Spanning two hundred years and involving four families, Ms Fleetwood divides her story into four parts and writes of a Tasmania that few of us can have a complete understanding of. I picked the novel up because it is set in Tasmania and because, although I’ve not lived there for over forty years, I still consider it ‘home’.
The four families, introduced in Part One (which opens in 1812) are the Aborigines (starting with ‘Tom’ Kickerterpoller, stolen from his family in 1812), the Fairfield settlers from Scotland (starting with Susannah), the convicts (starting with George Turner) and (much more briefly) the Dutch Dijkstra family, beginning with Katrijin’s dream.
In the subsequent three parts of the novel, the stories of different family members are told. These stories will involve dispossession and removal for many of the Aborigines, contrasted with the relative prosperity for many of the European settlers. The Turner descendants will be part of the settlement of the North West, and the Dijkstras will seek refuge in Tasmania after being displaced from both Java and Europe.
Tasmania itself provides another story: of changed land use, of attempts to try to make the land respond to European demands. Some of these attempts work, others don’t and there is a brooding undertone for those who are sensitive. Consider this, from one of the more powerful passages in the novel:
‘.. and that awful crying in the wind that apparently nobody else could hear.’
“I hear it”, said Marner. “It’s the cry of the wounded and dispossessed, it’s the groan of nature destroyed for greed, the wailing of the animals driven out and the broken song of the birds shot for no reason, the sadness of those who don’t count, and those whose dignity was trampled on. It’s the tears of the broken hearts and it’s the cry of those who didn’t love when they could have.”
I kept reading. I know this crying in the wind more as a feeling of unease in some places.
I enjoyed this novel, recognised some history (especially as it relates to the settlement of the North-West coast region where I was born), learned more about the dispossession of the Aborigines, and wondered about the impact of the past two hundred years.
If you like family sagas, if Tasmania is part of your life or intrigues you because of its beauty, its contrasts and (or) its history, you may enjoy this novel as much as I did. I loved the way in which Ms Fleetwood wove her characters into the history. Real or representative, the characters bring the story to life.
I finished the novel wondering what the next chapter would be, both for the characters and Tasmania.