Title: A Treacherous Country
Author: K.M. Kruimink
Genre: Historical Fiction, Literary
Publisher: Allen and Unwin
Published: 21st April 2020
Synopsis: The winner of the prestigious literary award that has launched over a hundred authors – The Australian/Vogel’s Literary award
WINNER OF THE AUSTRALIAN/VOGEL’S LITERARY AWARD
There is a woman, somewhere, here, in Van Diemen’s Land, unless she had died or otherwise departed, called Maryanne Maginn.
Gabriel Fox, the young son of an old English house, arrives in a land both ancient and new.
Drawn by the promise of his heart’s desire, and compelled to distance himself from pain at home, Gabriel begins his quest into Van Diemen’s Land.
His guide, a Cannibal who is not all he seems, leads him north where Gabriel might free himself of his distracting burden and seek the woman he must find. As Gabriel traverses this wild country, he uncovers new truths buried within his own memory.
Authentic, original and playful, A Treacherous Country is a novel of loyalty, wisdom and the freedom to act.
When Gabriel Fox arrives in Australia in 1820 – just over thirty years since the First Fleet arrived, he sets out with his Irish companion, called his Cannibal, to Van Diemen’s land in search of a woman who was transported thirty years ago – Maryanne Maginn. But he’s also running away from pain at home, and seeking something new, which he hopes to find in this wild country – as seen through the eyes of those who came here from Europe. On this quest into Van Diemen’s land, Gabriel does not know what he will find nor what dangers he will stumble across as he seeks to find this woman who was transported when she was very young. As Gabriel searches for her, her learns more about this country and land that is new to him – yet so ancient for others, and for another group, it is a prison. Gabriel’s task is simple – find out whether Maryanne is dead or alive – and survive his journey.
The story is told solely through Gabriel’s eyes, so we see the results of colonisation through his lens and what others tell him about the convicts and displacement – which is hinted at throughout the novel, but the main focus is the quest for Maryanne, more than the history of the land and colonisation. Through this quest, Gabriel shows how little those who are new to this country understand the land, but also, their desire to tame it for their own will. It shows how colonisation affected the land – and a world shown through the eyes of those with power – and what this means for those forgotten or ignored.
It is a quest with a clear goal, yet an ending that might lead into another story, as it was so open to interpretation, anything could have happened, but I think I know what the author was aiming for – to find out you’ll have to read it for yourself though. It is a book about freedom in some ways and being a prisoner or tied to something awful in other ways, as shown through Gabriel’s eyes, story and experience. It is another way of exploring Australia’s history in a micro sense – taking one experience and telling that story to expand on what we already know, or to add to the myriad of voices out there. This is just one example of how the known story is not the only one out there. There are many others that can be told from a variety of diverse perspectives, and to be able to read them alongside this story and other stories would help give a well-rounded view of Australian history.
K.M. Kruimink has crafted a story that is compelling and intriguing, and that explores the unknown world of Van Diemen’s land, as well as the interior world and mind of her main character, Gabriel. The isolation he feels physically mirrors the isolation and at times, desolation he feels emotionally and mentally as his mind and body battle an unknown world and situation. It is an interesting novel – one that needs to have time spent with it to unravel everything in the novel, and work out where everyone fits and especially, some parts of the final chapters. Not everything is made obvious, but this is what makes it work within the scope and purposes of the novel. It is at times gentle and at times wild, but when combined, these aspects are what makes the novel work for what is and its audience.
It is more literary than historical, though the historical elements are there and help to create the world that Gabriel is in, showing just how the colonists saw Australia and Van Diemen’s land as wild and untamed land as they see it. This was an intriguing novel that will certainly find an interested audience, and sometimes, it is these stories of individuals that give history its colour and richness, in all shapes and forms.