2017 Pultizer Prize Winner: The Underground Railroad by Colson Whitehead

undergroud railroad.jpg

Title: The Underground Railroad

Author: Colson Whitehead

Genre: Fiction, Literary Fiction, Historical Fiction

Publisher: Hachette Australia

Published: 26th April, 2017 (latest edition), Trade paperback 9th August 2016

Format: Paperback

Pages: 306

Price: $19.99

Synopsis: #1 NEW YORK TIMES BESTSELLER and a NEW YORK TIMES BOOK OF THE YEAR

NATIONAL BOOK AWARD WINNER FOR FICTION 2016

2017 Pultizer Prize Winner

‘Whitehead is on a roll: the reviews have been sublime’ Guardian
‘Luminous, furious, wildly inventive’ Observer
‘Hands down one of the best, if not the best, book I’ve read this year’ Stylist
‘Dazzling’ New York Review of Books

Cora is a slave on a cotton plantation in Georgia. All the slaves lead a hellish existence, but Cora has it worse than most; she is an outcast even among her fellow Africans and she is approaching womanhood, where it is clear even greater pain awaits. When Caesar, a slave recently arrived from Virginia, tells her about the Underground Railroad, they take the perilous decision to escape to the North.

In Whitehead’s razor-sharp imagining of the antebellum South, the Underground Railroad has assumed a physical form: a dilapidated box car pulled along subterranean tracks by a steam locomotive, picking up fugitives wherever it can. Cora and Caesar’s first stop is South Carolina, in a city that initially seems like a haven. But its placid surface masks an infernal scheme designed for its unknowing black inhabitants. And even worse: Ridgeway, the relentless slave catcher sent to find Cora, is close on their heels. Forced to flee again, Cora embarks on a harrowing flight, state by state, seeking true freedom.

At each stop on her journey, Cora encounters a different world. As Whitehead brilliantly recreates the unique terrors for black people in the pre-Civil War era, his narrative seamlessly weaves the saga of America, from the brutal importation of Africans to the unfulfilled promises of the present day. THE UNDERGROUND RAILROAD is at once the story of one woman’s ferocious will to escape the horrors of bondage and a shatteringly powerful meditation on history.

~*~

In the antebellum South, Cora hasn’t seen much beyond the cotton plantation she is enslaved at in Georgia. An outcast as a slave and amongst slaves, Cora’s impending womanhood heralds an uncertain and painful future – one that she longs to escape but doesn’t know how. Until Caesar tells her about the Underground Railroad, a network of secret routes and safe houses set up during the nineteenth century to help slaves escape to free states. Assisted by abolitionists along the way to navigate the route and keep hidden from the slave catcher, Ridgeway. Running for her life and freedom after killing a white boy who tried to stop her, Cora must take on new identities and try to blend – working with a system that at each point, brings disadvantage and bondage of different kinds, and faced with the ignorance that breeds racism in the antebellum South.

Separated at one stage from Caesar, Cora must continue alone, and rely on fellow escaped slaves, freemen and abolitionists, all working to abolish slavery in America, in the decades leading up to the Civil War of 1861-1865. In a penultimate confrontation at a community of former slaves and abolitionists, tragedy strikes and Cora must use all the strength she has left to cross over into the free states, and begin to venture into a life she has control over, but that is still scarred by the shackles and chains of slavery.

Before reading this book, I knew a little bit about the antebellum South, the Underground Railroad, and slavery from a university history course on the American Civil War. It did not go into too much depth from memory, so Colson Whitehead’s novel helped to bring these stories to life more for me. As I read Cora’s story, I found it engaging, and at the same time horrifying: it was a story that gripped me on a human level, horrified at the way Cora had been treated, and as soon as she had some hope, it was ripped away too quickly. As the key character, all events and characters are seen through her eyes, and her judgement, but as she travels the Underground Railroad and encounters a variety of people in all walks of life, it felt that Colson Whitehead was showing the breadth and depth of how different people reacted to slavery, and how they felt about it. This made Cora’s story more powerful as she worked out who she could put her trust in and when, and in her dealings with Ridgeway when he caught up with her.

