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Old 10-18-2013, 01:24 AM   #31
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He was fascinated by the people and the place, and wanted to stay on after his tour of duty ended. He was sent home though, and later got very involved in the abolition of slavery.
Ah slavery. I don't think I'll ever really be able to understand it. I can understand cultural divides and the friction it can cause. I can understand how differences can lead to violence. I can even understand quite a bit of the violence of this book. But I just don't know how to process owning a person. It doesn't compute. I don't even like people calling me "sir".
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Old 10-20-2013, 08:14 AM   #32
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Finished!
This is the first time I have ever re-read a novel and I enjoyed it as much this time as I did the first.

The italics for speech didn't bother me at all, I thought it gave a greater air of narrative to the book. The London part went on a bit for me too, but I did have the advantage of knowing that the story would improve once that section was completed.

I seem to have a fascination with books that tell the story of human suffering e.g. Roots, The Pianist, Escape from Camp 14 etc. I think it is incredibly important for us and our children to be aware of what the human race is capable of and how easy it is to assume that those who are different from us are beneath us, and therefore we should wield power over them. History is different depending on who is doing the telling but all races have their stories of human suffering and innappropriate power.

Works such as The Secret River highlight an era and, hopefully, allow us to explore our responses to the atrocities that resulted. In the western world many people consider that political correctness has gone mad and forget that it's prime purpose is to ensure that all are treated fairly. Hopefully bullying in schools and workplaces will one day be seen as outrageous. The wilfull cause of human suffering is something we should all strive to end. There are plenty of modern day atrocities that will one day be written and read about with horror.
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Old 10-20-2013, 05:23 PM   #33
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This was my second attempt to read "The Secret River", the first book I've read for these book clubs. I loved Kate Grenville's "The Idea of Perfection", but I think I have studied too much Australian history, and "The Secret River" was just too bleak for me.

For readers who would like to read more fiction set in 19th century Australia, I would highly recommend the trilogy "The Fortunes of Richard Mahony" by Henry Handel Richardson. Like Grenville, the author (actually a woman, writing under a pseudonym in the early 20th century) based the story on her own family history. Richardson's father was a doctor who came to Victoria during the gold rush of the 1850s.

"The Fortunes of Richard Mahony" is available in the MobileRead library.
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Old 10-20-2013, 06:48 PM   #34
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Spot on, Stephjk. I'm so glad you thought as highly of the book on a second reading.

Welcome to the Literary Book Club ClareK, and I hope you try us again even though you found this book too bleak. It is grim, but I guess we have to face up to the bad parts of our history as well as celebrating the good parts. In the past what was seen as good and heroic was normally the only part of our history since colonisation that was talked about. So much was swept under the carpet. The impression given when I was taught Australian history was that the Aboriginal people were incapable of resistance or anything else. They weren't really worth a mention.

Another example of the dishonesties of the past: when I was a kid going to Sunday School, I remember there used to be special collections made to be sent to look after all the Aboriginal orphans in homes in various parts of Australia. Now of course I know that they weren't orphans at all, but members of the stolen generations, taken from their families because they were of mixed race. (We learned that practice from the US, which did the same with mixed race Native Americans.)
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Old 10-20-2013, 11:53 PM   #35
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I didn't really find the story bleak myself. But then again, I like bleak, so maybe it's just a matter of degree.

Personally, I never grew up being taught a history that denounced indigenous culture as unworthy of mention and I've never really encountered any version of history that indicated this. Even in primary school, studying indigenous history and culture was mandatory and I'm not exactly a spring chicken. I'll have to ask my mother what she learned as she was a History major in her time.

Certainly there has been a shift from words such as 'colonisation' and 'settlement' to words such as 'invasion' and that has changed the light with which we now view that history, but this could well be an example of how history is just as much a mirror of the time in which it is written as to the time to which it applies.

One of the things I liked about The Secret River is that I didn't really sense that. I felt that she gave me a context with which to view events that provided more than just a projection of some enculturated guilt.

It had its limitations as an exploration because you couldn't get much of a feel of the experience of the indigenous people at that time. I thought Grenville attempted to expose some of this through Blackwood and Herring and even through a few thoughts from the Thornhills themselves. But what I thought was more interesting than her attempt was her failure. I think it's absolutely crucial in the understanding of this story. Blackwood's advice is always too cryptic and Herring's blunt but without enough detail for Thornhill to make the connection. His own attempts at direct communication always frustrated. And as a reader, we feel that frustration, especially with our contemporary eyes.

To me the story is less about what was morally right and wrong and more about the danger of misunderstanding - of ignorance. The refuse of England was dumped on Australian shores. In my reading of this story, they were ill-equipped except in the minority to deal with an indigenous population and the kinds of events that occurred had a certain inevitability to them.

