The Ship That Never Was: The Greatest Escape of Australian Colonial History by Adam Courtenay

ship that never was.jpgTitle: The Ship That Never Was: The Greatest Escape of Australian Colonial History

Author: Adam Courtenay

Genre: History, Non-fiction

Publisher: ABC Books/HarperCollins

Published: 21st May 2018

Format: Paperback

Pages: 336

Price: $29.99

Synopsis:
The greatest escape story of Australian colonial history by the son of Australia’s best-loved storyteller

In 1823, cockney sailor and chancer James Porter was convicted of stealing a stack of beaver furs and transported halfway around the world to Van Diemen’s Land. After several escape attempts from the notorious penal colony, Porter, who told authorities he was a ‘beer-machine maker’, was sent to Macquarie Harbour, known in Van Diemen’s Land as hell on earth.

Many had tried to escape Macquarie Harbour; few had succeeded. But when Governor George Arthur announced that the place would be closed and its prisoners moved to the new penal station of Port Arthur, Porter, along with a motley crew of other prisoners, pulled off an audacious escape. Wresting control of the ship they’d been building to transport them to their fresh hell, the escapees instead sailed all the way to Chile. What happened next is stranger than fiction, a fitting outcome for this true-life picaresque tale.

The Ship That Never Was is the entertaining and rollicking story of what is surely the greatest escape in Australian colonial history. James Porter, whose memoirs were the inspiration for Marcus Clarke’s For the Term of his Natural Life, is an original Australian larrikin whose ingenuity, gift of the gab and refusal to buckle under authority make him an irresistible anti-hero who deserves a place in our history.

~*~

There are many stories within the realms of national and international history that are not known, or where there might not be as much known about them as some, usually for a variety of reasons. One of these is the escape of ten convicts from the worst convict prison in Australia in the 1830s. James Porter was transported in 1823, for stealing a sack of beaver furs. He was sent to what was then known as Van Diemen’s Land – renamed Tasmania in 1856. He made several attempts to escape from the penal colony, and as a result, was sent to the notorious Sarah Island.

It was not long until Governor George Arthur declared Sarah Island would be closing, and the inmates moved to the infamous Port Arthur prison. Porter and a band of inmates took this chance to take control of the ship they were on – the Frederick, and escaped across the seas to South America, where they lived in Chile for many years as free men, before being sent back under the authority of the British colonial government at the time.

Told in a style that is engaging, whilst dealing with the historical facts and vents of a little-known convict and mutiny, I found this interesting to read, as it expanded upon what I have previously been taught and have read about Australian history. Whilst much is known about colonial era history, there are still stories that haven’t been told about various aspects – and having access to these stories allows us to wholly understand where Australia came from in the years of penal colonies and convict arrivals from 1788 until the transports ended in 1868, though different colonies stopped their transportations at different times.

It reads as both non-fiction and fiction – not overly embellished, but still capturing the spirit of the times and adventure that Porter wrote about in his journal. The author, Adam Courtenay, writes about Porter with fascination, yet allows himself to see the flaws and exaggerations that Porter wrote of, explaining in the text that the facts found in historical records about floggings and the details of how far punishments could be taken or were taken alongside Porter’s experience. What this does is show that even first person accounts that historians rely on are not always reliable, and I felt, even though I have only read the uncorrected proof, that Courtenay took what he had from Porter with a grain of salt and compared it to other accounts, and historical records to create his book.

In doing so, Courtenay has created a work that sparks an interest in this person and era, but also shows that good research is crucial – I would be interested to see if the final copy includes a bibliography, for further reading, and to show what sources he was able to find, as I imagine a little-known story such as this might not have as many sources as stories and legends that are well-known within the national consciousness.

As someone who has studied history, I know to examine various sources and accounts, just as it appears Courtenay has done. I will be looking for more information on Porter where I can, to supplement this book and build a larger picture of this man who managed to escape from Tasmania to Chile and live for several months to at least a year or two without being sent back. An intriguing book that shows that Australian history is more complex than we are originally taught.