Using this historical backdrop, Whitehead has created a world of authenticity with a darkness to it that can’t be escaped or denied when discussing slavery and the antebellum South in the nineteenth century. Whitehead’s story mingles literary fiction and historical fiction, with a nice balance of character and plot throughout, interspersing Cora’s story with perspectives of her mother, Caesar and an abolitionist’s wife who nursed her back to health when she got sick. Cora travels through states that are determined to drive out the black population entirely, and states who seem to deal with black people but still treat them like second class citizens, or worse. The dehumanising language of slurs and “it” to refer to runaway slaves are shocking – but necessary. They set the tone for the characters and the setting of the novel as well.

Colson Whitehead has sewn the threads of this novel together eloquently, and by evoking a sense of place for each stop along the Underground Railroad, a sense of self in Cora and utilising speech patterns that fit the characters and places, has created a novel that must be read to understand the other side of the story to slavery and the Underground Railroad: the hopelessness felt by slaves, and the way they were mercilessly pursued and viewed as property in many places.

By shocking readers with the raw brutality of this period in time, Colson Whitehead’s novel will hopefully open up a dialogue and allow these issues to be explored further.

Sydney Writer’s Festival Appearances and links:

Colson Whitehead: The Underground Railroad (Conversation)

Saturday 27th May 8.30-9.30PM

https://www.swf.org.au/festivals/festival-2017/colson-whitehead-the-underground-railroad/

Pulitzer Prize Winners Colson Whitehead and Hisham Matar

https://www.swf.org.au/stories/pulitzer-prize-winners-colson-whitehead-and-hisham-matar/

Booktopia

Stars Across the Ocean by Kimberley Freeman

stars across the ocean

Title: Stars Across the Ocean

Author: Kimberley Freeman

Genre: Fiction, Historical Fiction

Publisher: Hachette Australia

Published: 26th April 2017

Format: Paperback

Pages: 450

Price: $29.99

Synopsis: The powerful new novel from Kimberley Freeman.

A rich and satisfying story of two women with indomitable spirits and the high costs they have to pay for being strong-minded, from the author of the bestselling LIGHTHOUSE BAY and EMBER ISLAND.

1874: Only days before she is to leave the foundling home where she grew up, Agnes Resolute discovers that, as a baby, she had been abandoned with a small token of her mother: a unicorn button.

Agnes always believed her mother had been too poor to keep her, but after working as a laundress in the home she recognises the button as belonging to Genevieve Breckby, the beautiful and headstrong daughter of a local noble family. Agnes had seen Genevieve once, in the local village, and had never forgotten her.

Despite having no money, Agnes will risk everything in a quest that will take her from the bleak moors of northern England to the harsh streets of London, then on to Paris and Ceylon. As Agnes follows her mother’s trail, she makes choices that could cost her dearly. Finally, in Australia, she tracks Genevieve down. But is Genevieve capable of being the mother Agnes hopes she will be?

~*~

aww2017-badgeStars Across the Ocean opens in the present, in first person. Victoria, or Tori as she prefers, has travelled from Australia to England to assist her ailing mother, who following an accident at work, is recovering in a rehabilitation centre. Tori is sent by her mother to her office to recover some work she has, and in the process, Tori finds a letter from about 1855: To My Child, Whom I Could Not Keep. And so begins Tori’s adventure into the past, via this letter, which abruptly ends and transitions from the first person perspective of Tori in the present and the letter, to 1874, third person, and Agnes.

Agnes Resolute is a foundling child of Perdita Hall in Hatby, Yorkshire. She has lived there for nineteen years, since her abandonment as a baby, with only a unicorn button the only clue to her past. Putting together her memories of a young woman named Genevieve from Breckby Hall, and a connection to the button, Agnes sets off on a journey to London, where she becomes the companion to Marianna Breckby, Genevieve’s sister and someone whom Agnes hopes, can help her find Genevieve.

