Fishing for Stars (The Persimmon Tree #2), by Bryce Courtenay

Nine stars

A long-time fan of Bryce Courtenay, I found myself enthralled in this book, a sequel to The Persimmon Tree. It continues the tale of Nick Duncan, Anna Til, and Marg Hamilton, whose love triangle of sorts weaves its way through the novel at various points. Nick and Anna are together just after the War, still trying to come to terms with where their lives have taken them. Anna is severely addicted to heroin and unable to shake it. She tries to get Nick to understand her plight, as well as other issues that may take their toll of this burgeoning relationship. Anna has been able to make a name for herself with a number of male bondage houses, something that she learned while a Japanese prisoner of war. As her success mounts, Nick is able to work on his own businesses, which include a salvage and shipping company to serve the Pacific Islands. When Anna is kidnapped, Nick returns to Japan to find her, allying himself with a Japanese mafioso leader, whose love of butterflies rivals few in the world. While a plan is made, Nick finds himself in a heap of trouble, thinking only after the fact about the danger in which he puts himself. While he is able to get Anna out, relatively unscathed, it is only later that he realises how independent she is and what rash actions he seems to have taken. Knowing that Marg Hamilton—an old flame of Nick’s during the war—is newly widowed, Nick and Anna come up with an agreement, to sharpen the edges of this love triangle in the oddest manner. As things switch towards Marg, the reader learns much about her passions living in Tasmania and how ecological politics soon become her passion. Marg sets her sights on helping Australia keep its ‘green’ footprint, though it will be tough. Nick is forced to balance between her advocacy and the actions Anna is undertaking in his own business world, sure to set the two women on a path of destruction before long. It will be up to Nick to determine how he ought to handle what is sure to be the fight of his life. Another masterful Bryce Courtenay novel that takes the reader on an epic journey. Recommended to those who love long and slow-developing stories, as well as the reader who has a great interest in all things Bryce Courtenay.

Bryce Courtenay is surely one of few authors whose books I could read repeatedly and never complain. While I surely read this book over a decade ago, I remember little, making this read all the more exciting. There is much to digest in a story so full of detail. As with the first book, the story flows so well that the length of the story becomes less a hurdle and more an adventure to overcome. Nick plays a great protagonist yet again, keeping all aspects of the story tied tightly together. He finds himself in the middle of so much throughout this piece and keeps the story moving onward. Courtenay uses Nick as the omnipotent narrator, but also a key player in the lives of both women, showing much of his development through the actions they undertake. Anna Til shows that she is a sharp-witted woman throughout the piece, carrying two of her health concerns throughout the book, though never letting them rule her choices, to a degree. Anna has a passion for business and can turn a situation to her favour, either through mental acuity or the power of persuasion that she possesses. The reader will see a nice contrast here with what she has done in the first book and likely enjoy the different, as well as some similarities. Marg, who played a minor role throughout the first novel, takes her place here and has a masterful story to tell, one in which the reader will such much progression. She is able to spin quite the web and keep the reader (and Nick) on their toes throughout. Her development is effectively accomplished on her own, though Nick surely does influence her from time to time. Other characters who grace the pages of this book add different flavours to a stunning narrative. Courtenay paints his picture so well with the different sub-plots, leaving the reader in awe while asking for more. The story was amazingly detailed and provided a view of post-War Asia and its development throughout regional independence. There is so much history embedded within the masterfully crafted narrative, which opens the door to so much interpretation. While I would not normally take the time to comment on audiobook narration, the work by Humphrey Bower here was some of the best I have ever had the privilege to hear. I have listened to the audiobook renditions of all Courtenay books and Bower takes the lead in almost all of them, bringing accents to life and narrative passages to a new level of understanding. While I know some people prefer holding a book (or e-book), I cannot say enough about the audio versions of Courtenay’s work! I was so pleased with the stories and themes developed throughout this piece.

Kudos, Mr. Courtenay, for dazzling me yet again as I devoured this book.

This book fulfils Topic #1: Sweat and Read in the Equinox #9 Reading Challenge.

A Book for All Seasons, a different sort of Book Challenge: https://www.goodreads.com/group/show/248185-a-book-for-all-seasons

