The Secret River — Book Review

I read this book over the last week as the first book in our church’s new book club. I’d nev­er heard of it before, and had no idea what it was even about, so I like to think I was a blank can­vas going in.

The book fol­lows the sto­ry of William Thornhill, a man who grew up in pover­ty in London forced to steal in order to sur­vive. He even­tu­al­ly gets caught steal­ing and is sent to Australia as a con­vict. In Australia he soon earns his free­dom, and finds him­self able to pro­vide for his fam­i­ly in a way he nev­er had been able to before. Then, on one of his jour­neys to col­lect sup­plies from farm­ers on the Hawksbury River he falls in love with a piece of land. He takes his fam­i­ly here, and they take up res­i­dence on the land. From here we pri­mar­i­ly fol­low their rela­tion­ship with Indigenous Australians and see the dif­fer­ent respons­es of the ear­ly set­tlers to the native peo­ple.

To be hon­est, I didn’t real­ly enjoy the book that much. I fin­ished it, but not with­out forc­ing myself to. I didn’t feel I real­ly relat­ed well to Thornhill, the main char­ac­ter, and I didn’t have a lot of respect for his way of life and the choic­es that he made. However, after dis­cussing the book at book club last night I was able to appre­ci­ate some­thing more of the pur­pose and under­ly­ing themes of this book. This is a work that brings up many emo­tions. While we are repulsed by the way the Indigenous peo­ple were treat­ed, we also sym­pa­thise with Thornhill and under­stand his desire to have his own land. We see how for­eign the ways of the Indigenous peo­ple were to him. This was a man who had nev­er seen coun­try­side, let alone natives liv­ing off the land.

This book real­ly shows how impor­tant cross-cul­tur­al com­mu­ni­ca­tion is, and reminds us that the Australia we live in today came at a great cost. It makes us think and dis­cuss the sit­u­a­tion for Indigenous peo­ple in Australia today and helps us to under­stand why it is this way.

I now think this was a book worth read­ing, but prob­a­bly only because of the dis­cus­sion it raised. If I had just read it by myself, it wouldn’t have been so valu­able.

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