31 July 2009

A Bitter Harvest (Peter Yeldham)

Available at all good bookstores, courtesy of Penguin Books South Africa

I have a serious pash for books set in early Australia. This, despite not being a fan of Australia at all. Perhaps it’s because I like colonial settings? Perhaps because I like tales of struggle and strife? Perhaps because Australian writers write well? Whatever... The fact is, if it’s a book set in Oz in the 1800s or so, I’m into it in seconds.

You can imagine my joy when I opened my monthly box from Penguin Books and discovered in it the latest offering from Peter Yeldham – of whom I’d never heard. Positioned as ‘the master of the Australian historical blockbuster’, Yeldham has written several books about and set in the dry land down under, and is considered to be a king of his genre. Yeeha! A new friend for me.

So here’s an idea of plot: On a dark night, a desperate man does something criminal and is forced to run for his life. Many years later, when he has built a new life elsewhere and is a wealthy, settled, influential husband and father, he looks unkindly on the young, penniless immigrant who would woo his precious daughter, Elizabeth.

Elizabeth runs away, to be with her Stefan, and they begin a hard life in an unwelcoming place. From there, it’s a short leap into prejudice, political turmoil, betrayal and community conflicts – and as you watch Elizabeth and Stefan’s life take shape, you become ever more entangled in their dramas, despairs and decisions. True to Ozzie form, they unfold over generations. My best!

It’s not complex, sophisticated writing, but it is absorbing and it is epic and it is engaging.

If you liked Courtenay’s early stuff, or the early writings of Paullina Simons, you’ll love this book. (I subsequently tracked down other books by Peter Yeldham and so far, have loved them.)


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