Thomas Keneally

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Thomas Keneally Long Fiction Analysis

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Thomas Keneally has written books on a variety of subjects. His first novel to attain international readership, Bring Larks and Heroes, presents the barbarous life of eighteenth century Sydney; Three Cheers for the Paraclete concerns a Catholic priest who attacks the Church for its indifference to social evil; The Survivor and A Victim of the Aurora are stories about Antarctic expeditions, told in flashback by aged narrators; A Dutiful Daughter is a surrealistic tale of a family in which the parents are bovine from the waist down. One may, however, separate Keneally’s work into two parts, albeit roughly: the novels that deal with seemingly ordinary, contemporary individuals, and the wide range of what might be called historical novels.

In a large portion of his work, Keneally concerns himself with European history, examining closely the human beings involved, seeing the past not as the present sees it, as a series of neatly wrapped, complete events, but as the participants experience it: as a jumble of occurrences that seem to have little meaning or purpose. Although some reviewers have commented on the portentousness lurking in the background of such works as Gossip from the Forest, a fictionalized re-creation of the 1918 peace talks that led to the disastrous Treaty of Versailles, such “damaging knowingness” is only partly Keneally’s fault; after all, the present knows what happened in the past, at least in outline.

It must be emphasized that Keneally’s historically based fiction is not about ordinary people set against a celebrity-filled background, in the manner of E. L. Doctorow’s Ragtime (1975). Keneally’s works deal with the historical figures themselves, presenting them as human beings embroiled in the quotidian matters from which the historical events reveal themselves gradually. The writer’s knowledge of history shapes the delineation of the plot. Furthermore, theprotagonist’s awareness of his or her importance to posterity comes only in flashes. When such awareness occurs, it is as a result of the character’s makeup; Joan of Arc, for example, was a visionary, and it is unavoidable that, as a character, she knows something of her eventual fate.

It cannot be denied that what Keneally attempts to do in his historically based novels is difficult; that he succeeds as well as he does is primarily a result of a spare, objective style that is at times brilliant, such as in this description of Yugoslav partisans from Season in Purgatory: “Grenades blossomed like some quaint ethnic ornamentation down the front of their coats.” The third-person narration, deceptively simple, pretending to mere description, seems detached (at times too detached): Schindler’s List, based on a German industrialist’s widely successful efforts to save “his” Jews from the Holocaust, at times suffers from an almost sprightly tone, as if the author were so determined to be objective that he expunged any sense of moral outrage from his account. At its best, the stark simplicity of Keneally’s prose throws into sharp relief the horrors of which history is made.

After the success of Schindler’s List, Keneally focused on another aspect of Holocaust subject matter in A Family Madness, based on the mass suicide of a family of five in suburban Sydney in July, 1984. The story traces the legacy of guilt that impairs the lives of Nazi collaborators and their children. Then Keneally turned to contemporary warfare in To Asmara, a fictional consideration of civil strife in Ethiopia in the 1980’s as told by a narrator, an Australian journalist. His Flying Hero Class is a departure from works based in fact, images of war, and war’s impacts on people’s lives, as...

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it is confined to events on an airplane hijacked en route from Frankfurt to New York. InWoman of the Inner Sea, Keneally returns to fact-based fiction with the portrayal of a woman who seeks to redefine herself in the Australian outback. A River Town draws on the experiences of Keneally’s Irish ancestors, depicting the difficulties faced by Irish immigrants to Australia at the beginning of the twentieth century. Since 2002, Keneally has produced three historical novels with distinctly Australian flavor: An Angel in Australia, The Tyrant’s Novel, and The Widow and Her Hero. Keneally’s ability to write clear and singing prose has brought him both critical and public acclaim.

Gossip from the Forest

The history examined by Keneally is never pretty, no matter how heroic the subject. The final terrible lesson of Gossip from the Forest is that well-meaning, intelligent, civilized people have no place in the twentieth century. Matthias Erzberger, liberal member of the Reichstag, has no success in his negotiations; blind self-interest thwarts his every attempt at justice for his country, recently defeated in World War I. He is shot to death several years after the meeting at Compiègne by two young officers, proto-Nazis, as a traitor for his role in the Armistice. Erzberger himself, for all of his excellent qualities and basic decency, seems unequal to the task he has had thrust upon him. He is aware of his inadequacy: “Like a cardiac spasm he suffered again the terrible bereft sense that there was nothing in his background that justified this journey.At its most high-flown the true Erzberger’s mind wasn’t far off steak and red wine and Paula’s warm and undemanding bed.” His dreamy absentmindedness and his eventual despair seem to remove him from the heroic ranks; it is only toward the end of the novel that the reader realizes the true heroism of the civilian in his struggle against the military mind.