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Six Tudor Queens #3: Jane Seymour: The Haunted Queen by Alison Weir

haunted queen.jpgTitle: Six Tudor Queens #3: Jane Seymour: The Haunted Queen

Author: Alison Weir

Genre: Historical Fiction

Publisher: Hachette Australia/Headline Review

Published: 8th May 2018

Format: Paperback

Pages: 532

Price: $29.99

Synopsis: The third stunning novel in the Six Tudor Queens series by foremost and beloved historian Alison Weir

JANE SEYMOUR: THE HAUNTED QUEEN by historian Alison Weir, author of the Sunday Times bestsellers KATHERINE OF ARAGON: THE TRUE QUEEN and ANNE BOLEYN: A KING’S OBSESSION, is the third enthralling novel in the SIX TUDOR QUEENS series. A fascinating look at Henry VIII’s third wife. Essential reading for fans of Philippa Gregory and Elizabeth Chadwick.

‘Weir is excellent on the little details that bring a world to life’ Guardian

THE WOMAN HAUNTED BY THE FACE OF HER PREDECESSOR.

Eleven days after the death of Anne Boleyn, Jane is dressing for her wedding to the King.

She has witnessed at first-hand how courtly play can quickly turn to danger and knows she must bear a son . . . or face ruin.

This new queen must therefore step out from the shadows cast by Katherine and Anne – in doing so, can she expose a gentler side to the brutal King?

JANE SEYMOUR
THE THIRD OF HENRY’S QUEENS

HER STORY

Acclaimed, bestselling historian Alison Weir draws on new research for her captivating novel, which paints a compelling portrait of Jane and casts fresh light on both traditional and modern perceptions of her. Jane was driven by the strength of her faith and a belief that she might do some good in a wicked world.

History tells us how she died.
This spellbinding novel explores the life she lived.

~*~

Jane Seymour was third wife of King Henry VIII during Tudor times in the 1500s, and she married him eleven days after Anne Boleyn was beheaded. But Jane’s story of her time at court began in 1529, when at the age of twenty, she was sent to be a lady in waiting to Henry’s first wife, Katherine of Aragon, for whom she came to respect deeply and was very loyal to her. Things changed over the next six years as Henry divorced Katherine to marry Anne Boleyn – and Jane was witness to this and the harsh treatment Henry doled out to Katherine and daughter, Mary, to declare the marriage wrong and his daughter illegitimate. Jane’s loyalty to Katherine was soon pushed aside – to keep the peace – when Henry married Anne 1533 – a three-year marriage during which Anne gave birth to a daughter – Elizabeth – and miscarried two children and gave birth to a still born son. Jane became queen in the years after – until her death twelve days after the birth of her son Edward in 1537, which is where the novel ends.

Alison Weir’s third book in this series focuses on Jane’s rise to a position she never dreamed or thought she would obtain. It covers her entire life at court, and her family’s pushing to get her to allow the King’s attentions, and their eventual joy at her marriage and pregnancies, the last of which results in the heir that Henry so desperately wants. As it is a historical novel, it is known that Jane dies – yet not what her life at court was like.

We see her serve two queens in this novel – two very different queens, and this tests her loyalties to the true queen, and again to Anne, during difficult times in her marriage, and when Henry starts to take notice of Jane – she does her best to encourage his loyalty to Anne, whilst following the demands and expectation of her family to allow Henry’s attentions, but also, to keep a safe distance. So for most of the book, Jane grapples with her hatred for what Anne did to Katherine, whilst trying to reconcile what she is doing. It is an intriguing novel, and as Alison Weir notes at the end, one she speculated on a bit, based on research and lack of facts, and varying interpretations – such as the ones about Jane’s character that show her as compliant, virtuous and an instrument of an ambitious family – Jane’s marriage to Henry ensured powerful positions for her brothers, or as one who took part in Anne’s downfall, and as ambitious as her family members – something, Weir notes, that has no middle ground and that Weir has found historians must choose a side – in this novel, I felt she chose the former, showing Jane’s ambition but also her loyalty, and how she felt when things were hidden from her, such as what really happened to Anne.

Within the realms of this novel, Alison plays with the idea that the hurried marriage after Anne’s death was due to Jane being pregnant – as Weir states, Jane Seymour’s life and biography is not always complete, so there are times she has imagined what had to happen using the cues in her research and gaps in history – much the same as she did with Jane’s death – she took her research to a medical professional, to posit a possible diagnosis – the results of which make reading the author’s note interesting as well.

