Hey Brother by Jarrah Dundler

hey brother.jpgTitle: Hey Brother

Author: Jarrah Dundler

Genre: Literary Fiction

Publisher: Allen and Unwin

Published: 1st August 2018

Format: Paperback

Pages: 288

Price: $29.99

Synopsis: A genuine and compellingly portrayed family drama of a tough kid from rural Australia.

Before leaving for war in Afghanistan, Shaun Black gives his little brother Trysten a mission of his own. Keep out of trouble.

Trysten tries, but with Mum hitting the bottle harder than ever and his dad not helping, Trysten responds the only way he knows how, with his fists – getting into a fight at school and lining up for another one with his uncle who’s come to stay.

When the family receives news that Shaun will be home for Christmas, Trysten is sure that good times are coming. But when Shaun returns, Trysten soon realises he has a whole new mission – to keep Shaun out of trouble.

Hey Brother tells the story of a tough kid from the bush whose world comes crashing down on his shoulders. But with his own blend of fury, resilience and deadpan humour, Trysten proves to be up for every challenge.

~*~

Hey Brother is set in the early 2000s, just after 9/11. Trysten Black’s brother, Shaun, has gone over to fight against the Taliban with the Australian and US armies, leaving Shaun at home to take care of their mother, whose troubles with alcohol scare, and worry them both, but also tells him to keep out of trouble – easy, right? Trysten reckons it will be – until a new girl – Jessica – starts in his year. Together with best friend Ricky, who has a crush on the girl who befriends Jessica, Jade, As the months go on, the boys get to know Jessica and Jade, and even begin to hang out together at school. On top of this, Trysten must look out for his Mum, and keep an eye on his uncle, who has come to stay while Shaun is away.

As he tries to care for his mother, and make sure he gets along with his uncle, Trevor, Trysten’s promise to stay out of trouble seems to be forgotten between this and building his relationship with Jessica – and when Shaun returns home, Trysten’s family will be tested – his father, who has lived away from the home for months, seems to have a change of heart, and his mother is improving. But there’s something about Shaun that Trysten can’t quite put his finger on, and a party, and the subsequent events during the summer holidays will bring to a head everything that has been building with Shaun and reveal secrets about the family that Trysten never knew about or saw coming, and revelations about the world and their lives show things will never be the same.

Hey Brother is a coming of age story, set in the early years of the twenty-first century, when terrorism entered our world, and how we all reacted to it – how some of our worlds didn’t change, how as a teenager, Trysten’s mind was often on school, Jessica, his friends and his family, rather than a faraway attack and war. He is the go-between messenger for his parents, and it looks at how war can affect soldiers – at the way Shaun comes home and tells a story one way, but the reality is quite different and the PTSD that he brings back with him – something Uncle Trevor notices and does his best to help with. As mental illness and alcohol abuse are explored through Trysten’s eyes, as a child narrator he comes across as mature at times, and immature at others, perhaps hinting at how fast he is having to grow up and adapt to this new, uncharted territory his family finds themselves in, coupled with hormones and the influences of friends, his and his brother’s, as well as events that trigger the climax, and how Trysten finds himself dealing with the fallout.

The genre of this book is hard to pin down – I’ve marked it as literary fiction but is it young adult, adult or does it cross those two distinctions? Possibly, but I think that will depend on the individual. It was an interesting take on a modern war and its fallout, and a modern family dealing with personal issues and secrets that come out towards the end. It is raw and emotional and shows that we are all just human and anything can affect us in different ways at any time, and nobody is immune to the fragility of the mind and the way it processes things.

In some ways I liked this book and what it did, though it is not one I plan to revisit too quickly like others. It is one that needs time and processing between reads to maintain the impact it can have. It does reveal something about Australia and our culture, attitudes to war and how we deal with things like mental health, and these are important conversations to have, and I hope Jarrah Dundler’s work is one that helps start these discussions amongst people.

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The Honourable Thief by Meaghan Wilson Anastasios

the honourable thief.jpgTitle: The Honourable Thief

Author: Meaghan Wilson Anastasios

Genre: Historical Fiction, Mystery

Publisher: Pan MacMillan

Published: 31/7/2018

Format: Paperback

Pages: 448

Price: $32.99

Synopsis: ‘Achilles? Because…?’
‘Obsession of mine. Half man, half god – and his own worst enemy. 
My kind of man.’ He laughed.