Season in Purgatory

This kind of gradual revelation of heroism is evident also in Season in Purgatory, the story of a young British physician, David Pelham, who is sent to the island of Mus to perform emergency surgery on Yugoslav partisans. Pelham arrives on Mus with all the fiery idealism of youth. After being thrust, day after day, into the results of war—both the direct results, such as graphically described wounds, and the indirect, such as Marshal Tito’s order that any partisans indulging in sexual relations be summarily executed—he is worn down, no longer convinced of the rightness of any cause: “In his bloodstream were two simple propositions: that the savagery of the Germans did not excuse the savagery of the partisans: that the savagery of the partisans did not excuse the savagery of the Germans.”

This final realization that “the masters of the ideologies, even the bland ideology of democracy, were blood-crazedthat at the core of their political fervour, there stood a desire to punish with death anyone who hankered for other systems than those approved,” does not allow the story to end. It is in this moral vacuum that Pelham becomes a hero, having sacrificed the innocence and illusion of idealism for an embittered realism. Keneally continues to reveal Pelham’s personal flaws, as he does with all of his heroic figures: Pelham’s childishness in love and hate and his typical upper-class British attitudes survive the revelation. Therefore, the apotheosis of the physician at the end of the war comes as much as a surprise to the reader as it must to the character himself.

The Chant of Jimmie Blacksmith

Pelham’s loss of idealism is necessary to Keneally’s concept of the heroic figure; idealism bathes reality in a rosy glow that does not fit anything but the usual type of historical novel (or many types of history, for that matter). Generally, Keneally’s heroes find themselves chosen to be sacrificial victims, without having wished for it. They are by turns reluctant and filled with fervor, and they are always human, at times perversely flaunting their faults. The positive aspect of their selection is generally far more ephemeral than the certitude of the doom toward which they know they are going. They are often in the situation epitomized by the half-caste protagonist of The Chant of Jimmie Blacksmith: “in tenuous elation and solid desolation between self-knowledge and delirium.”

Jimmie Blacksmith has a white father, whom he does not know, and an aboriginal mother. He has been taught Christianity and ambition; he is no longer tribal, but his attempts to show the whites that a black may be as industrious and educated as they are fail to gain for him acceptance in their society. He marries a white girl who has also slept with the station cook; when their baby is born, it is white.

Jimmie has been cheated by the whites, has taken up arms against his tribe in order to be thought white, and has married white to consolidate his ambition, yet he is still rejected by the white society. The birth of his baby makes him explode, and he goes on a methodical rampage, first killing the Newby family, for whom he worked, then taking a sympathetic white schoolteacher as a hostage. He eludes his pursuers for a time, but they catch up with him. Shot in the jaw, delirious, he takes refuge in a convent, where he is eventually captured. His hanging, however, is delayed so that it will not detract from the celebration of the Federation anniversary.

Throughout, Jimmie is seen as a man who might be a bridge between the two cultures, but neither the Aborigines nor the whites allow such a resolution; his killing spree seems to represent his only alternative, and although other people die, Jimmie is actually the victim. He wants to become the peaceful link, and when this course proves illusory, he becomes the avenger, knowing that he will not survive. He is doomed, in the way Keneally heroes are usually doomed.

Blood Red, Sister Rose

This sense of being the sacrificial victim is most strongly presented in Keneally’s retelling of the Joan of Arc story. Blood Red, Sister Rose is a fictionalized account of the youth and triumph of Joan of Arc. The novel ends with the few anticlimactic months following the coronation of Charles in Rheims and an epilogue in the form of a letter from Jehanne’s father to the family about his daughter’s death. Throughout the development of Jehanne’s awareness of her destiny, however, the certitude of her martyrdom is evident, for she is a peasant who knows that Christ’s sacrifice was not enough; the king needs one, and she has been chosen. Alternately buoyed and depressed by her fate, she sees herself as a conduit for these forces, the importance of which leaves very little time or passion for Jehanne, daughter of Jacques and Zabillet, to pursue her own humanity.