Of course, one might argue that the necessary understanding is still not here in the present.
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Old 10-21-2013, 03:55 AM   #36
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One certainly might! I suspect I'm quite a bit more antique than you are Caleb, so I'm talking about school in the late 1950s/early 1960s. Australian history back then was mostly about the explorers (who were certainly brave and sometimes foolhardy) who of course did it all on their own - no mention of the help given by Aboriginals in the crossing of the Blue Mountains for example.

It was still triumphalist British Empire stuff back then, and the maps were still mostly coloured pink, even though the Empire had collapsed after WW2. Empire Day, when we had fireworks, was 24 May, which was Queen Victoria's birthday. Boy, were we behind the times! (I grew up in Sydney, so it may well have been different in other parts of Australia.)
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Old 10-21-2013, 04:54 AM   #37
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Ah - OK. My primary school was during the late 70s and early 80s. Still a while ago, but time enough to change focus. Empire Day was no more, the Queen's birthday was just a holiday. We rarely even sang the National Anthem. No daily assemblies before classes either.
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Old 10-21-2013, 08:06 AM   #38
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Off topic



I'm so old that I can remember how odd it was to sing "God save the Queen" rather than "God save the King" - which we did have to sing every morning at school. I'm glad your schooling was a bit more firmly into the 20th century than mine!
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Old 10-21-2013, 09:32 AM   #39
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Works such as The Secret River highlight an era and, hopefully, allow us to explore our responses to the atrocities that resulted. In the western world many people consider that political correctness has gone mad and forget that it's prime purpose is to ensure that all are treated fairly. Hopefully bullying in schools and workplaces will one day be seen as outrageous. The wilfull cause of human suffering is something we should all strive to end. There are plenty of modern day atrocities that will one day be written and read about with horror.


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“We have witnessed similar developments in our schools and universities—increasing monitoring of viewpoints, disrespecting of those with whom one disagrees, and foreclosing of the common ground upon which we can listen and learn. The major culprit here is not “political correctness,” a term coined by those who tend to trivialize the scars of others and minimize the suffering of victims while highlighting their own wounds. Rather the challenge is mustering the courage to scrutinize all forms of dogmatic policing of dialogue and to shatter all authoritarian strategies of silencing voices. We must respect the scars and wounds of each one of us—even if we are sometimes wrong (or right!).” Cornel West from a book I am reading at the moment.
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One certainly might! I suspect I'm quite a bit more antique than you are Caleb, so I'm talking about school in the late 1950s/early 1960s. Australian history back then was mostly about the explorers (who were certainly brave and sometimes foolhardy) who of course did it all on their own - no mention of the help given by Aboriginals in the crossing of the Blue Mountains for example.

It was still triumphalist British Empire stuff back then, and the maps were still mostly coloured pink, even though the Empire had collapsed after WW2. Empire Day, when we had fireworks, was 24 May, which was Queen Victoria's birthday. Boy, were we behind the times! (I grew up in Sydney, so it may well have been different in other parts of Australia.)
We share a common point on the time line of our childhood education, if in a totally different country. My grades 1-8 education in history was very much from the view of and an endorsement of Americans of European descent in all matters. With many of those years spent in Texas there was also nostalgia for the Confederate States of America flavor to it. Thankfully what is presented to school children now has changed a lot, but unfortunately over the last decade or so the has been a major effort in some quarters to go backwards.
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Old 10-21-2013, 11:04 AM   #40
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We share a common point on the time line of our childhood education, if in a totally different country. My grades 1-8 education in history was very much from the view of and an endorsement of Americans of European descent in all matters. With many of those years spent in Texas there was also nostalgia for the Confederate States of America flavor to it. Thankfully what is presented to school children now has changed a lot, but unfortunately over the last decade or so the has been a major effort in some quarters to go backwards.
I think my military career ( I was a nurse in the British Army for 22 years) has influenced my opinions more than my childhood education. I can't remember much about the history I was taught during the 70s and early 80s. I do, however, remember almost all of the training I was given about equal opportunities, the Geneva Convention and bullying and harassment prevention whilst serving. Many 'character building' trips and team days out entailed visits to war museums and exhibitions of varying kinds. Many of them reduced me to tears and left me with a feeling of horror at what one person can do to another given the right (wrong?) conditions.
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Old 10-21-2013, 06:58 PM   #41
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That's a great quote, Hamlet. Yes, there have been efforts here to go backwards too, though fortunately it seems to have quietened down now. Known as the History Wars, it all quite quite vicious for a while, and very destructive of people's reputations.

People like Henry Reynolds whom I was quoting earlier, were accused of Black Armband history, and those trying to discredit their works on the treatment of Aboriginals became known as the White Blindfold group.