Istanbul, Turkey 1955

Benedict Hitchens, once a world-renowned archaeologist, is now a discredited – but still rather charming – shell of his former self.

Once full of optimism and adventure, his determination to prove that Achilles was a real historical figure led him to his greatest love, Karina, on the island of Crete and to his greatest downfall, following the disappearance of an enigmatic stranger, Eris.

He has one last chance to restore his reputation, solve the mystery of Eris and prove his Achilles theory. But it is full of risk, and possibly fatal consequences…

In her breakout novel, Meaghan Wilson Anastasios weaves an action-packed tale of honour, passion, heroes and thieves across an epic backdrop of history.

~*~

AWW-2018-badge-roseIn 1955, archaeologist Benedict Hitchens is searching for proof that Achilles, a hero from the Trojan War legends, was a real person, and not just a myth in Homer’s Iliad and other interpretations of the Trojan War myth cycle. This is the main crux for the novel, despite there being no evidence to suggest Achilles existed, and it makes for a very compelling story about the intersection of mythology, history and archaeology, especially given that in ancient history, archaeological remains are perhaps what tell us the most about a society where written records may be mythology based or fragmented. But there is more to Benedict (Ben) than discovering the burial place and shield of Achilles. It’s been ten years since World War Two ended, and he is living with the scars and memories of loss, and tragedy that will never leave him. Living a lonely existence on archaeological digs across the peninsular that was home to the Trojans and the islands of Greece, such as Crete, where the Minoan and Mycenean civilisations thrived, Ben has become obsessed with proving the existence of Achilles.

This obsession deepens when he stumbles across the mysterious Eris, travelling to a home in Turkey where she reveals a cache of hidden treasures and archaeological finds that are linked to the period of history he is obsessed with, that he hopes will lead him to Achilles and in the aftermath of his fall from grace as an archaeologist, he hopes the discovery will restore his reputation.

But Eris has secrets, secrets she’s not willing to share with Ben, and throughout the novel, his encounters with Eris, Ilhan, a shady figure whose dealings helped bring about Ben’s downfall, and many other nefarious people, weave a mystery through the novel – the disappearance of Eris and the treasures, thieves, and forgery in the archaeological and ancient art community comes to light, and Ben is caught up in this web, finding items in unconventional ways, where he doesn’t realise whom it is for, and where secret upon secret is layered on to ensure he does not find out the truth.

The end was quite the surprise – equal parts unexpected and something I thought might happen, and as the novel moved back and forth between Ben’s present and his past, his motivations and reasons for feeling what he felt at times became clear, though there was always a sense that a Big Bad Thing had happened and happened to someone Ben cared about very deeply.

As a student of ancient history, the references to Crete, the Minoans, Homer and his lliad were some of my favourite things about the book – they instantly fell into a timeline in my head of this period and imagined him traipsing around the various sites such as Knossos and Troy in Turkey, where Schliemann excavated during the nineteenth century. It was an aspect of the novel I really enjoyed and found engaging, just as much as the mystery was, which mainly took place in Turley and Greece, but occasionally went back to England and America. It is a gripping novel, where action and adventure, history and mythology intersect to create a chase to solve a question and obsession that has plagued Ben, and that he will do anything to ensure finds its rightful place in history.

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The Desert Nurse by Pamela Hart

the desert nurse.jpgTitle: The Desert Nurse

Author: Pamela Hart

Genre: Historical Fiction

Publisher: Hachette Australia

Published: 10th July 2018

Format: Paperback

Pages: 410

Price: $29.99

Synopsis: Amid the Australian Army hospitals of World War I Egypt, two deeply determined individuals find the resilience of their love tested to its limits

It’s 1911, and 21-year-old Evelyn Northey desperately wants to become a doctor. Her father forbids it, withholding the inheritance that would allow her to attend university. At the outbreak of World War I, Evelyn disobeys her father, enlisting as an army nurse bound for Egypt and the disastrous Gallipoli campaign.

Under the blazing desert sun, Evelyn develops feelings for polio survivor Dr William Brent, who believes his disability makes him unfit to marry. For Evelyn, still pursuing her goal of studying medicine, a man has no place in her future. For two such self-reliant people, relying on someone else for happiness may be the hardest challenge of all.

