The White Earth

Andrew McGahan, Author . Soho $25 (376p) ISBN 978-1-56947-417-4

Playing with genre expectations, McGahan's layered, impressive book (after 1988 and Praise ) begins as a child's tale, takes on shades of the horror story and, in its most surprising shift, becomes a tragedy of Australian history. Set in Australia's Queensland province, the novel begins with the blaze of 70 acres of wheat, a conflagration that consumes nine-year-old William's father and sends the boy and his mother packing to his great-uncle John McIvor's rotting mansion on the arid plains of what was once a vast sheep ranch. Chapters alternate between William settling into his new existence (action set in the early 1990s), and the story of John's youth on the ranch, where as the son of the ranch manager he nurtured ambitions to one day own the estate. John recruits William's help in organizing a rally for his right-wing group, which opposes the proposed Native Title laws that would return Aboriginal-claimed land to the original inhabitants. The novel's first half is a slow build, the second half, a well-wrought, meditative reflection on Australia's colonialist demons, brings the book's gothic intimations home to roost. William must discover for himself the horrors that John's beloved land conceals and the original sin that lurks in Australia's past. (Jan.)

Reviewed on: 09/19/2005
Release date: 01/01/2006
Genre: Fiction
Hardcover - 376 pages - 978-1-74114-147-4
Paperback - 376 pages - 978-1-56947-441-9
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