by David Malouf
Remembering Babylon, an award-winning novel by David Malouf, amazed me the first time I read it. Malouf is a master of language and mood. The novel, although dealing with 19th century Australia, resonates far beyond that century. The themes of identity, community and what it means to be uprooted are all here. He is a novelist with whom not enough readers are familiar. To visit Australia without having read this book would be a shame.
"It is like finding a spirit painting in a nineteenth-century locket – full of wisdom and magic – the most delicate tracing of a profound and elliptical history, thrilling in its style and in its adventurousness." – Michael Ondaatje
"Malouf has compressed the myths, the poetry, the history, of a vast and ancient continent. ...xA really impressive achievement." – Doris Lessing
(Gemmy, a white boy who was raised by aborigines, was found by three white children): "The stick-like legs, all knobbed at the joints, suggested a wounded waterbird, a brolga, or a human that in the manner of the tales they told one another, all spells and curses, had been changed into a bird, but only halfway, and now, neither one thing nor the other, was hopping and flapping towards them out of a world over there, beyond the no-man's-land of the swamps ... of nightmare rumors, superstitions and all that belonged to Absolute Dark." – Remembering Babylon, Pantheon, 1993 edition.
by Kate Grenville
Kate Grenville is one of Australia's most well known authors. The Lieutenant is the second in a series of three novels that takes place during the years when the British were settling in Australia (The others being The Secret River and Sarah Thornhill). Although it is not necessary to read all three, or read them in order, it does provide a fuller picture of the history and complexities that Grenville is narrating. These are deliciously good books. They are easy to read and full of wonderful details about the Australian landscape and the difficulties for the early settler. She writes about the tragic and complex relationship between blacks and whites to give us a better understanding of Australia's unique history.
"Writing in a clear, simple style, Grenville elegantly evokes the wonder and tension inherent in the first meetings between these two different worlds." – Natasha Tripney, The Observer
"Fascinating ... an enchanting, quietly brilliant novel ... enhanced by Grenville's simple but provocative use of language." – The Irish Times
"Beyond the cliff an enormous body of quiet water curved away to the west. Sirius glided past bays lined with crescents of yellow sand and headlands of dense forest. There was something about this vast hidden harbor – bay after perfect bay, headland after shapely headland – that put Rooke in a trance. He felt he could have travelled along it forever into the heart of this unknown land. It was the going forward that was the point, not the arriving, the water creaming away under the bow, drawn so deeply along this crack in the continent that there might never be any need to stop." – The Lieutenant, Grove Press, 2010 edition.
The Bone People
by Keri Hulme
The Bone People won both the Booker Prize and the Pegasus Prize for Literature. Hulme is Maori and writes with a direct and close knowledge of the Maori people. A combination love story, mystery and history of the meeting of Maori and Europeans make this an unusual read.
"An original, overwhelming, near-great work of literature." – The Washington Post Book World
"Unforgettably rich and pungent." – The New York Times Book Review
"It is the cold that wakes her, and clouds passing over the face of the sun. There is an ache in the back of her neck, and her pillowing arm is numb. She stands up stiffly, and stretches: she smells rain coming. A cloud of midge-like flies blunders into her face and hair. On the ground round the sack hovers another swarm, buzzing thinly through what would seem to be for them a fog of fish. The wind is cooing from the sea. She picks up the sack, and sets off for home through the bush. Raupo and fern grow into a tangle of gorse: a track appears and leads through the gorse to a stand of wind-warped trees. They are ngaio. One tree stands out from its fellows, a giant of the kind, nearly ten yards tall. ...xIn the dust at her feet is a sandal." – The Bone People, Penguin 1986 edition.
In a Sunburned Country
by Bill Bryson
I must admit I haven't read this book, but I have heard so much about Bill Bryson and what fun his books are that I decided to include this book about his trip to Australia. Bryson has great talents as a humorist, a naturalist and over-all fine travel writer. One friend of mine told me he was listening to this book on tape in the car and had to pull over to the side he was laughing so hard. A good recommendation!
