Friday 19 February 2021

Book Review: The Chant of Jimmie Blacksmith by Thomas Keneally

I read this for one of the book groups I attend which is this year (2021) reading Australian and New Zealand novels. I also watched the 1978 movie directed by Fred Schepsi which closely follows the book . The book is Keneally's fictionalised account of the true story of Austalian bushranger (outlaw) Jimmy Governor (1875-1901) , who is also the subject of a poem Poem "The Ballad of Jimmy Governor" by Australian poet Les Murray . 

It is a short book (178 pages) but challenging. Keannelly attempts to tell Jimmie's story from growing up a mixed race child, taken under the wing of Rev and Mrs Neville at the Mission station and brought up with European/white values to better himself through hard work. And although he is a good worker, competant, reliable, thorough others treat him badly, don't pay him. He doe snot get a reference from one farmer he works for because the farmer cannot write, Jimmie can. He marries a pregnant white girl in good faith believing he is the child's father. He sees this as another step up, but upon its birth the child is clearly not his. When farmers refuse to pay Jimmie and his family are running out of food his life turns on its head. After his massacre of the farmer's wife, daughters, and woman boarder school teacher, Jimmie, wife, and his brother go on the run. 

Keneally seeds this story with titits about the birth of the Australian Federation, the Boer War in South Africa and the life of the executioner. 

Reading this today this book raises questions about the fictionalisation of factual histories, the clash of cultures then and now, the role of the author in these. 

Not particularly a book I would recommend to snuggle down with during COVID lockdowns, but it is a provocative book club read, and it will I feel remain with me in years to come.


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