The Persimmon Tree (Persimmon Tree #1), by Bryce Courtenay

Nine stars

A long-time fan of Bryce Courtenay, I turned to this piece that takes the reader out of some of the usual locales used by the author to tell a war-time story that will reverberate for many. Nick Duncan and Anna Van Heerden meet while living in Java, within the Dutch East Indies (modern-day Indonesia). Nick’s passion for butterfly collecting is only one of the things that draws Anna to him, though they are but teenagers and cannot know what love truly means. By 1942, Asia becomes a significant theatre of war and Java is no longer a safe place. The Japanese are on their way with hopes of conquering everything in their path. Nick is entrusted with the Van Heerden’s boat and asked to sail it to Australia, where Anna is promised to meet him at the end of the war. Nick prepares to depart, discovering his own adventures before he sets sail, watching some of the Australian troops slaughtered on a beach before Nick saves a young American. Kevin Judge tells him all about Chicago during their adventures to Australia, where Nick has distant family and a passion to enter the fray with the Australians against the Japanese forces. Back in Java, Anna and her family try to make an escape ahead of the Japanese invasion, but are unable to leave the country. Saddled with taking care of her alcoholic father, Anna tries her best to see the bright side, but the Japanese arrival is nothing but complete horror. Anna is chosen by one of the Japanese colonels to join him for meals, conversing as they dance around the fact that she is a prisoner in her homeland. However, there is a plan for Anna, one that includes a life she could not have expected. When she is commissioned to become a geisha, Anna accepts her fate and undertakes the rigorous training of sensual (sexual) binding and erotic massage, perfecting the art. Telling herself that she is still pure for Nick, as her ‘pearl has not been broken’, Anna is devastated when a new leader seeks to turn her into a common whore. Taking matters into her own hands, Anna sends the Japanese out of the country with an indelible mark and seeks a way to get to Australia. Part three of the book returns to Australia, where Nick is in combat, fending off the enemy as best he can. He worries about Anna and wonders if he will ever see her violet-blue eyes again. His time seconded to work in a covert capacity does not go unnoticed, allowing him to learn a great deal about the war, life in the military, and the strains of love from a distance. However, his final goal, to locale Anna, will come with a price. Another brilliant piece by one of my favourite authors. Bryce Courtenay can spin a story and keep the reader enthralled for hundreds of pages. Recommended to those who love Courtenay’s work, as well as the reader who enjoys war tales with a twist.

Bryce Courtenay is perhaps one of the only authors whose books I could read over and over without tiring, While I vaguely remember reading this book over a decade ago, nothing much, save the rope tying, stuck in my brain. There is so much to digest here and I could not help but love all the details. The story’s pace flows so well that the book’s length mostly vanishes as the reader finds themselves hooked by the narrative skills on offer. Nick plays a great protagonist, as his backstory and character development are equally strong, permitting the attentive reader to learn so very much. The situations in which Nick finds himself challenge the reader to discover the lengths to which his character will go to make a mark on those around him. Contrasting nicely is Anna, whose upbringing differs so much from Nick’s, but with a story that rivals his. Anna finds herself having to mature at a quick pace, while she is tossed into many a situation that requires fast thinking. Courtenay’s symbolic use of the persimmon tree throughout is masterful and does describe Anna so effectively. These parallel narratives work so well together as well as on their own, keeping the reader wanting to know more (thank goodness for a sequel!). The handful of other characters who grace the pages of this book add flavour to an already rich narrative, while also providing the reader with some insight into difference perspectives of the larger story. Courtenay does this so well and leaves the reader only to pine for more. The story was amazingly detailed and provided a view of World War Two both from a perspective about which I have read little (The Pacific Theatre) and through the eyes of the Javanese, with a peppering of Australia as well. There is so much history embedded within the masterfully crafted narrative, which opens the door to so much interpretation. While I would not normally take the time to comment on audiobook narration, the wor by Humphrey Bower here was some of the best I have ever had the privilege to hear. I have listened to the audiobook renditions of all Courtenay books and Bower takes the lead in almost all of them, bringing accents to life and narrative passages to a bel level of understanding. While I know some people prefer holding a book (or e-book), I cannot say enough about the audio versions of Courtenay’s work! I was so pleased with the stories and themes developed throughout this piece. I will be reaching for the sequel as soon as I can post this review (yes, the audio!).

Kudos, Mr. Courtenay, for giving me something amazing to read and reminding me how sad I am that we lost you years ago!

A Book for All Seasons, a different sort of Book Challenge: https://www.goodreads.com/group/show/248185-a-book-for-all-seasons

