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Classic reads to transport you to Australasia

12th August 2017

Classic reads to transport you to Australasia.

Books set in a location offer great travel reading. Literature – modern or historical – helps us absorb atmosphere in a way that no other written word finds possible. Books help us get under the skin of a place, and see a location through an author’s eyes.

Classic reads to transport you to Australasia

In the fourth of a series of themed blog posts, here are 5 classic novels or memoirs rooted firmly in Australia and New Zealand:

The Sound of One Hand Clapping – Richard Flanagan : Tasmania

Published in 2001, this haunting novel paved the way for author Richard Flanagan’s even more powerful 2014 Man Booker Prize-winning The Narrow Road to the Deep North.

Both are rooted in Tasmania, but both are also played out on much wider canvases, geographically and emotionally.

In The Sound of One Hand Clapping, Bojan Buloh uproots his family from troubled Slovenia to a construction camp for a hydroelectric company in the remote Tasmanian Highlands. But Bojan’s wife disappears, leaving him to bring up 3 year-old Sonja alone.

A powerful story of war, immigration, loss and love, The Sound of One Hand Clapping will leave you emotionally drained, and full of admiration for the author’s literary skill.

Illywhacker – Peter Carey : Australia

Illywhacker is a sprawling picaresque tour-de-force from two-time Booker prize-winner Peter Carey.

Narrated by liar, con-man and archetypal Aussie larrikin Herbert Badgery, Illywhacker tells a story as far-reaching as Australia itself. Starting in 1919, this epic adventure yarn – in a style sometimes called magical realism – is as much about other characters, and the evolving Aussie nation in the 20th century, as it is about Herbert.

It will transport you to a world of flying machines, magic tricks, car salesmen and Chinamen, some lies and many truths.

The Bone People – Keri Hulme : New Zealand

This Booker prize-winning novel of 1984 is a love story, but is not always recognisable as such.

It centres on the relationships between three people, and explores at the same time the unsettling nature of European New Zealanders co-existing with Maoris.

Artist Kerewin is a free spirit, living in a tower in the ocean. One night, young feral mute boy Simon shatters her solitude. Simon’s Maori foster father Joe shows up too, and the die is cast.

The first half of the book describes the opaque, often harrowing, relationships between the main protagonists. In the second half, Kerewin, Simon and Joe pursue their own paths, but ultimately there is a sense of hope in the ending.

Kiwi Keri Hulme struggled to find a publisher for this novel. One said “undoubtedly Miss Hulme can write but unfortunately we don’t understand what she is writing about.” Well, it’s about New Zealand and its rich heritage, narrated through a cast of complex characters.

The Fatal Shore – Robert Hughes : Australia

The Fatal Shore is neither a novel nor a memoir, but I make no excuse for including it in this short list of Classic reads to transport you to Australia.

Transport is an apposite word, for this is a monumental non-fiction book about the history of the birth of modern Australia. It recounts in forensic detail the historical, political and sociological reasons behind the transportation of convicts from Britain to settle the land down under, their brutal treatment in detention centres around the country, and the beginning of a more positive future.

This strikes a personal chord, as I saw at first hand a couple of years ago the site of the penal colony of Sarah Island, off the coast of Tasmania, and also watched an enactment of the treatment of one female convict, on arrival in Hobart, at the so-called Female Factory. Hard to forget. http://justretiring.com/tasmania-convicts-colonisation

The Chant of Jimmie Blacksmith – Thomas Keneally : Australia

Any list of classic reads in Australia should include at least one about the country’s indigenous Aboriginal people.

The Chant of Jimmie Blacksmith is a fictionalised account of the life of bushranger Jimmy Governor. A half-Aboriginal man, Jimmie marries a white woman and struggles to balance life between two cultures, at the end of the 19th century.

The Newby family, Jimmie’s employers, try to break up the marriage, with far-reaching tragic consequences.

This is a parable for Australia at any time over the last couple of centuries, with a constant struggle to integrate Aborigines successfully into the modern country and its fast-evolving culture.

Click here for some classic reads to transport you to Europe.

Click here for some classic reads to transport you to the Americas.

Click here for some classic reads to transport you to Africa.

Which books would you add our list of classic books set in Australasia? Do leave your comments below…

Andrew for the TripFiction Team

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Here is our full database (and come on, add any books you feel we should feature!) of books set in NEW ZEALAND and AUSTRALIA


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  1. User: Judith Works

    Posted on: 12/08/2017 at 4:38 pm

    I’ll never forget reading The Fatal Shore. It was well-titled.