Described as wide-shouldered and plain, Jehanne goes through adolescence without menstruating, which proves to her that she is not like her sister or her mother, that she is the virgin from Lorraine prophesied by Merlin. She has not chosen her fate, but she must accept it. There are moments when she resents this election: Words of tenderness spoken about another woman, for example, evoke great sadness within her, for she knows that such words will never be spoken about her. The greater part of the time, however, she is consumed with her mission, not to France, not to the destruction of the English, not even to stop the slaughter of the farmers who suffered so greatly in the wars of the fifteenth century, but to ensure the consecration of the king, to whom she is mystically bound.

Through ancient ritual, Keneally presents the notion of the human sacrifice. The author’s weaving of historical incident with the motivations based in archaic mythologies allows a dimension of verisimilitude to the slippery genre of historical fiction. The inclusion of certain surprising elements of fifteenth century life (for example, the mention that peasants in eastern France plowed their fields with a naked woman in the harness so that the earth might be bountiful) reveals a society in which the voices heard by Jehanne cannot be casually dismissed as a frustrated spinster’s wishful thinking.

Jehanne is, like her forebears, a mixture of ignorance and hardheaded shrewdness. These qualities, at the service of the obsession that invaded her at the age of nine, ensure her success in reaching the king. Furthermore, the feudal society that she opposes is rapidly approaching dissolution: The battle of Agincourt has demonstrated the impotence of armored knights, Prince Hal has taken to killing noble prisoners instead of ransoming them in the time-honored practice of chivalry, the alliances of dukes and barons have been complicated by the presence of the English, and the ongoing war has caused a near famine in the countryside. Jehanne’s clarity of purpose shines brightly through the morass of confusion and disaster that is fifteenth century France.

Once she reaches her objective, however, she becomes an ordinary person again, with no voices telling her the next move. One sees her strength and influence eroding as the king is changed from a timid recluse to a confident monarch. His ingratitude is taken as a matter of course by Jehanne, for she has known all along the fate that awaits the year-king, the sacrificial victim. As if her importance has diminished for the author as well as for Charles, the ending is a mere footnote. One is left with a brilliant picture of a strange and remote past and a sense of what heroes are—never heroes to themselves, accepting the acclaim of the populace bemusedly, as if the admirers were constantly missing the point. Although there are moments when Jehanne is elated by her specialness, more often she sees it as an onus, a word that constantly recurs in Keneally’s work.

This realization, in small part exhilarating and in larger part burdensome, is one that recurs in Keneally’s work. In the novel Passenger, for example, the narrator-fetus views the Gnome as his outside brother and protector; the Gnome is eventually killed in a plane crash, and in dying ensures the birth of the narrator. In A Victim of the Aurora, two explorers from a previous expedition have remained in the Antarctic, and one survives by eating the other one; their identities become mixed, so that the one who has survived identifies himself by the name of the one who was eaten. One can see plainly Keneally’s Catholic background in the use of the sacrificial victim as theme or motif in many of his works: Christ’s sacrifice, rendered bloodless by the sacrament of Communion, is constantly reenacted in all its primal violence either by Keneally’s protagonists or by his supporting characters.

This theme links the historical novels with those that deal with supposedly ordinary people. In the latter category, Keneally is more experimental, particularly in the mode of narration employed. The objective third-person narration of the historical novels is replaced by various innovations, such as the second-person, self-addressed narration of A Dutiful Daughter or the omniscient first-person narration of Passenger. At first glance, there seems to be little similarity between the two types of novels, but the author’s concerns form a bridge between them.

Passenger

Passenger’s narrator is a fetus, given consciousness by a sonogram. Suddenly, the fetus is no longer happily unaware of anything save the coursing of his blood, an animal faculty that requires a certain kind of innocence; he becomes aware of everything: his mother’s thoughts, the historical novel she is writing about her ne’er-do-well husband’s ancestor (himself seemingly the prototype of Halloran in Bring Larks and Heroes), his father’s fear of his birth, the existence of Warwick Jones, the Gnome—“We were Dumas’ Corsican twins, the Gnome and I. It was as if we shared a placenta and swapped our visions and sensation.” Jones feels as though he had never really been born, and that he will be born through the agency of the narrator’s own birth. For Jones, however, birth means death, literal death. The narrator also sees his own eventual birth as death, and he resists it, unlike Jones, who actively seeks it.