This was a novel that was rich with character and history, showing that this period of history is more complex than is usually told in other books and media. Jane’s story ties in with the first two books in the series – Katherine of Aragon: The True Queen and Anne Boleyn: A King’s Obsession. It would be interesting to read those to see how Jane fares and plots that link up in each one, and the characters who are woven into each one, and who I can only wonder if they’ll appear in the next three in the series. Jane’s story is quite interesting – I did some research after reading and found that Henry only married again three years after her death – which left me wondering, as did the way he is seen in this novel – if Jane was someone he truly loved – her sudden death would have pained him, as Alison Weir shows.

I thought Alison did an excellent job of showing as many sides to all the characters as possible, making them interesting and evocative as they moved through a court that faced conflict, plague and issues of religion, and family loyalty and pressure. As Jane goes through her brief reign as queen, she is haunted by the ghost of Anne Boleyn – and throughout these sleepless nights, we come to learn her fears and nightmares – which make the novel all the more intriguing and well worth the read if you are interested in this area of history.

Miles Franklin: A Short Biography by Jill Roe

Miles Franklin Short BioTitle: Miles Franklin: A Short Biography

Author: Jill Roe

Genre: Non-fiction, biography

Publisher: HarperCollins, 4th Estate

Published: 23rd April 2018

Format: Paperback

Pages: 432

Price: $32.99

Synopsis: Author, union organiser, WW1 volunteer, agitator, nationalist, Miles Franklin dedicated her life to many causes, none more passionately than Australian literature. Propelled to fame aged only twenty-one in the wake of her bestselling novel, My Brilliant Career, she never achieved the same literary success, but her life was rich and productive. She rose to the position of secretary of the National Women’s Trade Union League of America; served in a medical unit in the Balkans; was a first wave feminist in the US, Britain and Australia; published sixteen novels as well as numerous non-fiction books and articles; and maintained friendships and correspondences with a who’s who of poets, novelists, publishers, activists and artists.

If her extraordinary achievements in life were not enough, her endowment of the Miles Franklin Literary Award on her death ensured she would never be forgotten. In 2013, the Stella Prize for Australian Women’s Writing, named in honour of Stella Maria Sarah Miles Franklin was awarded for the first time, enhancing her reputation further.

This abridged edition of Jill Rowe’s award-winning biography introduces a new generation of readers to the indominable Miles Franklin – a pioneer of Australian Literature whose legacy founded our most prestigious literary prize.

Prizes won since the original was published in 2008:

Queensland Premier’s Literary Award – 2009

South Australian Prize for Non-Fiction – 2010

Australian Historical Association Magarey Medal for Biography – 2010

Jill Rowe passed away in 2014 and is honoured with the Jill Rowe Prize.

~*~

AWW-2018-badge-roseBorn in 1879, twenty-two years before the states and territories federated as the Commonwealth of Australia, and twenty-three years before suffrage became a reality for many Australian women in 1902, Stella Maria Sarah Miles Franklin would grow up to become one of Australia’s best-known and one of the most celebrated Australian women writers. She lived a remarkable life across Australia, Britain, Europe and the US, was always busy, and always involved in unions and activism. She was brave, and headstrong, and Jill Roe’s biography captured her willingness to follow her dreams and stand up for what she believed in. Her life was fascinating and diverse, from writing to involvement in war, and in unions and first wave feminism in three countries, working to bring women the vote.

Growing up near Tumut, with a large family, Miles, unlike her sisters, never married and never had children. Instead, she embarked on a career and in activities that were unexpected of women at that time, but that she found herself drawn to, and put her energies into these efforts. A prolific writer whose most famous book remains My Brilliant Career, she wrote another series under a nom de plume that she wouldn’t give anything away about and was able to keep up the charade for many years, up until her death.

