This work exemplifies Keneally’s ability to mix his interest in his native land, Australia, with two other interests: his enthusiasm for detailed historical research and his fascination with how characters, good or bad, respond to pressure. The historical frame for the novel is World War II. It is sometimes forgotten that Australia was seriously threatened by the possibility of invasion by the Japanese during that war. The Japanese had considerable success early in the conflict and had earned a reputation as fearsome warriors and barbarous conquerors. The novel is written in the context of the fear not only of invasion but also of certain defeat and what that would mean to the Australian population.
The story is told by “Paper” Tyson, a journalist with some of the social gifts of Keneally himself. He is easygoing, worldly-wise, and generous. He is a longtime friend of the Labor prime minister of Australia, Johnny Mulhall. The choice of Tyson as the voice of the novel is important, since his point of view shapes the way in which the reader responds to the book. Tyson, a veteran of World War I, during which he lost a leg at Gallipoli, is mature and possessed of a deep sense of Australian history and politics. He provides a moral, intellectual, and sometimes emotional context for the complicated unrest of a nation on the edge of terror. The enemy is ripping through New Guinea, an easy jump away from the Australian mainland. In capturing the level of...
(The entire section is 553 words.)