Jack of Diamonds, by Bryce Courtenay

Nine stars

It is always a great pleasure to read anything by Bryce Courtenay, as he takes a simple story idea and allows it to blossom. This style takes an idea and allows it to develop into something miraculous by the final page. In this novel, set mostly in Canada, I was able to have a true sense of nationalism as I allowed Courtenay to direct the story throughout the decades and lull me into a sense of reading comfort. Jack Spayd began life in the poorest part of Toronto, referred to as Cabbagetown. Making the best of the lot he has been given, Jack finds a lovely connection with his mother, but cowers whenever his alcoholic father approaches. With the Depression in full swing, Jack and his family are barely able to rub two coins together, but somehow they can find some degree of happiness. When, as a belated birthday present, Jack receives a harmonica from his father, he learns the power of music. Hanging outside the local jazz club, Jack hones his skills and makes an impression of the proprietress, Ms. Frostbite, who wants top open as many doors for him as she can. Enrolling him in formal piano lessons, Ms. Frostbite hopes that a classical foundation will allow him to develop further as a jazz musician. As with most everything else he tries, Jack masters it, though he pines for for the blues than anything Bach. Still not yet eighteen, Jack muddles around on the piano for Ms. Frostbite and others at the club, though he needs more experience and to make a name for himself. Jack heads out west, finding work and a new set of passions in Moose Jaw, Saskatchewan, where yet another female influence steers him along a new and exciting pathway. Juicy Fruit may be a prostitute, but she has aspirations of being more under the big lights of New York. After a brief sojourn in Canada’s Prairies, Jack learns the art of poker, though it helps get him into more trouble than he can handle. Leaving trouble in the rear view mirror, Jack takes up the war effort and serves overseas, where he is able to discover new and exciting skills, before returning and trying to make a name for himself. An invitation to work in a still developing Las Vegas opens his eyes to both the racial divide of the United States and the mafia-run casinos of the city. While working as a jazz pianist, Jack discovers that Vegas is more than bright lights, seeing its seedier sides behind the proverbial curtain. There is much for him to learn at a time when Jack is coming of age, including more voyages and new-found friendships. Courtenay’s final novel before his death is as riveting as any of the others I have read. Full of powerful themes and highly entertaining plots, the reader is in for a treat as they watch the story come to life. Highly recommended for those readers who love detailed stories than have numerous plot twists, as well as those who love Bryce Courtenay’s work.

I believe that I have read every one of Bryce Courtenay’s novels and have loved them all! His attention to detail is like no author I have ever read, taking a story idea and spinning it in many directions, whereby the early characters seem to fade into the background as plots thicken and narratives weave in countless directions. Courtenay novels are not for the inexperienced reader, as they encompass not only a massive amount of information, but also go on for hundreds of pages, captivating those who can endure the journey. Jack Spayd is the perfect protagonist throughout this piece, allowing Courtenay to paint a wonderful portrait of his life through decades of life experiences, from the shanty homes in Cabbagetown to the pinnacle of his career as a piano bar worker in Las Vegas. Jack experiences much along the way and encounters a number of influential people along the way. As with many of Courtenay’s pieces, these characters enrich the life of the protagonist and serve to offer wonderful life lessons, even if they are only discovered later on in the novel. As Jack grows, his passion turns from protecting his mother to the wonders of music and even the love of various women in a romantic sense. His coming of age transpires in his late teens, though Courtenay eases him into it with experiences that keep the reader wanting to know more. I am blessed to have had the time to see Jack grow and develop all his skills, as the journey is one that could not be quickly stitched together by a lesser author. As I mentioned before, there are a handful of strong secondary characters whose influence and unique nature is an indelible mark on both the lives of the reader and Jack himself. Growth occurs throughout and the helpful advice resonates throughout this piece, helping the reader and Jack himself grow on a personal level. The story, Courtenay’s last, is as strong as any I have read, hitting the mark on the plight of history in the early to mid-20th century. Courtenay uses actual events in history as a backdrop while honing the wonders of this created plot that serves to teach the reader something along the way. While I will miss Bryce Courtenay and his ideas a great deal, I have many wonderful novels on which to pull insightful ideas and with a strong collection of characters. Be it the painful existence of apartheid-era South Africa, Australia’s outback, Dickensian England, or even the Orient (to name a few), Courtenay has left a mark just as strong as he did in this piece. For that I am blessed, as is any reader who accepts the challenge to come along as well.

Kudos, Mr. Courtenay, for a spectacular personal farewell. You will be missed and it was a blessing to be a part of your writing life. May the angels gather at your feet for more storytelling!

The book fulfils Topic #4: Other Than Books in the Equinox #8 Reading Challenge.

A Book for All Seasons, a different sort of Book Challenge: https://www.goodreads.com/group/show/248185-a-book-for-all-seasons

