Flanagan’s breathtaking debut novel opens with the protagonist, Aljaz Cosini, trapped among rocks, under a waterfall. He is at the point of death, drowning, and as is expected of drowning people, his life is flashing before his eyes. However, it is not simply a matter of recapitulating his own life. Aljaz has also been granted visions and he is traveling beyond his own life, into the lives of others, the earlier members of his own family. Through their eyes he learns not only the history of his family but also of Tasmania itself.
Aljaz has only taken on this job to help out an acquaintance, having recently returned to Tasmania. His father has just died and he is alone in the world, with nothing to tie him down. He is being paid badly, and the river trip is poorly equipped; he is also out of condition, having long since given up working as a river guide. However, he has got nothing else going on in his life, and as he has drifted through life over the last few years, so he drifts into this final job, afraid, uncertain, but at the same time determined to do the decent thing by his clients.
In fact, as Aljaz lies under the water, he tells three stories. One is his own, beginning with his birth in Italy to the mercurial Sonja and the absent Harry, and moving forward in time through his relationship with the enigmatic Couta Ho, from another generation of immigrants, and the loss of their child, Jemma, to the ill-fated river rafting expedition and his imminent death. The second is the story of the rafting expedition itself, while the final story is one that comes to him in flashes and visions, which send him traveling back and forth through time.
This last is the story of Harry’s family, the Lewises and the Quades, decent, honest settlers, as Harry’s mother, Rose, insists, not...
(The entire section is 741 words.)