David Malouf Remembering Babylon
Award: Los Angeles Times Book Award for Fiction
(Full name George Joseph David Malouf) Born in 1934, Malouf is an Australian novelist, poet, short fiction writer, playwright, librettist, and editor.
For further information on Malouf's life and works, see CLC, Volume 28.
Updating the theme of the "noble savage," Remembering Babylon (1993) is set in nineteenth-century Australia and concerns Gemmy Fairley, an English citizen who was abandoned by shipmates as a child. After living with the aborigine people of Australia for a sixteen-year period, this "black white-feller" attempts to rejoin white Australian society, a community governed by European cultural norms and the English language. Variously regarded by some settlers as a curiosity, a potential ally against the aborigines, and an object of scientific wonder, Gemmy is also viewed with fear, loathing, and distrust. His reinitiation into white society, particularly after he is seen conversing with blacks in the aborigine dialect, culminates with several settlers attacking him. Eventually he abandons the "civilized" ways of the whites and rejoins Australia's indigenous community. Critics have lauded Malouf's focus on the relationship between politics, language, social stature, and personal and national identity in Remembering Babylon, praising the novel as a document of Australia's history, European settlement, and multifaceted population. Reviewers have additionally admired Malouf's use of Gemmy as a means of discussing the sublime in literature, the alienating and binding nature of language, and the paradox posed by the individual's need for acceptance and desire to distinguish between self and the "Other." In honoring Malouf with the Los Angeles Times Book Award for Fiction, judge Annette Smith stated: "Malouf's novel testifies all along to the confusion of languages. It demonstrates the demonic nature of words, both their destructive power and their creative force, as Gemmy's past and his new identity take form."