Reading this biography, I learnt many things about Miles Franklin that I had not known beyond her impact on the literary world in Australia. She ensured that Australian literature would always be recognised through the Miles Franklin Literary Award, and championed an Australian literary culture, that, perhaps without her passion for it, we may not have around to enjoy so thoroughly today. It was a rich and fascinating life, and one that is far more than just one of Australia’s most celebrated novelists. What she achieved and worked towards in her lifetime was amazing and even in this abridged edition, the essence of her life and Jill Roe’s words still exist wholly and the reader can still enjoy it and gain an understanding of Miles Franklin as a whole person and not just a novelist.

The Jade Lily by Kirsty Manning

the jade lily.jpgTitle: The Jade Lily

Author: Kirsty Manning

Genre: Historical Fiction

Publisher: Allen and Unwin

Published: 24th April 2018

Format: Paperback

Pages: 456

Price: $29.99

Synopsis:The Jade Lily is a sweeping story of friendship, loyalty, love and identity from the popular author of The Midsummer Garden.

Praise for The Midsummer Garden

‘This is a rich, sensual, and evocative novel, fragrant with the smell of crushed herbs and flowers, and haunted by the high cost that women must sometimes pay to find both love and their vocation.’ Kate Forsyth

‘…compelling, passionate and admirable.’ Australian Women’s Weekly

In 2016, fleeing London with a broken heart, Alexandra returns to Australia to be with her grandparents, Romy and Wilhelm, when her grandfather is dying. With only weeks left together, her grandparents begin to reveal the family mysteries they have kept secret for more than half a century.

In 1939, two young girls meet in Shanghai, the ‘Paris of the East’: beautiful local Li and Viennese refugee Romy form a fierce friendship. But the deepening shadows of World War Two fall over the women as Li and Romy slip between the city’s glamorous French Concession and the desperate Shanghai Ghetto. Eventually, they are forced separate ways as Romy doubts Li’s loyalties.

After Wilhelm dies, Alexandra flies to Shanghai, determined to trace her grandparents’ past. As she peels back the layers of their hidden lives, she begins to question everything she knows about her family – and herself.

A gorgeously told tale of female friendship, the price of love, and the power of hardship and courage to shape us all.

~*~

Thirty-five-year-old Alexandra Laird has fled London, and returned home to Melbourne, to farewell her grandfather, who is dying. Together with her grandmother, Romy, Alexandra prepares herself for a life without him, and a new life in Shanghai, where she is being sent as a commodities trader for work. But there is a family secret that has plagued Alexandra and her family for decades, and she wants to piece it together. Her grandmother, and grandmother’s best friend, Nina, grapple with the ghosts of their past – first as Jewish refugees from Vienna, running to the only place – Shanghai – that would take them, and the years of war that tested them and that destroyed their families, and sent their lives spiralling into uncertainty, until they reached safe haven in Australia – but were still not free from the secrets they kept.

In 1938, Romy, and her parents, Mutti and Papa, are forced to flee VIenna in the aftermath of Anschluss and Kristallnacht in November. Setting off on an uncertain journey, they land in Shanghai, where they are first living in the French section of the city, and when the Japanese take over China and bring atrocities that spark memories of Kristallnacht to the forefront of Romy’s mind, into the Shanghai Ghetto. For a few years, Romy lives a fairly good life, with her friend, Li Ho, but the events following Pearl Harbour rip them apart, and have Romy doubting what she knew about her friend, and eventually, what the future holds in Australia, and with her new life with Wilhelm Cohen.

AWW-2018-badge-roseAnother World War Two historical fiction for me – but this time, set in the Asian region, where the Second Sino-Japanese War was happening around the same time as the outbreak of World War Two, and where the ghosts of what happened in Europe follow Romy and her new friends into Shanghai. It is a part of 1930s and 1940s, and World War Two history that I hadn’t heard about – where Jewish refugees could escape to Shanghai where other countries refused to take them. It is a book that deals with the heavy issues of what pushes humanity to the point they have to kill others for being who they are, for being what they cannot control, or for daring to speak out – where atrocities are displayed as a warning to others, and where secrets are an unspoken currency. Secrets, it seems, that span three generations, where they are kept protecting some people, but eventually need to come out – as Romy’s did for Alexandra, with the help of diaries and letters, and a new friend from Hong Kong, Zhang.

