sometimes witty book reviews
Remembering Babylon is a vivid and mockingbird-esque story set in a period of Australian history rarely talked about. That sticky, tricky half-century or so after convicts and before gold rushes. It was yet another time of quite sickening cruelty of white people towards the native peoples of Australia. The tale revolves around a white man, raised by an Aboriginal community from childhood, who is found years later by two Scottish immigrant children in the scrub.
Though Malouf does try not presume to adopt the voice of an Aboriginal person in this novel, his prose does occasionally feel very naive and sometimes awkward when he tries to describe the protagonist’s interactions with the community which took him in. The greatest story in the novel is really the childrens’ attitude to their new friend and farmhand – initial shock and fear become acceptance and love. Perhaps Malouf is highlighting what, in many places and institutions in Australia today, is still a huge lack of empathy between the races who call this country home.
I can’t say I’m a fan of many Australian ‘classics’ – but the work of David Malouf I find fairly palatable. Though relatively short and white-centric, Malouf does pack a lot of thinking into each elegantly wrought paragraph. This makes Babylon feel much larger than it actually is – a trait that is so often the mark of an excellent writer.