to join the man she married, Roy, an American soldier serving in the Pacific theatre of the 1940s war. Up until the age of sixteen, Sarah had lived on a farm, and attended school, but just before World War Two breaks out, Sarah and her parents and brothers move to the city, where they must find work. When her brothers sign up for the war, Sarah watches them leave, and finds herself working as a typist for the Americans when they start to arrive. Caught between falling in love and loyalty to her family, Sarah has a choice to make when Roy proposes to her. They wed, and it is several years before they can be reunited in Roanoke, Virginia, and their reunion is not without its struggles – struggles that are not helped by Roy’s conservative parents. Soon, Sarah finds herself separated and alone. She soon reconnects with Jim, the Navy officer who was kind to her on her journey from Sydney.
Hannah is in her early twenties, and at constant war with anorexia. For her, this trip is a way to have time away from the stresses of her nursing course, and help her grandmother reconnect with the home she hasn’t seen for almost seventy years, having left when she was the same age Hannah is now. Struggling to keep up appearances and hide her reasons for not eating on the cruise, Hannah listens as Sarah tells her the story of how she became a war bride, and when the war hit the shores of Australia in February 1942, when Darwin was bombed by Japan. Both journeys have been on ships, one on the SS Mariposa, a luxury liner that had been repurposed for military personnel, and then again at the end of the war for the war brides and any children they had with them from Sydney to San Francisco, and the other a cruise ship taking them back to Sydney. Both journeys are transitions in the lives of the women, points at which things change for them, and alter their lives dramatically.
The Passengers is part historical fiction, part family drama, with two engaging female leads with vastly different experiences and lives on a journey to connect the present with the past and reconnect with family and homelands. With touches of romance that add to the story but do not overtake it, it is a nicely written book, and well researched, showing that not every war experience and not every war bride experience was the same. Eleanor Limprecht has shown the complexities of human nature and isolation in its various forms through each of the characters and their struggles to show how life can affect people and what can come out of it to make things better and the importance of family.
Read my interview with Eleanor here when it goes live.