Solomon’s Song (Australia Trilogy #3), by Bryce Courtenay

Nine stars

Bryce Courtenay concludes his epic trilogy on the early times of Australia, using his powerful way with words and a multi-generational exploration of the Solomons. Filled with themes and key characters in early Australian history, the story finally pushes past the date of federation, when Australia stood on its own, while still under the auspices of the British Commonwealth. Picking up soon after the last novel ended, news comes that a body has been discovered in the harbour and the identification makes it seem to be Tommo Solomon. Mary and Hawk make their way to the coroner’s to identify the body and make the needed arrangements. As she is getting on in age, Mary requests—demands—that Tommo’s daughter be sent for, having moved to New Zealand to become a nurse. Hawk agrees to go find her, following the rumours that Hinetitama has fallen onto hard times. A ‘half-caste’, Hinetitama has her Maori roots, but is scorned in a country that still wishes to subjugate those they have colonised. When Hawk brings her back, he is able to convince Hinetitama to live and spend time with her grandmother, who wants nothing else than great-grandchildren before she dies. In an effort to ensure this happens, Mary works her wiles on the one man who has held Hinetitama’s heart, the Dutchman Slabbert Teekleman, though he is anything but an upstanding gentleman. Bearing two children, Ben and Victoria, Hinetitama soon falls into the bottle once more and disappears, leaving Hawk to act as surrogate parent. Mary’s death also shakes the family to the core, but her choices ensure that the brewery is left in good hands. It is around this time that the other branch of the Solomon clan reemerge, headed by David, who kept a life-long hatred of Mary for what she did in ruining his mother’s marriage to Ikey Solomon, head of this entire family. A business conglomeration does little to settle the score, though the Solomons are joined together in business, alternating power of the massive Solomon-Teekleman company, depending who is in possession of a majority of the shares. Fast-forwarding out of the nineteenth century, Australia has been able to stand on its own and emerges ready to play a significant role on the world stage. When the winds of war begin to blow, and with David Solomon ready to die, his grandson, Joshua, emerges on the scene to serve in the military. Alongside him, his cousin, Ben, is also ready for the military commitment, sent to battle under the auspices of fighting for King and country. Courtenay uses this decision—Australia’s Commonwealth commitment to the War—to serve as the major theme of the book. Ben leads a company of soldiers into training and eventually onto the European front, where they meet many an adventure and brutal bloodshed. So many young men, the premier stock of future Australians, leave to fight for Britain’s interests and end up strewn across the battlefield. Ben served his country well and the story turns into a war novel, exploring the key battles of the Great War. Bitter that he is watching those around him die, Ben is vilified by senior military officials, while Joshua is kept safe in England. All this comes to a head when they meet on the battlefield; two men serving the same country, but whose lives could not have been more different. It is here that Courtenay injects his most powerful storyline, as the Solomons must either bury their past, or use the animosity to fuel yet another skirmish, while Europe is torn apart. A brilliant end to the trilogy, Courtenay does things in this novel that I cannot begin to elucidate clearly. A master storyteller with a passion for his adopted Australia, it is a novel—and series—that should not be missed by any with a passion for inter-generational tomes.

I have long been a fan of Bryce Courtenay and have a great love of novels that explore inter-generational development within a family. The writing throughout the series is outstanding and places the characters in key situations against the backdrop of history to shape the narrative in many ways. There are a handful of key characters that shape the story at different points, perhaps none more so than Hawk and Hinetitama in the early portions and Ben in the latter segment of this massive tome. The struggle to shape the Solomon name is a task that neither Hawk nor Hinetitama could have expected would rest on their shoulders, but they do it so well. No one is perfect and no family is free from fault, but these two exemplify the pains of being minorities in a land that is still trying to find its feet, using horrible racism to fuel their individuality. As I have said in the reviews of the other pieces, racism is rampant, though I think it serves to explore the pig-headedness of a new country and these two characters have faced a significant amount of the physical and verbal abuse. Ben Teekleman is a Solomon like no other, who chooses to rise above it all and serve his country without reservation. Courtenay depicts him as a strong young man who does not get involved in the politics—familial, national, or racial—of those around him, but prefers to make a difference in the lives of those in his sphere. What Ben sees, especially when he is shipped to Europe, cannot be described with ease in this review, but readers who enjoy war history or depictions of the daily situations of soldiers will lap up much of the narrative. There are a handful of other key characters throughout, fuelling key aspects of the Solomon family feuds and the struggles to shape Australia in their own image. Courtenay is known for his powerful themes and this book does not differentiate from that, though anyone looking for a novel about the niceties of people or their interactions with others should look elsewhere. There is little that leaves the reader feeling warm and fuzzy, but the narrative is so full of passionate storytelling that it should not be dismissed. All three novels have been stellar in their delivery and Courtenay’s best works that I have ever read. 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, even as this novel pushes through to 1916. It is a part of Australia’s history and any reader that is not scared off by the size of all three books may want to think twice if they are unable to digest the rawness presented here. Those who can, revel in the themes and the stellar feeling of getting lost in the writing! 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 will enjoy.

Kudos, Mr. Courtenay, for a powerful novel and dominant trilogy as you explore the rougher side of life in and around Australia.

