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The Passengers

As the title suggests, this book looks at journeys. Not only the physical trip from country to country, but the journey people make as they grow up in a certain time, in a certain place, and with their own thoughts and background. Sarah is an elderly lady now, and we look back in time at her life and decisions she has made. She is travelling home to Australia with her granddaughter, Hannah, with whom she has a close bond.

As the cruise ship they are on will take some time to arrive, Sarah wants to tell Hannah her life story. We follow her journey, discovering that she grew up on a dairy farm, with two brothers. Everyone worked seven days a week, hand milking the cows, then the children rode a horse to school. Finally, Father was forced to leave the farm, settle in Sydney, and start a delivery service with his truck. Theirs wasn’t a joyful family. Mum was unwell a lot of the time, and Dad was a harsh man. The war broke out and both of Sarah’s brothers enlisted. Sarah became a typist, met an American soldier, and married him before he went to New Guinea.

 We follow Sarah’s journey as she sails to America after the war, meanwhile, her granddaughter, Hannah, has a journey of her own. She is keeping quiet about the fact that she has anorexia, and is becoming more anxious about her control over herself after she sleeps with one of the sailors. But as Sarah’s story continues, and facts are told which were never revealed to any of the family before, Hannah can see she is not the only one who has faced enormous battles.

Sarah’s life in America on a tobacco farm is less than idyllic. Her husband was wounded in the war, and they can never have children. But the dour, unhappy family, with whom they lived, creates a life of misery and unhappiness. She faces the decision to stay and spend the rest of her life there, or to leave, and start again. Meanwhile, the ship draws closer to Australia, and Sarah prepares to meet her last remaining family member, her brother. Hannah realises that this is a huge moment in her grandmother’s life, and places her own needs behind her.

This is such an interesting read. The story is of a time where not a lot is known about the fate of the hundreds of war brides. How did they settle? It is also a look into the life of the Australian outback, and the descriptive writing evocative of the bush. “How is it a place can speak to you? The way the bark on the tree catches the light, the sound of kookaburras laughing at dusk….” Sharing thoughts with a person whose journey with anorexia is confronting, but fascinating. This is a most engaging story.

AuthorEleanor Limprecht
PublisherAllen and Unwin
DistributorAllen and Unwin
ReleasedMarch 2018