" ... Bryson revels in the beauty of this country, home to ravishing beaches and countless unique species ('80% of all that lives in Australia, plant and animal, lives nowhere else'). He glorifies the country, alternating between awe, reverence and fear, and he expresses these sentiments with frankness and candor, via truly funny prose and a conversational pace that is at once unhurried and captivating." – Publishers Weekly
"The world those first Englishmen found was famously inverted – its seasons back to front, its constellations upside down – and unlike anything any of them had seen before even in the near latitudes of the Pacific. Its creatures seemed to have evolved as if they had misread the manual. The most characteristic of them didn't run or lope or canter, but bounced across the landscape, like dropped balls." – In A Sunburned Country, Broadway Books, 2001 edition.
by Bruce Chatwin
Bruce Chatwin travels to the Outback of Australia in an attempt to understand the ways of the Aborginal people, in particular the "dreaming-tracks" or "songlines" that contain their history and culture. He learns much about these complicated people as well as about himself. A fascinating book on many levels, and skillfully written.
"A blend of travelogue, memoir, history, philosophy, science, meditation, and commonplace book ... Chatwin's astonishing style captures the metamorphoses of his own 'Walkabout'. ...xHe takes the travel genre beyond exoticism and the simple picturesque into the metaphysical." – The Boston Globe
"In theory, at least, the whole of Australia could be read as a musical score. There was hardly a rock or creek in the country that could not or had not been sung. One should perhaps visualize The Songlines as a spaghetti of Iliads and Odysseys, writhing this way and that, in which every 'episode' was readable in terms of geology ... Put it this way ...xAnywhere in the bush you can point to some feature of the landscape and ask the Aboriginal with you, 'What's the story there?' or 'Who's that?' the chances are he'll answer 'Kangaroo' or 'Budgerigar' ...xdepending on which Ancestor walked that way." – The Songlines, Penguin Books, 1988 edition.
by Thomas Keneally
Taking place in the late 1700's in the early days of Australia's penal colony, Keneally's novel is filled chock-a-block with characters that will live with you for a long time. The main character, Lt. Ralph Clark, based on a real officer of the time, has been ordered to produce a play for the British king's birthday by using the Sydney penal colony prisoners as his actors. The land with all its terror and beauty reveals itself to the protagonist, as do the actors and actresses he brings to his stage.
"This seems to be the book Keneally's career has been reaching toward. He has created a world so rich and strange that we experience it as if in a dream, while never for a moment doubting either its authenticity or its ultimate truth." – Bruce Allen, Chicago Tribune
"The place which had been chosen for this far-off commonwealth and prison, and named Sydney Cove in the spirit of events, faced the sun, which here was always in the north. This reminded you, if you thought about it, that home was always on the other side of the sun – eight moons of navigation away if you were lucky, a year or more if not. The land on either side of the cove was divided down the middle by a fresh-water stream flowing out of a low hinterland among cabbage-tree palms, native cedars, the strange, obdurate eucalyptus trees of a type which ... occurred nowhere else in all Creation." – The Playmaker, Harper & Row, Perennial Library, 1988 edition.
The Fatal Shore
by Robert Hughes
It would be a mistake not to include The Fatal Shore in any list of books to read about Australia. Robert Hughes has composed a comprehensive and compelling history of the founding of Australia by the British colonists and the convicts they transported as well as a history of the Aboriginal peoples who were uprooted. A classic history told with fine narrative style. You will feel as though you are reading a novel. Read it before you go, it is not a short book!
"Mr. Hughes's beautifully recounted story of the strange origins of the Australian soul is sure to engage a wide American readership." – Joseph Giovannini, The New York Times
"To more Englishmen this place seemed not just a mutant society but another planet – an exiled world summed up in its popular name, 'Botany Bay.' It was remote and anomalous to its white creators. It was strange but close, as the unconscious to the conscious mind. There was as yet no such thing as 'Australian' history or culture. For its first forty years, everything that happened in the thief-colony was English. In the whole period of convict transportation, the Crown shipped more than 160,000 men, women and children (due to defects in the records, the true number will never be precisely known) in bondage to Australia. This was the largest forced exile of citizens at the behest of a European government in pre-modern history." – The Fatal Shore, Vintage, 1999 edition.