Her time in London is cut short as she travels to Paris, where Genevieve’s son, Marianna’s nephew, Julius, finds her and listens to her story, and decides to help her find out about her family, telling her a few secrets of his own that make her question their relationship and what they might mean to each other. From Paris, Agnes travels alone to Ceylon to find Genevieve, and instead, finds a former lover, whose stories about Genevieve lead Agnes to Melbourne, Australia and the theatres. It is here that Agnes hopes to find Genevieve and have her questions answered,

Throughout the novel, it flicks back to the present as Tori struggles to put the letter together, with several sections missing, and whilst she is trying to solve the mystery of the letter, she is also struggling with her own demons back home in Australia, the lack of contact with her husband, and her ailing mother, who seems to need constant care.

It is a story about a young woman finding her place in the world, and reuniting with a mother who wanted her despite her family, and finding an unexpected love in the process. The romance was done exceptionally well, because the characters were given a chance to be their own people first and foremost; Agnes was allowed to be her own woman for a time, and find answers to questions she had had for years. It was a small part of the novel, but at the same time, a nice addition to a story that became about knowing who you are and not accepting what other people expected of you. There are two endings to this – the ending to Agnes’ story and the ending to Tori’s story. One was satisfying in many ways, and the other was a little abrupt, though realistic in relation to the plot. However, this second ending still left me wanting to know more, and wanting to know what else Tori and her mother would find out.

A delightful historical fiction story set in Victorian London, with a heroine who in some ways, fits into the gender expectations of the time but is still her own person and refuses to be tied down – the kind of character who can spread her wings when she wants to, and come home when she needs to. It is a lovely tale, and I hope to read it again soon.

A great read for lovers of historical fiction, and anyone who has read and enjoyed authors such as Kate Forsyth.

Booktopia

The Blue Cat by Ursula Dubosarsky

the blue cat.jpg

Title: The Blue Cat

Author: Ursula Dubosarsky

Genre: Young Adult Fiction, Historical Fiction

Publisher: Allen and Unwin

Published: 29th March 2017

Format: Paperback

Pages: 176

Price: $19.99

Synopsis: From the multi-award-winning author of The Red Shoe comes a haunting story about a boy who can’t – or won’t – speak about his past in war-torn Europe, and his friendship with a young Australian girl.

A boy stood in the playground under the big fig tree. ‘He can’t speak English,’ the children whispered.

Sydney, 1942. The war is coming to Australia – not only with the threat of bombardment, but also the arrival of refugees from Europe. Dreamy Columba’s world is growing larger. She is drawn to Ellery, the little boy from far away, and, together with her highly practical best friend Hilda, the three children embark on an adventure through the harbour-side streets – a journey of discovery and terror, in pursuit of the mysterious blue cat …

~*~

aww2017-badgeThe Blue Cat by Ursula Dubosarsky is a glimpse into a world affected by war through the eyes of children. The main character, Columba, is a dreamy, curious child, who notices the strange boy, Ellery at school during the early part of 1942. A blue cat, sleek and mysterious, has appeared at her neighbour’s house. The arrival of Ellery and the cat spark a curiosity in Columba that has her asking more questions, wanting to know more about the world as she tries to become Ellery’s friend. Columba’s friend, Hilda, is the realist, the pushy one out collecting money for the war effort, and isn’t as dreamy as Columba.

Ellery’s arrival hints that war is closer to home than everyone thought. He is mysterious and quiet, and doesn’t speak English – through the eyes of a child, he is strange, a mystery and yet, someone that Columba sees is in need of a friend. Though they do not talk, they become friends, something Ellery’s father finds pleasing for his son, lost in a new world without a mother. The story culminates in a search for the mysterious blue cat, and events that bring the war and the realities of what that means closer to home for Columba.

The Blue Cat is dreamy, and has a fairy tale feeling about it – as though the blue cat is not quite real. This fits with the dreamy sense I got from Columba, and also the childlike ways of understanding the war – You-Rope for Europe, said phonetically perhaps, as a child might say it. I found there was a sense of magic about it – the threat is real, especially during the air raid siren practice when Columba and Ellery are out walking, and yet, it retains some of the innocence of childhood, though it is scarred by a war that is so far away yet in other ways, so close to the characters.

