Tommo and Hawk (Australian Trilogy #2), by Bryce Courtenay

Nine stars

Bryce Courtenay continues his literary journey in the second of his novels dedicated to Australia, in which he continues the history lesson of its founding and what made it so great. Those who read the opening tome—The Potato Factory—will be familiar with Tommo and Hawk, as well as the importance they play in the Solomon family. Twin boys born of the gargantuan dockside whore—Spermwhale Sally—Tommo and Hawk could not be more different. While the former is a small white boy whose intellect was drowned after his extended capture at the hands of a madman, the latter is a giant of a child, whose skin is as dark as the midnight sky. Living with their adoptive mother, the boys grow under Mary Abacus’ tutelage. Both have suffered greatly and wish not speak of the horrors while kidnapped, but are trying to make the best of it while back at home. A skirmish there sends them off to explore the world, feeling the sense of adventure flowing through their veins. Both are hired to work aboard a whaling ship—like their biological fathers—and learn the ways of the seas, though it is anything but joyous. With alcohol being the only outlet after a hard day’s labour, they turn to it, though it is forbidden by the Quaker captain. Punitive action follows in the form of the whip, which leaves Hawk scarred for life, though he is to make another acquaintance with this form of punishment down the road, when a Maori sailor is injured. Forced to stand trial, the boys are locked away in New Zealand, where the Maori storm the barracks and take them back to their tribe, Rather than instil their own form of justice, the Maori adopt them into their ways and both soon become honourary members. When the Maori face the British colonial soldiers in the region, Tommo and Hawk fight alongside their brethren, whose ancient and somewhat primitive style of fighting, prove no match for muskets and other guns. These are the Maori Wars, where ancient lands were lost and taken by the British before formal colonision of what is now Australia and New Zealand. Agreeing to make their way to the Australian mainland—for both had settled with Mary in what is now Tasmania—the young men see the city life in Sydney before them, where an old compatriot of their adoptive father, Ikey Solomon, appears and has plans for them both. This is but the beginning of their adventures as men! While their lives diverge on numerous occasions, the brotherhood Tommo and Hawk share can never be broken and their love will surely withstand any challenge, including one embedded in the cliffhanger ending. Those who know and love Bryce Courtenay will likely enjoy this middle book in the Australian Trilogy. Its length ought not deter the reader, as the storytelling found within makes the pages melt away and will transport anyone on an adventure like no other. Highly recommended to one and all, as we continue the thorough discovery of Australia and the people who dwell there!

I have long been a fan of Bryce Courtenay and have yet to find a book that did not surpass my expectations. The writing is outstanding and the adventures on which key characters go are so well explored that the reader can almost picture them as they read. The story does offer significant focus on the twins, Tommo and Hawk, as well it should. These two are very closely tied and yet so different. Tommo, seemingly born with his American Indian (I use the word as offered in the text, not its modern equivalence) father’s blood, though not his looks. Tommo would seem to be the more sensible one and who is always looking out for himself, as he is much smaller and seems to be taken for granted. He is the talker that takes the twins on their adventures and barters when it comes to deal making. That said, he is also the first to succumb to temptations that cannot be stopped by his status. Addiction comes knocking at his door and he readily accepts it, finding himself wrapped up in what will become the opium malady from the Chinese who make their way to Australia. On the other hand, Hawk is a giant and stands out wherever he goes. Mute for a time, he relied on non-verbal communication and knows how to relay his message with fists, which becomes a theme throughout. He is more willing to storm off and act as he sees fit rather than listen to the common sense approach that Tommo has to offer. There are a handful of other key characters throughout, though their presence is more isolated to the section of the book pertaining to that piece of the adventure. However, as Courtenay has done in most of his books—and proves here—the attentive reader will see minor characters reemerge at key points, bringing their backstories into the narrative and weaving new tales. All those who play some role in influencing the lives of the twins also push the story along in some way or another and I can only imagine that the final volume will be rich with additional vignettes as needed. Much continues to be made of some of the descriptions and language Courtenay uses throughout this piece. While the opening novel had the derogatory mention of certain races and the blatant anti-Semitic sentiment, this volume tackles some of the same areas, with a significant focus on Hawk’s race, as well as treatment of the Maori. Courtenay is not looking to write a novel about the niceties of the people or their interactions with others, but to reflect the language and sentiments of the times. Australia was by no means a stuffed-shirt society of high tea and polo. Racism and class systems were rampant—much like Mother England—and Courtenay seeks to portray this. In order to tell the story as truthfully as possible, Courtenay uses the honest, though negative, themes to develop his narrative and peppers the dialogue with derogatory sentiments on almost every page. While I deplore racist language or actions, one cannot divorce the way characters speak or how society treated certain groups from the time in which they lived. Some will call the book racist or pig-headed but it is that naiveté that surely drove Courtenay to be as blunt as he was throughout. The world lost one of its best storytellers when Bryce Courtenay died, but his novels live on and I would easily call them classics that generations can enjoy!

Kudos, Mr. Courtenay, for another stellar read. I have recommended your books to any and all who want a deeper and more thought-provoking read. Few have ever returned to tell me I was wrong!

A Book for All Seasons, a different sort of Book Challenge: