Book Club: To Love A Sunburnt Country

Author: Jackie French
ISBN: 978-0-7322-9723-7
RRP: $29.99

Jackie French is a prolific Australian author who has written books over many genres and her latest is To Love A Sunburnt Country, an historical fiction set in WWII. It wasn’t until I finished the book that I discovered it is the fourth in a series so I can assure you that this book convincingly stands alone.

The Matilda Saga begins in 1894 with A Waltz for Matilda and takes inspiration from a well know Banjo Paterson poem as well as actual historical events. To Love A Sunburnt Country is the fourth in the series and is set in the midst of World War II.

Sixteen year old Nancy is in Malaya at the close of 1941 to help her sister-in-law with her baby nephew and convince her to return to the family property in Australia, unfortunately it is also right about the time the Japanese Army ups the ante and starts making progress no-one thought possible.

To Love A Sunburnt Country is a fictional novel based on true events and little-known people which just leaves me wondering how much of it is true.

I am the first to admit that my knowledge of our history is not what it should be, I paid not enough attention in school and have not retained what little I did learn. Some of the names are familiar to me but I can’t remember their stories. An historical novel based on real people and events has engaged me in the history of our country, and from what I can remember showed it from a different perspective too.

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The story is told from the point of view of all the main characters in alternating chapters which gives us an all encompassing look at what’s happening in Malaya, in Australia, for civilians and those in the military. French has used letters and stories from the local newspaper as tools to add depth to the story and bring those outside of the action a little closer to the narrative.

The world has changed a lot since the second world war, to think about the life of Nancy at 16 and compare it to my 16 year old self – I just can’t imagine it, even comparing her life before the war I can’t comprehend. She has been away droving and travelled to Malaya on her own, where she is now living with her sister-in-law and baby nephew.

Nancy is itching to return home to Overflow and is hoping that she can finally convince Moira that it is time, they need to travel before it becomes too unsafe.

To Love A Sunburnt Country tells a story of Australia from 1941 until 1946, the struggles of the families left behind to carry on and keep the country moving and the desperate conditions faced by those unfortunate enough to find themselves in Japanese prison camps. French explored the use of propaganda by both sides to paint a picture that had very little to do with the reality.

Nancy has the Overflow in her blood, she is very much at one with the land so finds it difficult to keep up appearances. Having grown up on the land her priorities were very different from those of the British ladies in her sister-in-laws social circle. Her time on the land has also darkened her already dark skin, Nancy has Aboriginal heritage and French explores the racial element through Nancy’s eyes.

A love of country drives all of the characters in this book, and what they will do in the name of their country, for their country and to get back to their country is at turns both disturbing and inspirational.

The storytelling is gripping and the landscape is vividly drawn. French’s characters leap from the page and draw you into their struggles. This is far from a light summer beach read but it is certainly well worth the read and will leave you giving thanks to the Australians that came before us and fought for the lives we are able to live today.

Jackie French is a fabulous storyteller and one I will be sure to keep an eye out for. I am interested, at some point, to go back and read the rest of The Matilda Saga. I will also be on the lookout for any forthcoming volumes in the saga.

A selection of our lucky readers will be reading To Love A Sunburnt Country as part of the Beauty and Lace Book Club so I will be interested to see what they have to say about the book.

Please be advised that there may be spoilers contained in the comments below.

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