Reading about little known history is always interesting – it allows the reader to immerse themselves in a time and place they may not know much about, whilst letting them know what happened in an accessible way, especially when the author has done exceptional research to write the book. Kirsty Manning has done an exceptional job, researching and writing about a war that I had not known had taken place, and events that were shocking to read about. They are the kind of events that one cannot fathom ever happening, but they did, and they shouldn’t have happened, and nor should they happen again. If reading all these books about humanitarian atrocities has taught me, it is that we shouldn’t be letting these things happen still, or ever again.

The dual timeline is an effective device to tell the story, as it allowed for each key character to show what their lives were like at the time – and it helped make sense of the secret, slowly, and uncertainly revealed across the story, where hints of tragedy are woven in and out of each chapter, and where each character has been deeply affected by tragic events in varying ways. It allowed for a feminine strength and voice to be revealed at a time in history where they might not always be heard, and where they might have had cultural or familial restraints and expectations placed upon them.

The power that these stories have is to show what has happened in the past, and to hopefully, send the message to never let it happen again. I enjoyed this story for its strength of female characters, and the love of friendship, and of one’s child that can force someone into a decision and a secret that they might never be able to reveal to anyone, or at least, a secret that is sheltered and kept for so many years that revealing it is a struggle.

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Book Bingo Eight – a book that has been made into a movie, a book that scared you.

book bingo 2018.png

For my two categories this week, I have chosen a book that has been made into a movie, and a book that scared me. The book made into a movie was easy – as there are quite a few to choose from, whereas the book that scared me was trickier – as I’m not a horror reader, I interpreted this differently and decided to use a book that had scared me – but less in a monsters and demons way, and more in a human way, which I will explain lower down.

guernseyFirst, the book I read for the book that has been turned into a movie was The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Society, which arrived in one of my many packages of books from publishers this month and was a rather pleasant surprise. I read it quickly, choosing to read it first as it was the shortest and only took a few days – whereas the other books, which might fill the rest of these categories, are taking a little bit longer. Told in letters, it is easy to follow, as the letters give as much detail as possible, and it was interesting to imagine what was happening in between. As I said in the review, I really liked that the main character, Juliet, had her own mind and knew what she wanted, and didn’t drop everything at the demands and say-so of the man courting her. My full review is linked above, and it will be interesting to see how the movie interprets this book.

good doctor of warsawNow we come to the book that scared me, and for this I chose The Good Doctor of Warsaw, because I had a multitude of emotions with this book. It didn’t scare or horrify me in the way one expects a horror movie or novel to – it scared me in the sense that it showed the true evil and depravity that humans are capable of, and what they have done in the past to people  for no other reason than the Nazis didn’t like something about them that didn’t harm anyone – something that has happened multiple times across human history in various places, and that should never happen again, or at all. I chose this because I feel that a book that scares you doesn’t necessarily need to have ghosts, or monsters, or zombies that we associate with the horror genre. Sometimes, it’s more horrifying to read about what humans are capable and willing to do to other humans – where the overwhelming fear comes from knowing what will happen and knowing that this could happen again. It’s chilling as well as scary.

So there’s two more books ticked off – my next post will see the short stories ticked off, and maybe one or two others. I am gearing up to complete a second card, which I will either fill with books only read in the second half of the year, or mix it up and switch around some of the books and categories here where I can. Either way, it’s making my reading challenges interesting and fun for 2018.

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Book Bingo Seven – A Book that everyone is talking about, and a book with non-human characters.

book bingo 2018

Week seven of the 2018 Book Bingo, and I’ve managed to mark off 20 of the 25 squares already! This week there are two squares to include in this post: a book that everyone is talking about, and a book with non-human characters.

monty the sad puppyFirst, my book with non-human characters is Monty the Sad Puppy, where the two key characters are dogs – 5 month old Labrador puppy, Monty, and the eight year old dachshund, Daisy. Sad and lonely, Monty feels cast aside with Daisy’s arrival, and both must adjust to being together. It is a charming story, full of cute dogs and funny moments, as well as moments that had me shaking my head at Monty, because he reminded me of the puppy we had years ago.