From the casualty tents, the fever wards and the operating theatres of the palace; through the streets of Cairo during Ramadan, to the parched desert and the grim realities of war, Pamela Hart, beloved bestselling Australian author of THE WAR BRIDE, tells the heart-wrenching story of four years that changed the world forever.

~*~

AWW-2018-badge-roseIn 1911, Evelyn Northey has just turned twenty-one – the age she believes she will receive her inheritance from her long-dead mother and be able to go out into the world and make her own life, and her own decisions – away from the controlling home of her father. When she finds the conditions of the will – and her father’s ruling – prohibit this – she spends the next three years training to be a nurse in secret – a step towards her goal to becoming a doctor.

When war breaks out in 1914 in Europe, she enlists as a nurse in the army – and is sent to Egypt, and the tragic, and disastrous Gallipoli campaign of 1915. Prior to her departure, she meets Dr William Brent at her physical assessment, a polio survivor whose disability has prevented him from enlisting and heading to the battlefront – yet he finds that he is able to serve in another way – in the hospitals of Egypt and Cairo with Evelyn.

Together and apart – they work in casualty wards, fever tents and the operating theatres, and William tutors Evelyn in Latin and medicine, preparing her for her plans to attend medical school in Edinburgh. Through four years of war, Evelyn and William drift in and out of each other’s lives, their friendship and relationship develop along the way, with the ups and downs of life in war time. Both are determined to forge their own paths and not be reliant on another – Evelyn wanting to become a doctor, which means making sacrifices in her life – marriage, a family – to achieve her dreams, whilst William is hesitant to enter into a close relationship with anyone and burden them with having to care for him later in life due to his disability. But the friendship between William and Evelyn that blossoms into more is based on respect and understanding for each other.

Pamela Hart again positions a woman in a man’s world- that of war, and this time, the medical world – and gives her a voice that the doctors and matrons she works with respect – especially William and Dr Fanous, who were like a balm to Evelyn’s harsh father. This contrast showed the spectrum of attitudes based on gender during this time, and I felt that poor Evelyn was treated quite unfairly by her father at the start of the novel, and through her stories of what had happened after her mother’s death – all of which was dealt with very well, and I enjoyed William’s response and the way he made sure he tried not to be like this – a true friend.

The historical backdrop to the novel was made more authentic with the inclusion of the real desert nurses – Evelyn and Hannah were the only fictional ones in Pamela’s story, and her inclusion of Connie Keys, Selina (Lil) MacKenzie, Alice Ross-King, Mabel Pilkington, and Dr Agnes Bennett – the first female doctor in the British Army who was in charge of the hospitals in the Serbian theatre of war. In doing this, Pamela has ensured the recognition of what these women did during four awful years for the world and for the Anzacs who left their homes in Australia to assist Britain against Germany – more information on these women can be found on Pamela’s author website.

Overall, I really enjoyed this novel. The historical story, and Evelyn’s story and journey towards independence were my favourites, with the touch of romance on the side, which added to the story, and gave it a touch of humanity and hope amidst the death and destruction of World War I. Equally enjoyable were the inclusion of Rebecca Quinn and her brother, Linus from A Letter from Italy as good friends of Evelyn and her brother, Harry. Seeing two women who wanted more than what was expected of them was wonderful. Also, having a main character with a disability, who didn’t let it stop him doing what he set his mind to, was excellent to see as well. William didn’t let his polio stop him, nor did Evelyn let his disability colour her perspective of him – rather, she respected him and looked out for him when necessary, just as he did for her. An excellent representation.

A wonderful read that evokes the gravitas of war, nursing and expectations of women in the early twentieth century alongside a love story that evolves throughout the novel to reach the conclusion readers hoped for.

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Strange Meeting by Susan Hill

strange meeting.jpgTitle: Strange Meeting

Author: Susan Hill

Genre: Historical Fiction

Publisher: Allen and Unwin/Profile Books

Published: 23rd May 2018

Format: Hardcover

Pages: 260

Price: $22.99

Synopsis: A story of love and loss in wartime from master storyteller Susan Hill.

