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In a stunning debut novel that evokes the epic scope of Colleen McCullough's classic The Thorn Birds, Harmony Verna creates a poignant, beautifully told story of love and courage, set in Australia and America in the early decades of the twentieth century.
The desert of Western Australia is vast and unforgiving. It's a miracle that the little girl dressed in rags and abandoned in the sand is still breathing when an old miner discovers her. Even more so that he is able to keep her alive long enough to bring her to the town from which she'll take her name: Leonora. Sent to an orphanage, mute with grief and fear, Leonora slowly bonds with another orphan, James, who fights to protect her until both are sent away - Leonora to a wealthy American family, James to relatives who have emigrated from Ireland to claim him.
Years later, Leonora is given a chance to return to her beloved Australia. There, in Wanjarri Downs, she will again come face to face with James, who's grown from a reticent boy into a strong, resourceful man. Only James knows the truth about Leonora - that her roots and her heart are here, among the gum trees and red earth. And they will fight to find a way back to each other, even as war, turmoil, and jealousy test their courage again and again.
Sweeping in scale yet filled with intricately drawn characters and vivid details that conjure the fascinating setting, Daughter of Australia is storytelling at its best.
One is always a little wary of 'debut' novels, and to be compared to the Australian classic, 'The Thorn Birds', brings with it high expectations. Let me tell you now, this book did not fail to deliver. It was epic: it tore at your heartstrings and was truly unforgettable. I do believe a new Australian classic has been born.
Lucky for me it was a long weekend and I indulged, allowing myself to be swept away by this stirring tale. I could not put this book down. It truly is beautifully written, with evocative and heartfelt words:
"The stitches that held his hard parts together, sutured over a lifetime, disintegrated with the touch. He fumbled for each strand, trying to quickly sew them back into place, but the look was too soft. The simple purity hurt."
Equally commendable is the well researched detail of life in the outback at the time of the First World War. The hardships involved with the life of being a miner; the life and loneliness of outback station living and the sad tale of the Stolen Generation:
"We help the children - the natives and especially the half-breeds - find permanent homes where they can be raised properly."
I was immersed from the very first page. From the moment that little girl is abandoned in the desert and rescued by 'Ghan' (what a poignant and sincere character he turned out to be) until the end when Leonora draws the strength from her Australian roots to face her demons and carve out the life she deserves. This book is absolutely littered with characters that will draw you in, make you laugh and make you cry.
Verna conveys the very essence of the Australian bush, the harshness and the rewards. I really did not highlight that many passages as I was just lost in the very being of the who and what this story was about. It was quintessentially Australian.
"Twilight ... the insects took over in a worldly purr; a kookaburra cackled between the ghost gums."
At the conclusion, I am happy to concur that Harmony Verna has done Colleen McCullough’s novels proud. Indeed, this book can take its place amongst the Australian classics. It's pages overflow with tales of love and courage, hardship and endurance, friendships and family. This is one of those books that will sit with you long after the last page has been turned.
"She hadn't changed, only emerged from hibernation. Australia was her spring and she would never retreat again."