A Book for All Seasons, a different sort of Book Challenge: https://www.goodreads.com/group/show/248185-a-book-for-all-seasons

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: https://www.goodreads.com/group/show/248185-a-book-for-all-seasons

The Potato Factory (Australian Trilogy #1), by Bryce Courtenay

Nine stars

Bryce Courtenay takes readers on the start of an amazing journey, as he commences a massive trilogy dedicated to his adopted homeland of Australia. Weaving through history while using his masterful ability to spin tales, Courtenay offers up his own perspective of how the Land Down Under developed while still under the auspices of the British, populated by their social and criminal outcasts in the early part of the nineteenth century. Isaac ‘Ikey’ Solomon is well-known on the streets of London as a forger and counterfeiter like no other. While the authorities have him on their radar, they are not yet able to catch him with anything concrete to make an arrest. Working alongside him is Ikey’s wife, Hannah, whose cutthroat way of thinking has earned her a reputation as well. While she enjoys the spoils, she is wary of Ikey, ever the crook, and has made sure to keep a close eye on his antics. Sensing this strain, Ikey has allowed his heart and mind be captivated by an unlikely source, the lowly Mary ‘Abacus’ Klerk, who sought to better herself by using her brains, only to face the wrath of the male population who had other ideas of what a woman should do. Mary’s determination to better herself, using brains and a sharp wit, earns her Ikey’s respect, but also finds her tossed into prison and sent aboard a ship to the far-off land of Australia and into a penal colony. It is there that Mary comes of age and learns to use her quick mind to help others while laying the groundwork for a sensational business idea. Ikey, meanwhile, finds himself in a sting operation and narrowly escapes the clutches of the authorities, while Hannah is two-timed and left to suffer at the hands of the constabulary. Dodging the noose, she is shipped off to Australia—her children coming too—which pulls at Ikey’s heartstrings, only to have him duped. With all three protagonists in Australia now, the story takes an interesting turn, leaving them to battle it out in a part of the world not yet fully rooted and still with a significant stigma. Hannah’s simmering hatred of both Ikey and Mary comes to the surface, especially after they adopt twin boys who were conceived and born in the oddest of circumstances. Now, it is a battle to the end for the Solomon name. Courtenay has much to say about these three and offers countless mini-tales to pique the curiosity of the attentive reader. Those who know and love Bryce Courtenay will likely enjoy this book. Its length should not deter the reader, as the storytelling found within will transport anyone on an adventure that could not have been predicted. Highly recommended to one and all, as we commence the thorough discovery of Australia and the people who dwell there!

I fell in love with Courtenay’s writing years ago when i discovered his literary exploration of South Africa. The writing is second to none and the adventures on which key characters go cannot be matched by many others who call themselves authors. Laying the groundwork for these three protagonists has surely helped catapult them into what will be a sensational trilogy. Ikey is the slimiest of crooks, though he finds a way to fill his heart will love at the most opportune times. The reader will learn much about the man and his business as the story progresses, finding a way to love and hate him in the same breath. Hannah has little but a duplicitous nature to offer anyone, but she is determined to make life better for her children and punish the man who put her into such legal turmoil. She plots throughout, hoping to outmaneuver her husband with each scheme and see him perish, no matter the cost. Mary takes the show in this book, which portrays her as downcast and perhaps the least rooted, though her passion to make something out of the little she has is a driving force in the narrative. The story itself is complex and takes many a turn, as one would expect of a Courtenay piece, though each tidbit finds its way into the larger narrative. This being the first of the trilogy, scraps and crumbs dropped here could have significance later, forcing the reader to pay close attention. Much has been made of some of the descriptions and language Courtenay uses throughout this piece, so much so that the author addresses it in the preface. Anti-Semitic acts and language was commonplace, paired with a strong push to isolate the Jews, even as far back as the 1820s in England. In order to tell the story as truthfully as possible, Courtenay uses these themes to develop his narrative and peppers the dialogue with derogatory sentiments. While I am the second (Courtenay being the first) to decry racist language, one cannot divorce the way characters speak from the time in which they are living. Some will call the book racist or pig-headed (no pun intended), but it is for those whose naiveté drives them that this book was penned. As Courtenay is no longer with us, let us take his writing and allow it to speak volumes for the passion he has for people, his homeland, and his Australia.

Kudos, Mr. Courtenay, for making me proud to call myself a fan! While you have passed on, I feel your books will live on forever and could be called classics, as generations can learn of the world that was from the perspective you offer.

A Book for All Seasons, a different sort of Book Challenge: https://www.goodreads.com/group/show/248185-a-book-for-all-seasons

