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Publisher: 2 November 2015 by Random House Australia
Pages: 359 pages
How I Read It: ARC book
Genre: fiction, contemporary, Australian
My Rating: 4 crowns
Master storyteller Judy Nunn has now sold over 1 million books worldwide. In her spellbinding new bestseller she takes us on a breathtaking journey deep into the red heart of Australia. It is 2001 and as the world charges into the new Millennium, a century-old dream is about to be realised in the Red Centre of Australia: the completion of the mighty Ghan railway, a long-lived vision to create the 'backbone of the continent', a line that will finally link Adelaide with the Top End.
But construction of the final leg between Alice Springs and Darwin will not be without its complications, for much of the desert it will cross is Aboriginal land.
Hired as a negotiator, Jessica Manning must walk a delicate line to reassure the Elders their sacred sites will be protected. Will her innate understanding of the spiritual landscape, rooted in her own Arunta heritage, win their trust? It's not easy to keep the peace when Matthew Witherton and his survey team are quite literally blasting a rail corridor through the timeless land of the Never-Never.
When the paths of Jessica and Matthew finally cross, their respective cultures collide to reveal a mystery that demands attention. As they struggle against time to solve the puzzle, an ancient wrong is awakened and calls hauntingly across the vastness of the outback.
I am always eager to sample some of my fellow countrymen's tales, and Judy Nunn has long been on my list. Nunn has a huge following here in Australia and now, after sampling my first read of hers, I can understand why. She has a most engaging style and, always a sucker for personal history narrative genres, I found this one really well done. Nunn seamlessly combined well researched history, Aboriginal culture, the great expanse of the Aussie Outback, all weaved together in engrossing personal stories.
Chapters alternate throughout, especially in the first third of the book as separate scenarios are established. There are generational groups, Indigenous groups, colonial pastoralists, Afghan cameleers, jazz musicians- just to name a few! The author’s research especially concerning the Northern Territory was well done. However, the overall focus in on Jess, the young Aboriginal researcher, and Matt, the Adelaide surveyor. A great couple to follow.
My few issues concerned keeping track of the separate tales and hoping that by around 30% of the book they would all come together soon - and eventually they did. So you need to have your wits about you when reading and establishing characters, time periods and places. It is thorough, complex and thought provoking. My second concern came towards the end. Whilst on the one hand I appreciated Nunn's research and attempts to capture Aboriginal authenticity, at times, I found it a little too far fetched to my mind.
Overall, however, I very much enjoyed the historical references, the characters and the Aussie Outback. If I found some portions a bit too fanciful for my taste, I just had to remind myself that it is a work of fiction.