This notion of the sacrificial double is one aspect that links the two categories of novels. The power of history is another. Keneally’s fascination with history and heroes surfaces in Passenger. In thenarrative is a character who has had the same experiences as David Pelham, the protagonist of Season in Purgatory. Maurice Fitzgerald, the eighteenth century ancestor of Brian, the narrator’s father, was also a reluctant hero in the penal colony of Sydney. The fight against social injustice that characterizes Maurice Fitzgerald forms the thematic center of Keneally’s novel Three Cheers for the Paraclete.

Three Cheers for the Paraclete

In Three Cheers for the Paraclete, Keneally treats directly the experience that perhaps influenced his life most strongly: the six and a half years he spent as a seminarian, bound to the doctrine and ideology of the Catholic Church. Again, the protagonist, Father Maitland, is a reluctant hero, unsure of the purity of his motives even as he preaches, afraid of sounding “like a fashionable priest, the glib kind.” He tries earnestly to submit to the authority of his bishop, fearing the disappearance of the comforting certainties, but his conscience does not allow him a quiet life.

Maitland’s working-class cousin has been cheated out of his savings by an unscrupulous housing development corporation; looking into the affair, Maitland discovers that other people have had the same experience with that company and, furthermore, that his own diocese owns stock in the company. He becomes the center of controversy, a position he does not want but must take on because of his own convictions. The diocese eventually rids itself of the holdings in the dishonest company on the advice of its legal staff; the question of morality has been supplanted by one of expediency for the established Church. Maitland, having indirectly succeeded, submits to the rule of the Church: the censorship of his sermons, a ban on further publications, and transfer to a rural parish.

The pervasiveness of social injustice and its force makes an appearance in all of Keneally’s novels, in one degree or another. Jehanne of Blood Red, Sister Rose, a peasant and a woman, is herself a statement against the class and gender inequities of the fifteenth century, at times bringing a modern flavor to a time when such inequities were seldom questioned. Her liberationist tendencies are diluted by the importance of her vision, but it is impossible for her to witness late medieval war without realizing who suffers the most. The farmers, the peasants who form the major part of the armies, are never held for ransom. They are killed outright when captured. The noncombatants, women and children, are raped and killed by the rampaging armies. The sexism inherent in the way she is treated makes her rage impotently.

A Dutiful Daughter

Jehanne’s story reappears in A Dutiful Daughter; Barbara Glover, the sister of the narrator, possesses what might be a fifteenth century transcript of Jehanne’s first examination by priests, which might have saved her from the stake had it not been lost. Barbara sees in Jehanne’s story elements that might explain her own life to her.

The Glover family has settled on a swampy bit of land, Campbell’s Reach, and has tried to make a living on it with only minimal success. The son, Damian, who is the narrator, has been sent to college, while Barbara has stayed behind to take care of the parents. In a flashback that is evocative of Jehanne’s own awakening to the voices, Barbara runs off into the swamp, pursued by her parents; when they finally come back, the parents have undergone a bizarre metamorphosis: They have been turned into cattle from the waist down, “like centaurs, except that the horse half was a cow half.” They seem not to have noticed, but Barbara tells them what has happened; they never forgive her, but from that day forward, she has complete control over them. As Damian notes, “It is the duty of a good child to let his parents know the second they turn into animals.”

Barbara’s control has its responsibilities, and she finds them onerous. She cannot evade them, however, any more than Jehanne can escape her destiny. She therefore perseveres, although life on Campbell’s Reach is dismal at best; in conjunction with caring for her parents, it is absolutely deadening. The parents are indeed cattle from the waist down; the transformation is literal, and Keneally leaves no doubt about that fact. The mother suffers from mastitis, a bovine disease of the udder that is fatal in cows. Most farmers, it is said, kill any of their cows that contract it. Obviously, Barbara cannot put her mother out of her misery, so she treats her with massive doses of antibiotics, and her mother querulously suffers nearly all the time.

The father really is a bull from the waist down and goes out in search of heifers, stricken by suicidal shame every time he succeeds, but driven to repeat his quest by his animal self. It is obvious that Barbara is sacrificing herself: The only love she experiences is the incestuous passion that Damian has for her, and that is consummated only once before she puts a stop to it—for his sake. Eventually, she takes her parents with her so that they may all drown in the flood that is sweeping over Campbell’s Reach, and so that her brother may finally be free of his unwholesome family ties.