Jessica, by Bryce Courtenay

Nine stars

There is something about a novel by Bryce Courtenay that sets my mind at ease. The way he tells stories and the silky flow of the narrative has me eager each time I am able to (re)read his books, all of which I have found to be stellar. This story focuses on the life of Jessica Bergman and her family, who are living in rural Australia soon after the country’s formal independence. Jessica is unlike the other girls around town—including her sister, Meg—who prefer to remain prim and proper. Rather, Jessica is happy to get dirt under her fingernails as she is reluctantly given work shearing sheep alongside her father. While first seen to be an outcast and the lesser sex, Jessica soon befriends Billy and Jack, leading to a strong platonic connection between them all. When Billy is seriously hurt and suffers a debilitating brain injury, he becomes a pariah and ‘dim-witted helper’ to Jack’s family. One day, Billy comes to Jessica with news that he’s committed a horrible crime, one that no one will understand, especially in his altered mental state. Jessica soon realises that the only way to save Billy from the town mob is to get him to the police magistrate. Their journey is long and slow, but Jessica is determined to find justice for her friend. When the law takes over, it is the influence of those with power, administering it through a lens of judgmental beliefs, that sees Billy face harsh consequences. Meanwhile, Meg and her mother have a plan that could secure the elder Bergman girl into a life of luxury, or at least ensure her status, though an unsuspecting Jack has no idea that he’s soon to be lured into a trap. Seeing what’s happening, Jessica tries to strike back, only to be silenced and used in the larger plot as well. As the story progresses, Jessica comes of age and must grow up faster, not only because of her family’s schemes, but as she comes face to face with some of the racially-motivated laws on the books that seek to subjugate portions of the population. Jessica must struggle and discover that she alone has the power to shape her own future, and those closest to her. A brilliant piece by Bryce Courtenay that shows the power this man has when putting a story to paper. Highly recommended for those who love a strong tale of self-discovery and determination in the face of ever-growing doubt and obstacles.

I have had a long-standing admiration for Bryce Courtenay and his books, all of which have captivated me early in my reading experience. While they are usually long and quite tangential, their thread is one that can be easily followed and the plot constantly evolves, which may explain my vague summary above (which may appease those who chirp about my reviews being too long and revealing for their ivory tower reading sentiments). Courtenay creates a number of strong characters and utilises them effectively to shape the direction in which his narrative moves. Jessica is, of course, the central character in this piece and her life is shaped by those around her. Moving from the age of fourteen through to her mid-twenties, Jessica’s life is influenced by a number of events that take her along paths that could not have been foreseen. She becomes one person that the reader cannot help but admire and her tribulations, while surely placed in a ‘soap opera’ type drama, are usually grounded in something substantial. Others find their place in the narrative and offer poignant life moments to give Jessica even more depth. This is something Courtenay does well and seems to be able to effectively portray in most of his novels, as well as using some of his standing character types in each novel (ie, Jews, blacks). The story, rich with description and development, takes on an interesting approach. Courtenay opens each ‘book’ with a summary of events, then backtracks to play them out through a series of progressive vignettes, offering the reader foresight into what will come, then letting the narrative take control,. It is effective and does not present too many issues for the reader who enjoys a surprise within their reading experience. The plot is strong and well-grounded, providing not only personal growth for Jessica, but touching on a number of political and social issues of the day, not all of which have been adequately resolved close to a century later. Courtenay may have passed on, but his books resonate with me and I hope that by the time my son is ready to tackle them, they will appeal to his passion for reading and learning.

Kudos, Mr. Courtenay, for another wonderful re-read. I find myself so energised when I have read one of your books. Let’s ride that wave through the next little while.

This book fulfills Topic #5: Name That Book, for the Equinox #4 Reading Challenge.

A Book for All Seasons, a different sort of Book Challenge: https://www.goodreads.com/group/show/248185-a-book-for-all-seasons

Tandia (Africa #2), by Bryce Courtenay

Nine stars

Bryce Courtenay impresses again with another ‘practice novel’ as he called them when taking up the art of writing. The sequel to his extremely popular The Power of One, this novel seeks to look at South African political and social transformation (regression?) from the other side of the coin, through the eyes of a teenage girl, Tandia, and the rest of the subjugated population. Tandia is raped soon after her father’s funeral. A mixed-race bastard—her Indian father’s affair with his black house servant—Tandia does not fit into either of South Africa’s non-white populations, but remains downtrodden and the victim of extreme racism. When she is tossed from her home, Tandia takes matters into her own hands, landing up in trouble with the law and facing the man who violated her not long ago. Police officer Jannie Geldenhuis holds his power over her and, with nowhere else to go, Tandia is stuck signing a false statement of facts to save her life. When they arrive at one of the local brothels, Geldenhuis demands that she remain here, under the watchful eye of Mama Tequila, and report back on all the clientele who frequent the establishment. With the Immorality Act— a strict law prohibiting sexual relations between the races—in full effect alongside other pieces of the larger apartheid system, Tandia is sure to have a long list of those who wish to cover themselves in a veil of secrecy. Meanwhile, Peekay, young protagonist from The Power of One, is now at Oxford, reading law and honing his boxing career. He befriends a young sculptor who seeks to explore him through her artistic lens, but this forces Peekay to explore more of himself and his interactions with others. As things heat up in the boxing ring, Peekay must also dodge jabs that life is throwing his way, away from his African homeland. When Mama Tequila sets off with Tandia during a brothel holiday, they encounter the big city of Johannesburg, where racial segregation is in full-swing in the apartheid-fuelled way of life. Shantytowns and oppression populate every corner of the city, though the people rally behind their love of boxing. Tandia hears stories of many men who entered the ring and fought, transforming themselves from lowly black men to heroes for the entire community. One such boy, the Tadpole Angel, is white, but appears to have the love of all the people, as he is happy not to look at the colour of your skin, but the person inside. With Geldenhuis also on the boxing scene, Tandia is terrified that she will see him again, his ruthless ways leaving scars deeper than the ones he has delivered to her skin. With his boxing career going exceedingly well, Peekay returns to South Africa to open a legal practice, only to butt heads with some of the closed-minded police officers, including Geldenhuis. Tandia grows closer to Peekay, though the Immorality Act makes any future between them all but impossible. With race relations reaching a fevered pitch and Peekay heading up a legal challenge to the core of the apartheid system, something will have to give, while the world looks on. Brilliant in its literary delivery, Courtenay pulls the reader in and leaves them wanting so much more, while some will surely remain disgusted by the abhorrent treatment by the Afrikaner population. Recommended for all those who have the patience to endure a slow-building story about race relations, jaded politics, and the power of one man’s convictions fuelled by the determination of one woman to change her country of birth.

