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The Convent

The convent is a building that impacts on four generations of women, from the same family. The author has skilfully intertwined Australian history, and a family saga. She also shows us a progression of thoughts and ideas over the ensuing years.

The first person to encounter the Convent in 1915 was Sadie. Her baby girl was taken away from her and placed with the Nuns, who would raise her as a ward of the state. As baby Ellen grew, she no longer remembered her mother who was desperate to see her and was only permitted one visit. Sadie stood outside the convent day after day until she was told that the police would be called if she continued to loiter. Ellen grew up with the nuns with a strong Catholic background.

Eventually Ellen leaves the Convent and marries. There is an incredibly sad scene where she is having yet another baby and the doctor asks her to push it out. She cries and says that she has six children already and just can’t manage another one; there is no help for her though and she continues to have more children.

Ellen’sdaughter Cecelia, enters the convent with the intention of becoming a Nun. It was during this period of history that girls whose parents had died, or couldn’t care for them were placed in the Convent. They worked in the laundry in appalling conditions five and a half days a week, surrounded by barbed wire topped walls. Cecelia becomes pregnant and decides it is for the best if she gives her child up for adoption.

Her daughter Perpetua is adopted by a loving family who live near the Convent. As Perpetua grows up, the Convent is disbanded and turned into a coffee shop. She applies for a job in this coffee shop located in the grounds of the place her Great grandmother, grandmother and mother all knew so well.

Using careful descriptions, and factual history records, the author has woven a tale that is set in the present day, but looks back at the past to tell the older women’s stories. The contrast between the harsh world in the early 1900’s and today’s modern world is riveting. Our hearts go out to the women who endured so much.

Perpetua and her friends behave as most modern young ladies do, and as they begin to hear the old stories unravelled, it helps them to make more sense of the issues that beset them. Reading this engages you from the very beginning.

AuthorMaureen McCarthy
PublisherAllen & Unwin Childrens