A Family Madness

Family, history, the tormented personalities of those who are present at great events, the sacrificial victim—these are themes that are interwoven in all of Keneally’s works. His novel A Family Madness juxtaposes two families: Terry Delaney’s working-class family and that of Radislaw Kabbelski. The Delaneys seem not to be touched by history, but the Kabbelskis, Byelorussian refugees, have bathed in it for a long time. The third-person narrative, set in contemporary Australia, is interspersed with the journals of the Kabbelski family. The relative degrees of innocence or experience of the two groups are thus seen as contingent on how deeply one is embedded in history.

To Asmara

Differing perspectives, both cultural and historical, and social injustice also play definitive roles in Keneally’s To Asmara. The product of several months that Keneally spent researching at first hand in Eritrea, this novel is a fictional account of the state of the Eritrean rebellion in 1987 (the rebellion began in 1962). Keneally uses thinly disguised characters and organizations to bring touches of reality to what is otherwise almost a philosophical tract.

Timothy Darcy is an Australian journalist whose Chinese Australian wife, Bernadette, has left him for an Aborigine. In London, Darcy is introduced to an Eritrean rebel who wants Darcy to come to Africa to cover a special mission. Darcy accepts, hoping that by escaping to Africa he will find his spiritual place in his coverage of the rebellion. Instead, he becomes part of a traveling party that also includes a French girl looking for her father (who had run away from his family many years before and had become a cameraman for the rebels), an English noblewoman on a crusade to end the brutal custom of female circumcision, and an aid worker trying to free his lover, who is in the hands of the Ethiopians, the Eritreans’ mortal enemies. Darcy’s other objective is to meet with an Ethiopian major held as a prisoner of war by the Eritreans.

The book is supposedly Darcy’s journal combined with transcriptions of tape recordings of his thoughts and observations, with a few interjected chapters by an objective—though unidentified—third person. Ultimately, Darcy is lost, both metaphorically and physically, after he fails to connect with his fellow human beings and fails to rescue an aid truck, instead driving it over a land mine by accident. Darcy’s failure reinforces the ongoing theme in Keneally’s work of people divorced from their cultures and their spouses, unable to find solace or refuge in other cultures or others’ spouses. With To Asmara, Keneally’s lost generation continues.

Flying Hero Class

Revelation and realization of heroism on the part of an ordinary man, manager of a troupe of Australian native dancers, is the theme of Flying Hero Class. Frank McCloud is intrigued by the tribal dances of the Barramatjara, whose ancient history and beliefs in magic set them apart from the twentieth century. In their dances the Barramatjara assume the forms of creatures from the “dreamtime”—native Australian creatures such as dingos and emus. Recognizing the dancers’ uniqueness, McCloud assembles and manages the troupe’s tour of North America and Europe, assisted by his wife.

McCloud remains an outsider to the natives, but he discovers himself and his own heroism when a jet on which they are all traveling, bound for Frankfurt, is hijacked. Middle Eastern terrorists select certain of the passengers, McCloud included, for special punishment as “criminals,” forcing them to wear placards proclaiming the nature of their crimes. In the midst of chaos, death, and fear, McCloud confronts himself and discovers his ability to incite a “revolution” among the passengers—a revolution that saves those remaining on board the aircraft.

Woman of the Inner Sea

In Woman of the Inner Sea, Keneally focuses on the mystery of Kate Gaffney-Kozinski, whose two children and their babysitter perish in a fire while she is away briefly. Kate flees the intrigue of Sydney and her construction-mogul husband; she takes on a new role as a barmaid in the inland town of Myambagh, surrounded by ranchers and toughs. In an improbable turn, Kate must flee again when her husband’s agent appears with divorce papers; almost simultaneously, a flood occurs. On her flight into the outback, she is accompanied by a farmer, Gus, and his kangaroo and emu. Surviving the flood and drawing on the gentleness of the kangaroo, Kate (like other characters in Keneally’s fiction) finds her own heroism in endurance as she returns to Sydney to discover the reality of her tragedy. Keneally’s characterization of Kate, his use of the aboriginal myth of the origin of the word “beast,” and his exploration of the heroic amid grief and chaos link this novel to others in his oeuvre, despite the melodramatic unraveling of the mystery.

