by Kate Grenville
William Thornhill is sent to jail in London for thieving. He gets the opportunity to choose between a punishment of death in England or exile to Australia, so his wife Sal and their infant are soon on their way to the outback. Once there life is anything but simple. As the couple struggle to survive they are tested on every front.
Where Thornhill sees an opportunity his wife sees a lonely life in the wilderness. They decide to take their chances and begin to farm. They are soon introduced to the small community in the area and the contentious relationship between the native aboriginal people and the new English immigrants. Many misunderstandings arise because of the cultural differences between the people. The people have a hard time finding common ground because of their unique view of landownership and very different styles of celebrations.
Fear is what drives people to destroy what they don’t understand. The tragic consequences are a stain on the entire country’s history. They haunt the characters long after they become a distant memory. I loved that the story gives a voice to both sides of the issue. Many of the white people didn’t understand the harm they were doing. They were afraid and when they decided to act in fear they were bound to make a bad decision. The persecution of the aboriginal people is shown in a way that allows the reader to understand how things could have escalated so quickly.
BOTTOM LINE: The story is a powerful one. It revisits the age old question; do the ends justify the means? For me the characters were a little stale, but I have found myself thinking about different aspects of the plot since I finished it two months ago. It’s not one I’ll reread, but I think it offers a valuable glimpse into the difficult relationship between immigrants and the native people in any country.
Pairing Books with Movies: So many aspects of this novel reminded me of the troubled relationship between Native Americans and settlers in the United States. Dances with Wolves is a great movie to watch to explore that a bit more. Rabbit Proof Fences is another one that I’ve heard great things about. It deals with three aboriginal girls in the 1930s.