Returning to his battalion in France after a period of medical leave in England, John Hilliard, a young officer, finds his division almost unrecognisable. His commanding officer is an alcoholic, there is a new adjutant and several of his close friends have been killed.

But there is David Barton. As yet untouched and unsullied by war, fresh-faced and radiating charm. As the pair approach the front line, bloodied by the deaths of their fellow soldiers, their friendship deepens. But as the reality of the violence sets in, the men know that they will soon be separated…

A poignant novel on human love as war and the pity of war.

~*~

Upon his return to his battalion in France during World War One, or as it was known then, The War to End All Wars, John Hilliard finds those he has fought have changed: several friends are dead, there is a new adjutant he needs to get used to, and his commanding officer has become an alcoholic. As the horrors of war close in, John and his friends have to face the reality of being separated by the violence and the death that starts to suffocate and invade the battlefields and trenches of France. It is a war that they hope will never be repeated, yet it is also a war that they know will happen again – because they know there’s little chance of this war ending all wars to come in the decades after the closure of World War One, or as it was known then, The Great War.

Throughout the novel, it is known that there are battles waging in the trenches of France, and battles of the mind and soul within the soldiers fighting. It is a look at how the war affected a specific person and his specific surroundings – illustrating one of the kinds of experiences that soldiers in the trenches had. It is poignant, especially as 2018 marks the 100th anniversary since the end of World War One.

Hilliard’s interactions with the new arrival, David Barton, who has not been disillusioned by what was known as the excitement of war at the time, he radiates a charm that Hilliard will find hard to let go of – knowing that at some stage, the war will separate them and cast their lives aside.

Strange Meeting is a war novel that is about war, and at the same time, about the humans involved in war, and what is lost both physically and emotionally – the cost of life, and the cost of self as war ravages these young men as they venture into the unknown, with only the hope that they will survive and return home in one piece – and if not in one piece, then at least alive, to their families.

Strange Meeting is a novel that is more literary, and character driven – all we know of the settings is that they are the theatres of World War One in France, and my guess, around 1916-1917, perhaps the Battle of the Somme or Ypres. What is known though, is how these events and all other events of the war have impacted on the men such as Hilliard, and this is what makes it a powerful and poignant novel.

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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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The Good Doctor of Warsaw by Elisabeth Gifford

good doctor of warsaw.jpgTitle: The Good Doctor of Warsaw

Author: Elisabeth Gifford

Genre: Historical Fiction

Publisher: Corvus/Allen and Unwin

Published: 21st February 2018

Format: Paperback

Pages: 368

Price: $29.99

Synopsis: Set in the ghettos of wartime Warsaw, this is a sweeping, poignant and heartbreaking tale, based on the true story of one of World War II’s quiet heroes – Dr Janusz Korczak.

‘You do not leave a sick child alone to face the dark and you do not leave a child at a time like this.’

Deeply in love and about to marry, students Misha and Sophia flee a Warsaw under Nazi occupation for a chance at freedom. Forced to return to the Warsaw ghetto, they help Misha’s mentor, Dr Korczak, care for the two hundred children in his orphanage. As Korczak struggles to uphold the rights of even the smallest child in the face of unimaginable conditions, he becomes a beacon of hope for the thousands who live behind the walls.

As the noose tightens around the ghetto Misha and Sophia are torn from one another, forcing them to face their worst fears alone. They can only hope to find each other again one day…

Meanwhile, refusing to leave the children unprotected, Korczak must confront a terrible darkness.

Half a million people lived in the Warsaw ghetto. Less than one percent survived to tell their story. This novel is based on the true accounts of Misha and Sophia, and on the life of one of Poland’s greatest men, Dr Janusz Korczak.

~*~

Based on a true story, and the recollections of Misha and Sophia, the protagonists and what they told their family, The Good Doctor of Warsaw retells the story of the Warsaw ghetto, and the orphanage run by Doctor Janusz Korczak. Told mostly from Misha and Sophia’s point of view as they navigate life within the ghetto with each other the orphans and Doctor Korczak, and each other, it is also the story of courage, and the lengths one man went to so he could protect the children of the ghetto in a time of turbulence in war-torn Europe, and a Warsaw that would soon become unrecognisable.  With the ghetto closed off due to claims of disease, starvation begins to set in as the Nazi’s tighten the noose on the ghetto and those within. With meagre supplies being smuggled in from outside the ghetto, Misha and Sophia find themselves separated as they watch everyone they love die, or get marched off to camps in the east, to Treblinka. This is where Doctor Korczak and the children would end up, and where, like many before them, they’d never come home from.