A River Town

A River Town takes the reader to early twentieth century Australia, where Irish immigrant Tim Shea battles the insularity and class distinctions of New South Wales. In the midst of an epidemic of bubonic plague, Tim finds himself culturally isolated. Keneally draws on period recollections, some possibly passed down by his grandparents, who were immigrant storekeepers, to paint images from the time on a grand scale: a local constable who keeps the head of a young woman preserved in a jar as he seeks to identify her, Tim’s rescue of two children when their father is killed in a buggy accident, Tim’s ostracization for his opposition to the Boer War, and the quarantine against plague. Tension is added in Tim’s own prejudice toward a Muslim medicine seller and his failure to recognize the settlers’ mistreatment of the Aborigines. The result is a novel of both heroism and human frailties set against the vastness of the continent and the cultural backdrop of a time of major settlement in Australia.

An Angel in Australia

With An Angel in Australia, Keneally goes back in history to a time when Japanese submarines are about to attack the harbor at Sydney. The year is 1942, which is also the year in which the Northern Territory’s capital city, Darwin, is bombed and Singapore falls. As in The Place at Whitton, Three Cheers for the Paraclete, and A Dutiful Daughter, Keneally returns to his subject of Irish Catholicism during a time of much hypocrisy, of self-serving attitudes among the clergy, rigid hierarchy, and an almost bovine obedience among the laity. The story revolves around the attempt of the main character, the young priest Frank Darragh, to reconcile an issue of personal morality with Church morality and dogma; the conflict between the two threatens his own belief.

The story is told through the viewpoint of the young, naïve Darragh, a curate in Sydney’s west. Through him, the reader is carefully guided through Sydney’s past. As the novel begins in 1939, Darragh, a priest in training, is concerned about his lack of involvement in the impending war. Darragh’s superior, Monsignor Carolan, knows exactly how to manipulate his young colleague, telling Darragh that he is relaying a prophetic message commanding the young priest to be a “merciful confessor.” Darragh takes this seriously, and through the years that follow, he obligingly hears confessions day in and day out while the monsignor is busy tending to other matters.

A devout and well-meaning priest, Darragh finds his vocation tested by events that transpire. The confessions he hears are dramatic and compelling, involving, among other things, infidelity, child abuse by a fellow priest, and racial bigotry sanctioned by the military. Darragh’s faith is extremely challenged, to the point that even in his naïveté, he comes to question the authority and wisdom of his superiors and the Catholic Church’s rigid ethical doctrine. When one of the young working-class wives of an Australian prisoner of war is found brutally murdered, in Darragh’s mind she takes on the character of a war victim. His obsession with the woman’s lost soul runs deeper than he realizes and leads him on a dangerous journey of personal discovery.

As war draws nearer in Sydney, young men are shipped off to distant parts of the world while their wives and girlfriends wait anxiously for news of them. Those left behind are horrified about the prospect of the Japanese arrival and the fate that awaits Sydney if Port Moresby and Singapore fall. The morale of the Australians is low, and many young women are particularly vulnerable to the American servicemen who are everywhere, with their easy ways and access to all kinds of tempting luxuries. Most vulnerable are the women whose husbands have been captured in Singapore or at the western front. Against this backdrop, the novel reaches its climax on the night the Japanese submarines bring havoc to Sydney’s harbor.

An Angel in Australia offers an easily digestible, fast-paced, professionally constructed narrative with no twists and turns. Convincing characters and Keneally’s ability to convey mood, atmosphere, and landscapes support the work’s exploration of issues of ethics, politics, and religious doctrine.

There is a wholeness about Keneally’s body of work that belies an initial impression of diversity. Not that diversity does not exist—geographically and temporally, Keneally’s novels range from the Antarctic to Europe and the United States, from the dim past to the present. Certain themes are always prevalent, however. As Janette Turner Hospital has noted, “The protagonists of the novels of Thomas Keneally are Jeremiahs of a sort, reluctant prophets or messiahsprophets by random circumstance only.” Keneally’s fascination with circumstance and its effects stands out as the major lesson that history has taught him: Those who do great deeds, either public or private, are no better or worse than anyone else. If they are holy, they are so in the ancient sense of the word: “different from, other than.” In revealing the humanity in their holiness, Keneally makes his greatest contribution.

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