2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
Charles Freedom Long
- Published on Amazon.com
Format: Kindle Edition
This historical novel about Australia in the 1800’s is a poignant tour through the mores and movements of Peter Baxter and his beloved, Rose, during the Australian gold rush years. But it is also about how Peter’s son, Malcolm Baxter became the man he was. It is a dark tale, told in language reminiscent of its time and place. The story is replete with historical accuracy—it’s easy to appreciate the depth of research the author did. Most of the book is built around Peter, a soul-wounded orphan who decides to become rich (and so, safe). His ties to Farmer Brown and his beloved, Rose —and the dark secrets they each hold-- go back to the same orphanage he escaped from. But in his efforts to make money his safety, he brings his own misfortune upon himself.
Mehreen Ahmed, the author, weaves a dark tapestry of nineteenth century Australia, using a touch of magical realism, stream of consciousness writing, supernaturalism, and a wealth of flashback. There are voices that come in the night, apparitions, the power to move objects, madness, and happenings that must go beyond mere coincidence.
The tale begins with Malcolm as a grown man, at a benefit for a local orphanage. His chauffeur John, and his sister Tiara soon enter the story. Malcolm Baxter is wealthy, unmarried, and deeply cynical. “Most of Malcolm's comments were black, churned out of some dark comedy in his mind.” That dark comedy is slowly rolled out to the reader in a series of flashbacks. There’s a mysterious red folder that Malcolm keeps close to him at all times—a folder his father held close to him until his death. Like Malcolm, the red folder begins and ends the book.
From the opening scenes, the book keeps going steadily backward in time, through Malcolm’s parents, and his grandparents, through some sordid tales of foul doings at the orphanage, to unroll a story of duplicity, complicity, cowardice, and callous behavior, mixed somehow with love. And then, like the Australian brown snake that still strikes terror into the hearts of Australians, the book coils back upon itself, delivering the venom that closes the chapter on Peter’s life, and has poisoned Malcolm’s spirit.
I’m sure many others will talk about the story of Peter and Rose. And I will leave that to them. But, there’s an added dimension to the novel that I want to highlight. In Ibsenesque style, the sins of the progenitors have been visited upon the soul of the son. Re-reading the first chapter after finishing the book, is, in my opinion, well worth the effort, in fact, almost de rigueur to have the “aha” experience the author intended when she constructed the story in this manner.
Well done, Mehreen.