The Blue Cat combines history with a sense of dreaming, placing the characters in a world where sometimes their imaginations help to get them through the day, but at the same time, the reality of war will always be there. Prisoners of war, bombs and people like Ellery, hiding away, hoping for safety away from the dangers of a nation far away. Throughout the book, Ursula Dubosarsky incorporated primary sources from the time period, which added to the reading experience and gave Columba’s story an authentic feel, and added to the gravity of the situation and reality that the characters were living. An enjoyable novel showing war through the eyes of a child, and a good read for children aged ten and over.

Booktopia

Looking for Rose Paterson: How Family Bush Life Nurtured Banjo the Poet by Jennifer Gall

looking for rose paterson.jpg

Title: Looking for Rose Paterson: How Family Bush Life Nurtured Banjo the Poet.

Author: Jennifer Gall

Genre: Non-fiction. History, Biography

Publisher: NLA Publishing

Published: 1st March 2017

Format: Paperback

Pages: 208

Price: $44.99

Synopsis: ROSE ISABELLA PATERSON gave birth to a boy, Barty, in 1864. That child became the famous balladeer, Andrew Barton ‘Banjo’ Paterson. Barty was the first of seven children who lived on Illalong station, a property near the New South Wales township of Binalong, where Rose spent most of her married life.
In this book, we enter into the rustic world of late nineteenth-century pioneers, where women endured continuous cycles of pregnancy, childbirth and recovery, and the constraints of strict social codes. Rose faced the isolation of Illalong – ‘this poor old prison of a habitation’ – with resolute determination and an incisive wit. Her candid letters, written throughout the 1870s and 1880s, to her younger sister, Nora Murray-Prior, reveal a woman who found comfort in the shared confidences of correspondence and who did not lack for opinions on women’s rights, health and education. Here we see a devoted sister, a loyal wife battling domestic drudgery with scarce resources, and an affectionate mother whose parenting approach embraced ‘a little judicious neglect & occasional scrubbing’.

‘Looking for Rose’ recreates the world of Rose Paterson and, within the rhythm of her life, the bush childhood of ‘Banjo’ Paterson, which ultimately found a place in some of Australia’s best-known verses.

DR JENNIFER GALL is Assistant Curator, Documents and Artefacts, at the National Film and Sound Archive in Canberra, and a Visiting Fellow at the Australian National University School of Music. Her publications include ‘In Bligh’s Hand: Surviving the Mutiny on the Bounty’, published by the National Library of Australia, for which she won the 2011 Barbara Ramsden Award.

~*~

aww2017-badgeLooking For Rose Paterson brings the domestic world of women on the land in the mid to late nineteenth century, colonial era Australia, and in particular, the life of the mother of one of Australia’s much-loved poets. Andrew Barton “Banjo” Paterson’s (or Barty as his mother called him) mother Rose raised the generation of children that would go on to see the Federation of Australia, suffrage, and the early stages of the women’s rights movement, and the First World War. As Rose was a part of the generation that preceded this, Jennifer Gall’s book focuses on the trials she faced living the pastoral life, having a large brood of children, and the importance that society at the time placed on the role of women in the household, bringing up children and at times, seeing to the education of boys and girls, with a little more importance placed on the birth and education of sons who could provide for the family and take care of female relatives and younger sisters who were still children themselves if both parents were dead.

Rose was not however, the meek and mild stereotype that some accounts and stories make women of this time out to be. She fulfilled the roles of mother, caregiver and wife as was expected, yet she also maintained a close relationship with her sister, strived to teach her children to be humble as well as self-sufficient and accomplished at various things – which usually meant music, housework, and maybe some language skills, reading and writing for the girls, so they could run a household of their own, and instilled a desire to write in her son, Barty – known to us these days as Banjo Paterson.

Each chapter begins with the reproduction of a painting depicting nineteenth century pastoral life, and a quote from Banjo Paterson’s poetry. Throughout, Jennifer Gall has reproduced some letters that Rose wrote to her sister Nora, as well as other images and artefacts from the time period to illustrate to the reader what Rose’s life would have been like, and the advice that would have been available to mothers and women.