Doctor Korczak’s story is moving and chilling, and his decision to stay with the children, and refusal to abandon his post despite people begging him to save himself is admirable. In a time when he could have taken the easy way out and allowed his Polish and Aryan friends to protect him, he chose to starve and stay with the vulnerable Jewish orphans, and provide a home for them, and a safe place, where they could be loved and listened to.

Elisabeth Gifford’s careful research in Korczak’s life and ideologies on childhood, caring for children, and educating them comes through clearly in the novel, showing the power of love, and respect, where Korczak stood for all children being allowed the same rights and respect, regardless of race, religion, colour, nationality or any other reason someone might use to deny them the rights he believed they deserved. Drawing on Janusz’s journals, and his book, How to Love A Child, and the recollections of Misha and Sophia, Elisabeth Gifford has recreated the hope and horror of the Warsaw Ghetto, and the realisation by many that what was happening was not going to end soon, despite Janusz’s positivity and attempts to keep the children happy and fed, and safe. She has ensured that the gravitas of what happened in the ghetto and during the war is not forgotten, the dangers that Aryan-passing children from the ghetto faced as they found ways to smuggle food from one side to the other, and the hopeless sense of not know if, or when, you or those you cared about might be rounded up and sent off to the camps, a place where you were told you would work. But the fate that awaited them at Treblinka was unforeseen and tragic.

In reading books like this, it reveals the fragility of humanity, and shows what humans are capable of. Janusz sacrificed freedom and life for the children of the orphanage. Elisabeth Gifford has done a fine job recreating this world and story for readers – a story that needs to be told amidst every other fact and report we have from the Holocaust, because it is the human face to these tragedies that should never be forgotten. With novels inspired by true events, the reality of what happened can feel harsher, more eye opening perhaps, but the impact of any accounts and stories will always be significant and thought provoking. The bravery that Doctor Korczak presented, and his care and courage in caring for the children until the end should never be forgotten.

Rooted in one of the darkest moments of human history, it is fascinating, moving, and at times, hard to read and heartbreaking. However, it is also powerful, and a testament to what humans are capable of when they are filled with hatred, but also what they are capable of when they love and accept people as individuals.

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Interview with Eleanor Limprecht, Author of The Passengers

On the blog today, I am delighted to host Eleanor Limprecht, author of The Passengers, published on the 21st of February, and reviewed on the blog as well. Eleanor has kindly answered some questions about the book, war brides and her research process, so I hope you enjoy and that it gives some insight into a very interesting book and a history not often taught in classes.

Hi Eleanor, and welcome to The Book Muse. I’m happy to host you here today.

Hi Ashleigh and thanks for having me!

I’ll start by saying how much I enjoyed The Passengers. It had a little bit of everything, and I liked that each journey was connected by the sea and the cruise, and a sense of self for both Sarah and Hannah. This was a very well executed story.

Thank you very much.

Now down to the questions.

Was there anything in particular that got you interested in the stories of war brides from Australia during the Second World War, and what was this?

There were two things – firstly, in 2013 I took my family to visit my Great Aunt Marge Fogel in San Diego, she was living in a retirement home and we met her boyfriend, Bert, who was in his 90s. Bert was telling us how he’d been to Sydney in the 1940s on R and R, when the war was on, and how he remembered, ‘the beautiful girls, and how they loved to dance’, and he told me how many Americans had married those Australian girls. It got me thinking – wondering how those marriages had turned out.

 

Then we were visiting a family friend of my husband’s a year or two later in Northern NSW and his wife spoke of how her aunt had married an American GI during the war and ended up moving to Kilmarnock, Virginia – and she’d never seen her again. I knew the town of Kilmarnock very well as one of my best friends is from Kilmarnock, and it’s a very small town, and I was intrigued by how that woman would have settled in. The culture shock coming from Sydney, the sheer distance, and then that knowledge that she had never returned. That her family never saw her again.

Prior to World War Two, had war brides been a common societal change in the modern world, or did this trend, and these experiences evolve as a result of American troops staying in Australian cities after 1941?

