Monday, May 9, 2011
Publisher/Format: Picador (2011), Edition: First Edition, Paperback, 384 pages
Characters: Gin and Agrippas Toad; Italian POWs
Setting: Western Australia, World War II
Source: ARC from publisher
Recently published in the US, this debut novel was winner of the 2008 AWP Award for the Novel in Australia (Association of Writers and Writing Programs). Not at all what I expected, this powerful novel tells the story of Gin, an albino woman born in Australia and feared as some sort of witch by all who knew her. She found solace in the piano, and became a virtuoso player, but through a series of ugly circumstances, found herself incarcerated in an insane asylum.
Enter Toad, a small slightly mishappen man, who collects ladies corsets, but who after hearing her playing, marries her and takes her to his sheep farm in the wilds of Western Australia. From here the story blossoms as Gin and Toad bond with two Italian POWs (one of whom is a shoemaker) who have been assigned to work on their farm.
This is a beautifully written, yet disturbing love story. At the same time it is a story of poverty, drought, beauty, ugliness, perversion, mother love, and unmet needs both physical and pscychological. I was mesmerized, chilled, depressed, and gladdened by the story, by the writing, by the setting. It is a chapter in World War II history that I wasn't too aware of, and I had never considered the discrimination toward albinos that occurred. It certainly isn't a warm and fuzzy book, but it is one that packs a lot of emotion.
I have left out many details here, because this book needs to be experienced, and its nuances and plot twists discovered along the way. There is not a huge involved plot--it is simply the story of four people plodding along, trying to stay alive and make it to the end of the war--but the setting and the characters and their interaction to each other and reactions to the setting really drive the story. It is one that will haunt the reader for a long time. A compelling and satisfying read.
Thanks again to Picador publishers for making this review copy available.