The story of Rose Paterson is one that until now was unknown to me. I suppose, like the stories of many women of her generation, it was one that may not have been seen as important to the history of Australia. Indeed, we celebrate many male stories from colonial times and the first part of the twentieth century, but apart from the suffrage movement and women’s involvement in the First World War, some stories are still hidden and we need to continue mining away to find the gems, such as this story of Rose Paterson. In a time when women’s voices were often not listened to, Rose played an integral role in bringing up her son, Barty to become the poet we know today.

Reading Rose’s story brought me back to thinking about Jackie French’s Matilda Saga, and the way she has brought the lives of these women to life, white, Indigenous, rich, poor and sometimes, of various nationalities throughout the books. Rose Paterson is a figure whose story is worthy of being told, allowing insight into a world predominantly seen through the written word of men and their world views. A world where boys and girls were faced with different expectations and futures, and a world that only a generation later, would see the beginnings of Federation, and suffrage for women, moving into the twentieth century where women became more vocal, and fought for their rights. It makes me wonder: with Rose as strong as she was – what would she have made of that world, and would she have been for or against suffrage? If she had met a girl like Jackie French’s Matilda O’Halloran, what would she have thought?

An intriguing book, and one to be treasured, so we never forget these hidden voices of which there are so many. It is both informative and entertaining, and gives deeper insight into the world of women of this era and the ways so many found to step outside of the confines of a gendered world, even if only in a small way.

Booktopia

Booktopia

The Mysterious Mr Jacob: Diamond Merchant, Magician and Spy by John Zubrzycki

The Mysterious Mr Jacob.jpg

Title: The Mysterious Mr Jacob: Diamond Merchant, Magician and Spy

Author: John Zubrzycki

Genre: Non-fiction, biography

Publisher: Transit Lounge

Published: 1st April, 2017

Format: Paperback

Pages: 304 plus 8 page illustration insert

Price: $29.99

Synopsis: It was a scandal that rocked the highest echelons of the British Raj. In 1891, a notorious jeweller and curio dealer from Simla offered to sell the world’s largest brilliant-cut diamond to the fabulously wealthy Nizam of Hyderabad. If the audacious deal succeeded it would set the merchant up for life. But the transaction went horribly wrong. The Nizam accused him of fraud, triggering a sensational trial in the Calcutta High Court that made headlines around the world.

The dealer was Alexander Malcolm Jacob, a man of mysterious origins. After arriving penniless in Bombay in 1865, he became the most famous purveyor of precious stones in princely India, and a confidante of Viceroys and Maharajas. Jacob also excelled in the magical arts. He inspired all those who met him, including Rudyard Kipling who immortalised him as Lurgan Sahib, the ‘healer of sick pearls’, in his novel Kim.

Now for the first time, John Zubrzycki, author of The Last Nizam, conveys the page-turning colour, romance and adventure of Jacob’s astonishing life. Starting on the banks of the Tigris in modern-day Turkey where Jacob was born, Zubrzycki strips away the myths and legends. He follows Jacob’s journey from the slums of Bombay, to the fabulous court of the Nizam of Hyderabad, from the hedonistic heights of Simla, the summer capital of the Raj, to the Calcutta High Court. This is a story of India, of strange twists and unexpected outcomes. Most importantly Zubrzycki enters into and truly captures the spirit of the mysterious Mr Jacob, one of the most enigmatic and charismatic figures of his time.

~*~

The story of Alexander Malcolm Jacob is one that I did not know until I read John Zubrzycki’s book about him. Following his life in India and the surrounding area, The Mysterious Mr Jacob reveals how Alexander Malcolm Jacob arrived in India, and gradually, grew his diamond trade, using his activities to spy on everyone and report back to various contacts who were often enemies, gaining the best price he could for the diamonds, and following a path that incorporated aspects of magic into his faith. However, these nefarious activities come to a crashing halt in 1891, when Mr Jacob faces fraud charges, and a trial in the Calcutta High Court that would make worldwide headlines.

