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Given the novel’s exotic locales, the squalor of English convicts sent to the Australian Colonies is even more poignant. In the eyes of her straight-laced antagonists, Ella, the main protagonist, commits even worse crimes than her original accusation of a small theft. To the empathetic reader, her drastic and seemingly misguided actions were simply to ensure the survival – no matter how dire – of herself and her small children.
Her one unrelenting drive, however, is her burning unfulfilled love for Jem. He, too, was sent to an Australian labor camp. Despite their desperate search for each other the vast continent seems to keep them apart forever. When Ella marries another convict freeing them both from the camps, her new husband leads her and the children into the wilderness of the Blue Mountains. Following his dream of gold and riches, they must endure untold hardships. Interspersed throughout the novel are lyrical descriptions of the grandeur this untamed wilderness offers. They stand in heartbreaking contrast to the squalor of the family’s subsistence. However, in my opinion, the three main parallel fates could have been given their own chapters, as their past and future actions would then become more relevant to the reader.
On Common Ground, the third in a series, has excellent research about that sorry era of Colonialism (a map would have made those torturous travels even more real). The mention of the supposedly extinct Tasmanian wolf-tiger, the Thylacine, sent me to look it up. I had no idea such a ferocious beast had existed on that forlorn island. Learned something new. I liked that.
In conclusion, I personally found it difficult to become as immersed as I should have done in the lives of the protagonists, and their ongoing determination to escape their sorry fates, but for readers who are interested in this period of colonization of Australia this could be an interesting read.
© Inge H. Borg