That sounds like good training that you had, Stephjk. We have some pretty horrible revelations of bullying in the armed forces coming out now. It has been a very macho culture for a long time, but hopefully is changing now.
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Old 10-30-2013, 08:08 AM   #42
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I'm so old that I can remember how odd it was to sing "God save the Queen" rather than "God save the King" - which we did have to sing every morning at school. I'm glad your schooling was a bit more firmly into the 20th century than mine!

I was never an Empire fan but when QE II came to the throne, I made a scrapbook as a school project {I was only 13 }. My mother saved it and now my "Queen Elizabeth Scrapbook" has become a standing family joke!

. . . . . . . . . . .

To return to the novel, {and Thank You so much Bookpossum for suggesting it!] it lends itself wonderfully well to discussion as the previous posts have made clear. I'll limit myself to a couple of thoughts.

I have some reservations concerning the opening London setting. I feel that it is too spun out for what is essentially a prelude to the main event. It does, however, provide an interesting parallel between two “secret” rivers:--one in London--the other in Australia. In both locations Thornhill makes moral decisions which influence him as a person and as a member of his society. Both times he chooses wrongly. In London he decides to carry out a criminal act which eventually causes himself and Sal to be exiled. In Australia the decision he makes is also wrong and the consequences are catastrophic for an entire culture. Because of his choices he fails to grow as a human being and despite social success remains plagued by a niggling doubt.

For me the character of Thornhill is the most powerful focus in this novel--particularly when the Australian section begins. He is caught between the hateful racism of Smasher Sullivan and the tolerant respect of Blackwood. While Thornhill is essentially a decent man who loves his wife and family, he is confused and upset by the very different life-style of the Aborigines. Sal actually has an epiphany when she realises that the Native Australians share her common humanity. Thorhnill comes very close to this realisation himself, but when he decides to join Smasher’s “posse”, ironically because he feels it is the only way to hold on to Sal, he loses that possibility of moral growth.

This is his essential tragedy despite the apparent social success he achieves.

Last edited by fantasyfan; 10-30-2013 at 08:51 AM.
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Old 10-30-2013, 11:46 PM   #43
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You are very welcome, fantasyfan and I'm so glad (and relieved!) that people have found the book interesting to read and have largely enjoyed the experience.

I quite agree about Thornhill's loss of possible moral growth. I find the ending quite haunting because of course it stands for so many people. Safe in what is almost a fortress but deep down knowing what he did was unforgivable (and having that reinforced by his estranged son). The symbolism of building the house over the carved rock, as if to blot out any sign of the first inhabitants, and trying to blot them out of his mind as well, is one of the images which stayed with me after the first time I read the book some years ago.

Thanks again everyone for all your kind comments to me for my list of suggestions, and I'm looking forward to seeing what others' lists offer us in the future.
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Old 11-04-2013, 04:14 AM   #44
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You are very welcome, fantasyfan and I'm so glad (and relieved!) that people have found the book interesting to read and have largely enjoyed the experience.
let me also join the queue of the people thanking you - coming from Italy and growing up in days when kids played in the street and go only a very basic exposure to anglophone culture, you can be sure we never studied anything to do with British colonialism, getting exposure only when I moved to the UK. My knowledge of the history of Australia is really superficial, and this book has opened up a whole new stream of more books to go on my list.

Having said that, I really did not like the first half of the book. It is not just London, I also had difficulty for the first couple of chapters in Australia too - what I found progressively less and less believable is the relationship between Thorhill and Sal - he is working in the fields all day with basically no help, she is looking after five kids while trying to fix their hut, and yet their relationship only knows unwavering support of each other, and they do find the energy at the end of the day not only for pillow talk, but for sex too. It may be that I am focussing to much on small details, but it was just too gooey for me. It was the stereotype of the good, poor man, so very good at heart, and so hard working, and such a great person.

Then came the second half, and here I really loved how the darker side of human nature came to the fore. But again, perhaps Grenville did not go far enough for my taste, in the sense that even when being obnoxious, Thornhill always have justifications that the others can are never afforded (e.g. Smasher is evil to the core) - in the final showdown after all he only explodes one shot while mayhem goes on around him. It is when she gets into the moral complexities of spiralling revenge (you pull our root-daisies out, we pick your corn, you kill some of us, we kill some of you, you poison a village, we raise an encampment to the ground...) born out of ignorance that this book really came into its own for me.

And glad to have a new member in the club, Marsi I do hope you will stay on :-)
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Old 11-04-2013, 06:33 AM   #45
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I'm glad it came good for you, paola. I think that being basically a decent man and knowing what they were doing was wrong, firing that first shot would have been a very difficult thing to do.

I have never forgotten an interview with someone involved in the Bosnian conflict, who was asked if it was hard killing people. "Oh no" he said, "It's easy to kill people. It's only hard to kill the first one."
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