Alexander Malcolm Jacob’s story is one of mystery and intrigue, in a land that has been written about as an exotic mystery by authors such as Rudyard Kipling, at a time when the mysteries of India were looked at through a lens obscured by fascination of another world, different to the one most British subjects of Victorian England knew. It is also set against the back drop of the British Empire of the nineteenth century that had a far reach across the world, including towards India, and during the time Mr Jacob was operating, Queen Victoria proclaimed herself Empress of India, and took possession of the Koh-I-Noor Diamond.

Jacob’s world at one point is destined to become larger, as a friend invites him to London, where he will have the chance to meet Queen Victoria, and gain citizenship, but his choice to remain behind furthers his career, and ultimately, leads to the 1891 trial with an outcome that most at the time would not have seen coming, and that leads into Jacob’s isolated future until his death in 1921, aged seventy one.

More than just non-fiction, John Zubrzycki’s work is a narrative history, where Jacob’s world is revealed in rich and vivid descriptions, and contrasted against the modern India that the author visited whilst writing the book. We get a vision of two worlds: one trapped by an imperialistic empire forging its own identity in a modern world – through the eyes of Alexander Malcolm Jacob as he traverses India and the surrounding countries in search of diamonds.

It is an intriguing read, and was a surprise addition to my review stack from Transit Lounge and Quikmark Media. The victors and winners, or the figures that become well known write most history. There are some events and figures in history that are famous in spite of the failures, such as Bonnie Prince Charlie and Culloden. It is rare to find stories such as Alexander Malcolm Jacob’s in history books. Books such as John Zubrzycki’s bring to light the stories of lesser known but just as fascinating events and people, and show the diversity of these figures in their backgrounds, their personalities and the lives that they led.

Booktopia

A Letter from Italy by Pamela Hart

letter from italy.jpg

Title: A Letter from Italy

Author: Pamela Hart

Genre: Historical Fiction

Publisher: Hachette

Published: 14th March 2017

Format: Paperback

Pages: 353

Price: $29.99

Synopsis: Inspired by the life of the world’s first woman war correspondent, Australia’s Louise Mack, the most gorgeous love story yet by Pamela Hart.

1917, Italy. Australian journalist Rebecca Quinn is an unconventional woman. At the height of World War I, she has given up the safety of her Sydney home for the bloody battlefields of Europe, following her journalist husband to the frontline as a war correspondent in Italy.

Reporting the horrors of the Italian campaign, Rebecca finds herself thrown together with American-born Italian photographer Alessandro Panucci, and soon discovers another battleground every bit as dangerous and unpredictable: the human heart.

~*~

aww2017-badgeA Letter From Italy opens with Rebecca bidding a fond farewell to her husband Jack before he departs on a journalistic assignment, leaving her in Italy, where she must wait for him to return, whilst working on her journalistic career, and finding stories that will see her departure from the Women’s Pages of the newspaper she works for to the serious, hard hitting journalism that at the time, was seen as the domain of the male journalist, as was the role of war correspondent, reporting on all aspects of the war, whereas Rebecca was encouraged to report on what affected the home front and women, rather than the battles and bombings that destroyed lives. Using her knowledge of the area and a kind hearted American photographer with Italian heritage, Sandro to help her, Rebecca starts writing stories that matter, and sends them to the newspapers, whilst hoping her husband is still alive, and showing the male journalists that she can cope. Her feminist views come out when young Italian girls are surprised at how many rights she has as a woman, that she can vote – and that she doesn’t need to do what her husband says.

A revelation of just how supportive Jack has been of her career comes later in the novel – and pushes Rebecca to confront the editors and work on more articles to get herself – and Sandro, her photographer noticed, especially after a small village is bombed during the course of the war, and tragedy seeps into every corner.

During this time, one of the journalists Rebecca thought she could trust begins to act suspiciously, the results of which were surprising – and led to events that I could not have expected.