War brides have been around as long as there have been wars fought in foreign lands. However, what changed with World War II is the numbers of women who married foreign soldiers. Up to 15,000 Australian women are estimated to have married American GIs and moved to the US, but even more German and British brides married foreign soldiers. So war brides were around, particularly during World War I, but the numbers grew massively in WWII.

If inspired by family, are there any interesting stories from family members that informed the narrative and characters you have created?

They are more second hand stories, the ones I related above. But there is also my own story: that I met and fell in love with an Australian man while travelling in Italy in 2001. We spent less than a month together and a year later I left my home, my family, the degree I was studying for, my friends…everything (except my dog – I brought my dog) and moved to Australia to be with him. So in a deeply personal way I related to the stories of these women. I compared my own experience and felt privileged to have the ability to travel back and forth, to FaceTime with my mother and sister, to have the freedom to work and travel and expect some degree of equality. These women really ventured into the unknown. They were incredibly brave.

One thing I am always interested in is how much research authors do, and what kind of sources they use. How many sources and what kinds of sources did you consult for this novel, and which were the most informative and useful?

I love the process of research, and I can get a little carried away! I read everything I could find about war brides – the best sources were social histories and interviews in which the women spoke about their experiences. Trove is an excellent source of old newspaper and magazine articles. I went to the Australian War Memorial and read the pamphlets and letters in their archives, I spent a night on board a restored bride ship in Long Beach, The Queen Mary, which is now a floating hotel, and I travelled up the West Coast of the United States to interview two war brides from Australia who met and married American GIs.

The most informative and useful sources were the women themselves, just meeting them in person and seeing the way they have straddled two worlds – fully at home in neither. One has a collection of old Arnotts biscuit tins and porcelain koalas and kangaroos in her house, but only managed to get back to Australia thirty years after leaving. That was the most moving thing to me, seeing their strength in the face of adversity, how they built new lives, sometimes with everything against them. I also love the coincidences – the reason I was able to meet the war brides on the West Coast of the US is because I was doing a writing workshop in Portland Oregon in 2016. My first day there I sat down in the cafeteria for lunch at a table with a complete stranger. We got to talking, I mentioned that I had come from Australia, and she said: “My mother was Australian.” It turned out that her mother was an Australian war bride. It was the most extraordinary coincidence, and her mother’s story which she told me was one of the most moving and transformative to the way I thought about the novel.

You’ve told Hannah and Sarah’s stories in alternating first person narrative, and both in a present tense format. Was there any reason to do this, or was it a natural progression as you wrote the novel?

The present tense came about because I was also writing Sarah’s memories, and I wanted to delineate between the memories (in the past tense) and the present voyage with Hannah. So it happened fairly naturally. I did experiment with third person narrative voice several times during drafting, but it didn’t have as much power. My previous two novels have been in third-person limited voice – it is generally what I prefer – but I found the intimacy of first person here integral because it is a story being told.

Sarah’s experience after marriage was interesting, and I found it intriguing that Roy’s mother supported her leaving, and Roy seemed to hint that he didn’t want to come. Was Sarah’s experience of leaving, getting a job and divorce and eventually settling down with Jim a common one that came through in your interviews? Why or why not?

I don’t think Roy knew that Sarah was going to leave, but the experience with the mother-in-law being hostile was certainly a common one. A lot of war brides felt as though their mother-in-laws resented them for not being American, and a lot of the brides found themselves having to live with the in laws because of the post-war housing shortages. Getting a divorce was not a common experience, but it was certainly one which I heard and read about, there were definitely marriages which did not work out and there were also instances of the war brides marrying another American. There were also those who went back to Australia. I also realised while researching this story how many unhappy marriages were just tolerated because divorce was frowned upon. But there were definitely divorces as well.

You’ve managed to write for a modern audience whilst at the same time, maintaining certain attitudes of the time, but presenting them in a way that readers will understand these were the attitudes of the time, such as the line “take delivery of his wife after signing for her” – referring to the collection of war brides at the other end. Was this a challenge for you, to maintain authenticity of the time and write for a modern reader? Why/why not?

