"There were two of them, two young men, dressed alike in narrow-brimmed black hats and black coats, longer and blacker than those Australians wore.
"Edith and Frances, living with their mother on a tiny farm in the south-west of Australia, are visited by their cousin Leopold and his Armenian friend Aram. The two young men are taking the long way home after working on an archaeological dig in Iraq. It is 1937. The modern world, they say, is waiting to erupt. Among the tales they tell is the story of Gilgamesh, the legendary king of Uruk in ancient Mesopotamia. Gilgamesh's great journey of mourning after the death of his friend Enkidu, and his search for the secret of eternal life, is to resonate through all their lives.
"In 1939 Edith and her young child set off on an impossible journey of their own, to find themselves trapped by the outbreak of war. The story of this journey is the story of encounters and escapes, of friendship and love, of loss and acceptance.
"Moving between rural Australia, London, the Caucasus and the Middle East, from the last days of the First World War to the years following the Second, Joan London's stunning novel examines what happens when we strike out into the world, and how, like Gilgamesh, we find our way home."
Frank met Ada when she came to the hospital to visit the soldiers.
It didn't suit her. She was supposed to chat and join in sing-songs and pour tea. But she was clumsy and offhand and didn't smile enough. She lacked the sense of charity that lit the faces of the other young women. That afternoon they were all wearing a white gardenia pinned to their coats and, as they entered, a nun-like sweetness filled the vast draughts of the room.
It was a convalescent hospital south of London, a gloomy country house requisitioned for the duration, where the soldiers, patched-up, jumpy, bitter, tottered and prowled like ancient temperamental guests. Frank shared a room with another Australian, an artilleryman from Melbourne, who wept like a baby in his sleep. Frank suffered from insomnia so it didn't disturb him too much. He didn't tell the doctors about the insomnia. Some were kind. but for some reason he found himself infuriated by kindness. He craved isolation. In isolation he would cure himself. They were days away from Armistice. On the afternoon that Ada came, Frank had expected to be discharged, on the train to London. His leg was officially healed: he'd been waiting all week for the order. Only boredom made him come downstairs for tea.
They should really never have met.
From the Picador paperback edition, 2001.
About the Author:
Joan London is the author of two colections of stories, Sister Ships, which won the Age Book of the Year 1986 and the Western Australia Week Literary Award, and Letter to Constantine, which won the Steele Rudd Award in 1994 and the West Australian Premier's Award for Fiction. She lives in Fremantle, Western Australia.
This novel was shortlisted for the 2002 Miles Franklin Award.
This page and its contents are copyright © 2002 by Perry Middlemiss, Melbourne, Victoria, Australia.Return to Larrikin Literature Page.
Last modified: May 6, 2002.