The budding romance between Rebecca and Sandro is slotted in nicely – I liked that it was hinted at here and there, through their thoughts, and that their ambitions in photography and journalism were given a lot more attention, creating well-rounded characters whose relationship was one of respect, and friendship, as well as love, in a time of war.

A Letter from Italy is a fascinating historical novel that explores gender expectations and assumptions, and how at first glance, not everyone is who they seem to be. It shows how tragedies like war can show people for who they really are.

It is a novel that incorporates history, and the tragedy of war, with expectations of gender and the traditions of one country that have been around for generations, and the contrast of these with a young country, women’s rights and the freedom Rebecca has. This contrast also illustrates that though Rebecca has the freedoms to vote and be a journalist, she is in some ways hampered by gender expectations and assumptions.

The first Pamela Hart novel I have read, and one of the better romance novels I have read where the characters are more than just the love story, and have goals of their own that they set out to achieve before a bittersweet happily ever after.

Booktopia

 

From the Wreck by Jane Rawson

From-the-Wreck_cover-600x913.jpg

Title: From the Wreck

Author: Jane Rawson

Genre: Fiction, Historical

Publisher: Transit Lounge

Published: 1st March, 2017

Format: Paperback

Pages: 272

Price: $29.95

Synopsis: From the Wreck tells the remarkable story of George Hills, who survived the sinking of the steamship Admella off the South Australian coast in 1859. Haunted by his memories and the disappearance of a fellow survivor, George’s fractured life is intertwined with that of a woman from another dimension, seeking refuge on Earth. This is a novel imbued with beauty and feeling, filled both with existential loneliness and a deep awareness that all life is interdependent.

~*~

aww2017-badgeFrom the Wreck is inspired by the family history of Jane Rawson, and her great-great grandfather, who survived a shipwreck – the Admella, a steam ship that sunk off the coast of South Australia in 1859 – and the family he created afterwards. George is haunted through the book by the memories of those who died around him, and the strange woman – seemingly unearthly, and her presence around his son, Henry, born several years later. It is Henry that seems marked by the encounter with the woman, who entered George and Eliza’s house when Henry was born.

Years pass, and George continues to be haunted by the events surrounding the shipwreck and the strange woman who has simply disappeared, and whom nobody can find or recall. George starts to take his anguish out on his son, who yearns for knowledge, and feels rejection at his father’s anguish that stems from his experiences on the sea.

The woman who saved George, a being from another world, also feels anguish – she is displaced and unsure of where she is, lost, ripped away from her world in an unknown place – pre-Federation Australia. The anguish each feels mirrors each other throughout the novel, which tells George and Henry’s story in third person, and the mystical being’s story in first person. An unusual combination, I felt that it worked for this novel, and allowed the reader to explore the psyches of each character involved in a different way, and how they were connected to each other and the impending tragedy that would shake everyone involved to the core, and came as a shock whilst reading – a powerful shock that ensured I kept reading to see how it was all resolved.

From the Wreck is Jane Rawson’s third novel, and an unexpected addition to my Australian Women Writer’s Challenge. It explores a family history and how tragedy can leave a mark – and not necessarily one that is physical or seen. The being and George are both seeking refuge and sanctuary after catastrophes that ripped them apart in some ways. It is done in an intriguing way, and in turning a mysterious historical figure into something mystical and unexplained for much of the book, utilising the voices of history, and family history, to tell the story.

Jane Rawson’s use of history and her own family history to tell the story with an injection of fantasy allowed the story to flow nicely, and gave it a good grounding, intrigue and rich characters, and positioned it within a historical time and place through the use of words no longer in use today commonly, attitudes towards others and the unknown, and how people dealt with tragedy, and family dynamics that evolved over time.

It was the first Jane Rawson book I have read, and I enjoyed the mystery and history that she wove together. The sense of the unknown can be unsettling but in a way that kept me reading. Historical fiction with a twist, it is an interesting novel and though deeply entrenched in the author’s family history, it is still something that readers of historical fiction may enjoy.

Thank you to Scott Eathorne for contacting me and giving me the chance to read this.

From the Wreck is available online through Angus and Robertson and Booktopia

Booktopia