"In the mid-1840s, a thirteen-year-old boy, Gemmy Fairley, is cast ashore in the far north of Australia and taken in by aboriginies. Sixteen years later, when settlers reach the area, he moves back into the world of Europeans, men and women who are staking out their small patch of home in an alien place, hopeful and yet terrified of what it might do to them.
"Given shelter by the McIvors, the family of the children who originally made contact with him, Gemmy seems at first to be guaranteed a secure role in the settlement, but there are currents of fear and mistrust in the air. To everyone he meets - from George Abbot, the romantically aspiring young teacher, to Mr Frazer, the minister, whose days are spent with Gemmy recording the local flora; from Janet McIvor, just coming to adulthood and discovering new versions of the world, to the eccentric Governor of Queensland himself - Gemmy stands as a different kind of challenge, as a force which both fascinates and repels. And Gemmy himself finds his own whiteness as unsettling in this new world as the knowledge he brings with him of the savage, the aboriginal.
"A magnificent portrait of a continent and a searing account of the ordeals of settlement and first contact with the unknown, Remembering Babylon has the poetic intensity that marked Malouf's An Imaginary Life. The result is a rich and compelling novel, written in language of astonishing poise and resonance, and immensely powerful in its vision of human differences and eternal divisions."
One day in the middle of the nineteenth centrury, when settlement in Queensland had advanced little more than halfway up the coast, three children were playing at the edge of a paddock when they saw something extraordinary. They were two little girls in patched gingham and a boy, their cousin, in short pants and braces, all three barefooted farm children not easily scared.
They had little opportunity for play but had been engaged for the past hour in a game of the boy's devising: the paddock, all clay-packed stones and ant trails, was a forest in Russia - they were hunters on the track of wolves.
The boy had elaborated this scrap of make-believe out of a story in the fourth grade Reader; he was lost in it. Cold air burned his nostrils, snow squeaked underfoot; the gun he carried, a good sized stick, hung heavy on his arm. But the girls, especially Janet, who was older than he was and half a head taller, were bored. They had no experience of snow, and wolves did not interest them. They complained and dawdled and he had to exert all his gift for fantasy, his will too, which was stubborn, to keep them in the game.
From the Chatto & Windus hardback edition, 1993.
This book was the winner of the NSW Premier's Literary Award in 1993, and the first International IMPAC Dublin Literary Award. It was also shortlisted for the 1994 Booker Prize and the National Book Council's Banjo Award.
Other WWW Mentions:
This novel is reviewed on the Web by:
This page and its contents are copyright © 1997-2006 by Perry Middlemiss, Melbourne, Victoria, Australia.Return to David Malouf Page.
Last modified: January 26, 2006.