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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