The Half-Burnt Tree
"The Half-Burnt Tree is a novel of involvement. Dymphna Cusack feels deeply about her characters and their problems and her concern illumines the pages. The central figure is an Australian soldier, maimed and disfigured by napalm in Vietnam, whose wife deserts him and who, embittered and angry, tries to kill himself by repeatedly taking his surfboard over a dangerous reef off a lonely beach.
"He is observed by a woman, as inward looking and as embittered after her marriage to a bigamist and an enforced abortion, who is living as a recluse in an isolated beach post-office; and by a starving orphaned Aboriginal boy who helps the exhausted soldier and who forges a link between the two unhappy people.
"The half-burnt tree of the title is a plum tree in the woman's fire-devasted garden which the soldier is set to restore to fertility. Can the blasted, shrivelled tree have a full life again? Can two people sunk in self-pity re-emerge to face reality? The symbolism is obvious but Miss Cusack's unfailing sincerity akes it acceptable. Much of the novel is concerned in retrospect with the war in Vietnam which the soldier has come to hate and which lives with him continually in nightmare.
"The 26 countries in which her books have been published range from Albania to Scandanavia and from Siberia to the Caribbean."
The boy was still there when the sun went down. As the wave humped over his surf-board the man could see his head silhouetted against the sky. He had been there all afternoon watching him. He cursed again as he had cursed when he first took the board beyond the reef.
If it wasn't for the kid no one would know or care that he was out there on the sea waiting for the moment when a wave would dash him against the jagged rocks that snarled through the angry water.
"Don't surf up this end," a local had said, looking at the surf-board on the luggage rack of the car as he brought it bumping over the track to the beach, "the bombora's a killer." That had decided him to stay, driven by the impulse to use the sea to find a quick and easy way to death.
From the Readers Book Club hardback edition, 1970.
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Last modified: February 11, 2002.