I have a real desire to maintain this authenticity so I’m really pleased that you found this to be the case. The novel I wrote before this, Long Bay, gave me so much experience in how to avoid placing my own sensibilities on my characters; understanding the social fabric of the time and what their desires, capabilities and expectations would have been. I wrote Long Bay as part of a Doctorate of Creative Arts at UTS and the Professor of History Paula Hamilton advised me early on in my degree to consider carefully how the way we think is a product of the time we live in, and the expectations that society has placed upon us. Discovering what these expectations are is always an important part of my research process.

Sarah’s struggles are with leaving her family, and Hannah’s are with her health – the journey back to Sydney felt like a healing process for both of them and brought Sarah’s story full circle from her departure in 1945. Was this what you intended for the characters?

It is certainly what happened, but I’m not sure that I intended it because I’m not much of a planner when I’m writing. I’m more of the “sit down and write what comes to you” school. It probably takes more drafts but I find the process of discovery enjoyable. And when I discovered what Hannah struggled with I realised that in hearing her grandmother’s story, Hannah gains new perspective on her own. And in journeying back to Australia, Sarah has to confront her past. I was very close to both of my grandmothers, and I loved hearing about their lives and considering the challenges they had to face, and how I would have managed in the same circumstances.

When she leaves Sydney, there are some children travelling with their mothers to meet their fathers in America – which was more common – wives with or without children

 

Wives (and fiancées) without children were more common, but there were plenty of children and babies. For instance – a typical ship was the SS Monterey which arrived in San Francisco in March, 1946 with 562 Australian and New Zealand war brides and their 253 children on board. All of the war brides had free passage to America. Interestingly, fiancées were allowed free passage but a $500 bond had to come from the American fiancé which would cover the return trip to Australia should the marriage not take place three months after arrival in the US!

Was the cruise motif meant to be used as a journey and transitions into new lives at both ends for both women, and what inspired you to use the cruise motif in this way?

 

I didn’t think I would write part of the novel on a cruise ship, but I was so captivated by the experiences of the war brides on the ships to the US that it got me thinking about how travel is this time of limbo – of being stuck between. And sea voyages make for a longer period of limbo, there is more time to consider where you are coming from and where you are going.

Not long after I moved to Australia, my Grandma Lorraine and my Great Aunt Marge took a cruise to Sydney from San Diego, we picked them up and saw their cruise ship, the huge white behemoth at Circular Quay, and they told us the stories of playing bridge and dancing. And I remember thinking then that a cruise is a return to a slower pace, which was part of why my grandma loved them. There was nowhere else to be. And when I thought further about this, I realised it was the perfect place for Sarah to remember, and tell, her story.

As a finale, could you give some more insight into war brides and their experiences, and how an experience like Sarah’s would have been viewed in society at the time?

 

I think we’re coming to realise that the experiences of war brides were an integral part of the stories we tell about WWII. For so long these stories have been dismissed as the ‘domestic’ side, but I think they are incredibly important. Women certainly had more freedom to work, to fall in love, to be in control of their own lives during World War II. But when the war was over there was a backlash, and those who married men who had been away at war found themselves dealing with a generation of husbands who were scarred by their experiences and didn’t have the language to talk about it. Women were told to ‘not ask him too many questions’. They were meant to stay at home and raise the children, but now they had experienced so much more.

Sarah’s experience would have been looked down upon. Australian women who married Yanks were disparaged by Australian men and the Australian media. In America, they were given a hard time for ‘stealing’ American men – who were in short supply post-WWII. And then divorce was highly controversial as well. Sarah would not have been viewed well in society at the time, which was what would have discouraged her from speaking openly about her experiences. Divorce is something we discuss now quite openly, but in the recent past it was still a great source of shame.

 

Any further comments on anything you think I have missed?

No, this was so thorough and I hope my answers are useful and not too long!

Thank you for allowing me to interview you, and appearing on my blog.

Thank you Ashleigh for reading my novel, asking such thoughtful questions, and for having me on your blog.

 

All the best – Eleanor

the passengers

The Passengers by Eleanor Limprecht is published by Allen & Unwin. $29.99. Out now.

You can purchase The Passengers through Booktopia: https://www.booktopia.com.au/the-passengers-eleanor-limprecht/prod9781760631338.html?bk_source=PASSENGERS&bk_source_id=QWEEKREVIEW

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