Those new to Bryce Courtenay will likely find the author to be one they either love or cannot stomach. This is Courtenay’s second foray into writing—his first just as brilliant—permitting the reader to experience his unique style. The novel combines well-developed characters with a plot that is rich with detail and shakes the reader to the core as the political events and police implementation come to life on the page. Some may find his writing to be both excessive and too much to digest in a single novel (or both this and the previous novel), but it is this that makes the books even more enjoyable. Courtenay uses an interesting formula in his writing, which the attentive reader will discover as they meander throughout his novels, this one being no exception. There are scores of characters who cross the pages, each serving to develop their own backstory and to offer a slice of character revelation for Tandia, as well as further enriching of Peekay, now that he has reached adulthood. The story builds on itself in such a way that the reader can see Tandia’s growth (personal and emotional) while she still struggles to find her place in South Africa’s repressive political system. Courtenay inundates the reader with names and characteristics, which may cause some to stumble or require crib notes, but, rest assured, it is well worth the temporary confusion. Having read all of Courtenay’s novels, I can see character themes that reemerge, including token characters of a variety of backgrounds. The story itself becomes a tale full of twists and turns, such that the path on which the narrative is leading the reader along two paths, Tandia’s life and that of Peekay’s time in England. I must insert here that while Peekay’s passion for the law is visible throughout the story, his development into a world class boxer is also found within the various chapters attributed to him. Courtenay does a sensational job describing these fights in detail, such that they reader (boxing fan or not) is on the edge of their seat as the match progresses on the page. One can only imagine the strife in which South Africa found itself in the 1950s and 60s, with the apartheid momentum gaining and the deprivation of the non-white population reaching its zenith. The Afrikaner population is armed and ready to exact their power at any cost. Courtenay’s narrative shows the subjugation of the black population and the brutality that is inflicted upon them. While I do not condone this whatsoever, I have always been very interested in the apartheid mentality and how the Afrikaners justified it to the world. Courtenay offers up a front row seat to the reader, hoping they will better understand what went on. It is this sort of depth that has drawn me to all of Courtenay’s books, as he offers more than a superficial look at the world, while entertaining the reader. True, his books are long and tangential, but, like a well-paced journey, they permit the reader to gather many wonderful nuggets of information from page to page. While Courtenay turned away from writing about his homeland after this piece, there are many other novels which turn their focus to his adopted country of Australia. I will be sure to revisit them in time, allowing myself to get lost in the magical style that Courtenay has, paired with his audiobook reader, Humphrey Bower. Two fantastic men who are at the top of their games!

Kudos, Mr. Courtenay, for such a stupendous piece. Re-reading this book has solidified why I have come to call you one of my favourite authors of all times.

A Book for All Seasons, a different sort of Book Challenge: https://www.goodreads.com/group/show/248185-a-book-for-all-seasons