And my second book, a book that everyone is talking about – The Tattooist of Auschwitz is a powerful story of what the human spirit can endure, and how love came out of one of the darkest places in recent history. It is a story of triumph and pain, and what people in the camps had to do, and were forced into doing to survive one day at a time, and avoid the death carts, mass graves and gas chambers at all costs. It is moving and haunting, and as I said many times in my review, a book that should be read be all.The-Tattooist_FCR_Final

So there are now twenty squares marked off on my bingo card. I have five left, and I know there might be one or two that might be a little tricky to fill but there are some that shouldn’t be too hard to do, especially if there are lots of choices for me for that category.

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The Tattooist of Auschwitz by Heather Morris

The-Tattooist_FCR_Final.jpgTitle: The Tattooist of Auschwitz

Author: Heather Morris

Genre: Historical Fiction

Publisher: Echo/Bonnier

Published: 1st February 2018

Format: Paperback

Pages: 278

Price: $29.99

Synopsis: The incredible story of the Auschwitz-Birkenau tattooist and the woman he loved. 

Lale Sokolov is well-dressed, a charmer, a ladies’ man. He is also a Jew. On the first transport from Slovakia to Auschwitz in 1942, Lale immediately stands out to his fellow prisoners. In the camp, he is looked up to, looked out for, and put to work in the privileged position of tätowierer – the tattooist – to mark his fellow prisoners, forever. One of them is a young woman, Gita, who steals his heart at first glance.

His life given new purpose, Lale does his best through the struggle and suffering to use his position for good.

This story, full of beauty and hope, is based on years of interviews author Heather Morris conducted with real-life Holocaust survivor and Auschwitz- Birkenau tattooist Ludwig (Lale) Sokolov. It is heart-wrenching, illuminating, and unforgettable.

~*~

AWW-2018-badge-roseIn 1942, Slovakia is slowly falling into the grip of the Nazis as they march across Europe during war time, invading towns and countries, and rounding up Jews, and other groups seen as undesirable in their quest for German victory. Lale Solokov, born Ludwig Eisenberg, volunteers himself at 24 for what they are told is a work detail, to save his family. Lale prepares for a life away from his family, with clothes and books, though none of them know what lies ahead for Lale, or what the future holds in store for any of them as the Nazis continue their rampage. Instead of the promised job, Lale finds himself dumped at Auschwitz-Birkenau, one of the most infamous Nazi concentration camps. Here, he will have everything taken from him, his head shaved, and a number inked into his skin, marking him for life as 32407, stripped of any other identity for three years. In Auschwitz, he is given the job of Tätowierer – and must tattoo numbers onto each new arrival – the ones not immediately sent to the gas chambers. It is here he will meet the woman he falls in love with – Gita – and soon finds himself find ways to get contraband to her and spend time with her, all at risk to his own life as well as hers.

In a moving fictionalised account of Lale’s life, Heather Morris, who spent three years interviewing Lale, has recreated the atmosphere of the camp, a dank, smothering atmosphere where the air is thick with ash and the screams of the dying that Lale and other prisoners are forced to listen to as they work in fields, in administration, as Lale tattoos new prisoners every day. Some events Heather imagined, to fill in the gaps, such as a scene where Lale and Gita were together when the American planes flew over Auschwitz, but most of it is true, based on Lale’s recollections.

It is a dark story, because the Holocaust was one of the darkest times in world history. But it is one of those events, and there are many – that we should never forget, never let happen again. Through the dark, colourless life of Auschwitz, and the torturous conditions Lale and Gita had to live in, their love endured, and they never gave up hope of finding each other when the camp finally closed down and the prisoners were sent on death marches or simply ran away, with the hope of finding people who could help them. The shadows that Lale and Gita fought were real, and this is a story that everyone should read, another Holocaust story that reminds us what complacency and allowing evil to manipulate an entire nation can result in.

The language is simple and accessible, yet it deals with the complexities of life, of love and the Holocaust in a way that shocks the reader but at the same time, gives them hope that Lale and Gita will find a way out of the camp. Through the darkness of war and death, it is their love for each other, and determination to live, that brought this story to life so that people reading it now will never forget what happened.

A moving, dark story that must be read, and learnt from so that something like this stays where it should: in the shadows and smoke of history, never to be repeated but to serve as a reminder of what humans are capable of at their very worst.

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