The Custodians

Nicholas Jose, Author
Nicholas Jose, Author St. Martin's Press $26.95 (512p) ISBN 978-0-312-18073-7
Reviewed on: 12/01/1997
Release date: 12/01/1997
Paperback - 504 pages - 978-1-74331-280-3
Paperback - 512 pages - 978-0-330-35272-7
Open Ebook - 503 pages - 978-1-74269-986-8
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Trying to make sense of recent Australian history, Jose's American debut follows eight childhood acquaintances from the 1950s solar eclipse that they witness together on an Adelaide playground to the lunar eclipse that, almost 50 years later, reunites them. In the meantime, one character has become a government official in Canberra, another a cult-follower and then an heiress, another a liaison between the government and his fellow aborigines. The playmates are a varied bunch, but the novel's intention is to demonstrate how, despite their differences, they are bound together by a national fate. In this Australia, the evidence of history is always beating at the comfortable assumptions society maintains by its willful foreshortening of history. Jose illuminates the paradox of all New Worlds (that they aren't new and weren't ""discovered"" by anyone) through the powerful symbol of some old bones that are discovered on one character's ranch. The claims and counterclaims that the bones provoke lead to a sounding of Australia's heart. Jose's characters convincingly evolve over the last half of the century, fumbling with the received ideas of the day--whether Maoist slogans or self-help mantras--in their attempts to understand themselves. His success as a social historian, however, comes at a price: his language is utilitarian at best, turgid at worst. But the book accomplishes so much, as a fictionalized popular history of its place and time, that few readers will hold his prose against him. (Jan.)
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