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The Secret River


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Adult/High School-William Thornhill, a boatman in pre-Victorian London, escapes the harsh circumstances of his lower-class, hard-scrabble life and ends up a prosperous, albeit somehow unsatisfied, settler in Australia. After being caught stealing, he is sentenced to death; the sentence is commuted to transportation to Australia with his pregnant wife. Readers are filled with a sense of foreboding that turns out to be well founded. Life is difficult, but through hard work and initiative the Thornhills slowly get ahead. During his sentence, William has made his living hauling goods on the Hawkesbury River and thirsting after a piece of virgin soil that he regularly passes. Once he gains his freedom, his family moves onto the land, raises another rude hut, and plants corn. The small band of Aborigines camping nearby seems mildly threatening: William cannot communicate with them; they lead leisurely hunter/gatherer lives that contrast with his farming labor; and they appear and disappear eerily. They are also masterful spearmen, and Thornhill cannot even shoot a gun accurately. Other settlers on the river want to eliminate the Aborigines. The culture clash becomes violent, with the protagonist unwillingly drawn in. The characters are sympathetically and colorfully depicted, and the experiencing of circumstances beyond any single person's control is beautifully shown.-Judy McAloon, Potomac Library, Prince William County, VA Copyright 2006 Reed Business Information.

I must confess I came to The Secret River by Kate Grenville rather reluctantly, even though I had loved many of Kate's earlier books, indeed felt I had grown up with her work in particular Lilian's Story (1985) and Joan Makes History (1988). And when Idea of Perfection broke away from the pack and scooped the Orange Prize 2001 despite being the 7-1 outsider, the bookies favourite being Blind Assassin by Margaret Atwood, I too felt a nationalistic pride in 'our Kate'. But a convict book? The thought brought back terrible memories of endless, somnific high school history classes which only ever seemed to contain convicts, the gold rush and the invention of the stump-jump plough. Snore. But after reading the first couple of pages I was hooked. I carried the book with me so I could grab a few more pages. I read it in the queue at the bank. In the early 19th century life was hard for young orphaned William Thornhill. Growing up in the slums of Tanner's Lane had made him tough, quick-witted and a good thief to boot. Salvation seems to come with his wife Sal and the prospect of an honest living as waterman rowing the eddies and tides of the Thames. The good life proves elusive and Thornhill is sentenced to be transported to New South Wales for the term of his natural life. With the devoted Sal and children in tow he establishes a life in Sydney before being enticed to the 'unoccupied' farming lands of the Hawkesbury. And it's here in this version of paradise that traditions old and new become a battle ground as the white settlers take up their claims. The interaction between white and black and the terrible events which you know are destiny have been so very carefully handled. What could have been mawkish and sentimental is instead complex and real, redolent with emotion and contradictions. The secret of the river is no longer hidden. Kate Grenville's many fans will be truly delighted with The Secret River. It's sure to prove a winner with literary judges and bookclubs. The Secret River is by turns a convincing convict saga and a novel rich in characters, alive with vivid prose, full of energy and provocation. Kate Grenville has never written better. It's so haunting I almost couldn't bear to read the last part. I am also very pleased I have never had to eat salt pork. Fiona Stager is co-owner of Brisbane's Avid Reader Bookshop C. 2005 Thorpe-Bowker and contributors

In this follow-up to her Orange Prize-winning The Idea of Perfection, Australian writer Grenville turns to her own family history for inspiration. To depict the settling of her native land, Grenville focuses on William Thornhill, an illiterate bargeman driven to steal to survive hard times in London. When his death sentence is commuted to extradition to New South Wales (which would later become Australia), Thornhill and his growing family again find themselves struggling to make ends meet. When Thornhill tries to pull himself up in the world by laying claim to a plot of land along the Hawkesbury River, he finds himself at war with the native people. The narrative offers a fascinating look at the uneasy coexistence between the settlers and the aborigines, as well as at the internal pressures of a marriage where husband and wife nurture contradictory dreams. Thornhill and his wife, Sal, are interesting and complex characters, and the story builds in intensity toward an inevitable climax. Recommended for all libraries.-Evelyn Beck, Piedmont Technical Coll., Greenwood, SC Copyright 2006 Reed Business Information.

Grenville's Australian bestseller, which won the Orange Prize, is an eye-opening tale of the settlement of New South Wales by a population of exiled British criminals. Research into her own ancestry informs Grenville's work, the chronicle of fictional husband, father and petty thief William Thornhill and his path from poverty to prison, then freedom. Crime is a way of life for Thornhill growing up in the slums of London at the turn of the 19th century-until he's caught stealing lumber. Luckily for him, a life sentence in the penal colony of New South Wales saves him from the gallows. With his wife, Sal, and a growing flock of children, Thornhill journeys to the colony and a convict's life of servitude. Gradually working his way through the system, Thornhill becomes a free man with his own claim to the savage land. But as he transforms himself into a trader on the river, Thornhill realizes that the British are not the first to make New South Wales their home. A delicate coexistence with the native population dissolves into violence, and here Grenville earns her praise, presenting the settler-aboriginal conflict with equanimity and understanding. Grenville's story illuminates a lesser-known part of history-at least to American readers-with sharp prose and a vivid frontier family. (May) Copyright 2006 Reed Business Information.

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