The Power of One (Africa #1), by Bryce Courtenay

Nine stars

The dazzling writing style of Bryce Courtenay is captured in this, his debut novel. Its intricate prose and powerful characters bring a story to life that few readers will be able to resist. In rural South Africa during the late 1930s, Peekay is a young boy who has been sent to boarding school. With English roots, Peekay struggles in this school where the Boer boys ridicule him for his heritage, turning verbal pokes into full-on malicious attacks. With war building in Europe, Peekay is led to believe by classmates that Hitler will soon arrive in South Africa to toss the shackles from the Afrikaner people, long subjugated by the English. After a number of brush-ups with others, the matron agrees to send Peekay to his grandfather’s home, a long train ride across the country. Eager to leave, Peekay begins the long train ride, soon joined by the conductor, Hoppie Groenewald. This new friend helps Peekay with the ways of the rails, as well as being an amateur boxer in his own right. Peekay develops a passion for boxing and attends a bout where Hoppie is set to meet a much larger opponent, all during the train’s layover. Peekay is astonished when he sees Hoppie box, as well as the passion that others feel about the sport. From there, it is back on the train, where Peekay must survive the rest of the journey without his dear Hoppie. Arriving at his grandfather’s home, Peekay has distant memories of life with his family, including two young kitchen maids who keep him entertained. As he tried to acclimate to life in rural South Africa, Peekay befriends a highly interesting man, one Professor ‘Doc’ Karl von Vollensteen. Doc is a former concert pianist from Germany whose interest in botany piques Peekay’s curiosity, allowing him to further his education in a less formal setting. War continues to rage and South African officials choose to detain Doc, citing his German heritage as an issue that cannot be overlooked. While incarcerated, Doc continues to share his passion of music with Peekay and the other prisoners, many of whom are poor blacks. Straddling the middle, Peekay is able to forge strong friendships with the prisoners, who respect him for not treating them as lower class citizens, as well as with the guards, who help hone is boxing skills. Still young, Peekay must sell his abilities as a boxer to those who will help shape him into the athlete he hopes to become. Peekay’s passion for learning helps him excel in school and he’s sent off to yet another boarding school, but remains close to all those who have helped him along his path. The reader can easily become lost in Courtenay’s fabulous narrative that continues to twist from here, adding depth and insight to an already powerful tale. Highly recommended for those who love complex stories that touch on history and coming of age. How do I feel about the book? As Professor von Vollensteen would say, “for this I give… eleven out of ten. Absoloodle!”

Those who have not experienced a Bryce Courtenay novel are in for a treat with this piece. Not only does the reader have the opportunity to experience Courtenay’s first foray into writing but also experience his unique style, which combines well-developed characters with a plot that is rich with detail. Some may find his writing to be both excessive and too much to digest in a single novel, but it is this that makes the books even more enjoyable. Courtenay uses an interesting formula in his writing, which the attentive reader will discover as they meander throughout his novels, this one being no exception. There are scores of characters who cross the pages, each serving to develop their own backstory and to offer a slice of character revelation for the protagonist, Peekay. While the reader will notice strong ties between Peekay and one character in the early portion of the book, that individual will soon vanish, though their life lessons and impact are felt throughout the rest of the story. Courtenay inundates the reader with names and characteristics, which may cause some to stumble or require crib notes, but, rest assured, it is well worth the temporary confusion. Having read all of Courtenay’s novels, I can see character themes that reemerge, including token characters of a variety of backgrounds. The story itself becomes a tale full of twists and turns, such that the path on which the narrative is leading the reader soon changes, leaving what one might have expected to be left in the proverbial dust. This is also something that some may criticise, but I find this serpentine journey to be refreshing and forces the reader to remain engaged, rather than skim through parts of the story. As Courtenay calls this piece his loose attempt at a fictionalised autobiography (yes, the dichotomy of the statement is not lost on me), the historic moments and struggles are more than conjured up dramatisations from world events, but actual experiences that Courtenay felt. One can only imagine the strife in which South Africa found itself in the late 1930s and into the 40s. The Afrikaner population is still smarting as they are being regulated by the English, but they, too, have developed a sense that, perhaps, Hitler can come to save them and return the land to the rightful Boers. Peekay feels this throughout the novel, an English boy tossed amongst the strong-willed Afrikaners who look down upon him. However, there is also the theme of brewing apartheid, which has been loosely permitted for decades already. Courtenay’s narrative shows the subjugation of the black population and the brutality that is inflicted upon them. While I do not condone this whatsoever, I have always been very interested in the apartheid mentality and how the Afrikaners justified it to the world. Courtenay offers up a front row seat to the reader, hoping they will better understand what went on. As an aside, the book’s publication came just as the grip of apartheid was loosening, so it may be an educational piece to those who could not fathom the true horrors of the policy as it gained momentum and became a way of life. It is this sort of depth that has drawn me to all of Courtenay’s books, as he offers more than a superficial look at the world, which entertaining the reader. True, his books are long and tangential, but, like a well-paced journey, they permit the reader to gather many wonderful nuggets of information from page to page. As a friend commented to me recently, the story ends somewhat abruptly and has no strong sense of finality. Therefore, I’ll rush to get to the sequel, Tandia, to continue the exploration of Courtenay’s Africa.

Kudos, Mr. Courtenay, for such a stupendous piece. Re-reading this book has solidified why I consider it one of my favourites and a book I’d surely pack for an island isolation.

This book fulfils Topic # 3: Island Reading in the Equinox #3 Reading Challenge.

A Book for All Seasons, a different sort of Book Challenge: https://www.goodreads.com/group/show/248185-a-book-for-all-seasons