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Description - The Burnt Country by Joy Rhoades

The Burnt Country is an enthralling story of integrity, resilience and resistance, from the author of the bestselling The Woolgrower's Companion.

The stunning new novel from the author of The Woolgrower's Companion, whom the Australian Women's Weekly described as 'a wonderful new voice in literary rural fiction'.

A scandalous secret. A deadly fire. An agonizing choice.

Australia 1948. As a young woman running Amiens, a sizeable sheep station in New South Wales, Kate Dowd knows she's expected to fail. And her grazier neighbour is doing his best to ensure she does, attacking her method of burning off to repel a bushfire.

But fire risk is just one of her problems. Kate cannot lose Amiens, or give in to her estranged husband Jack's demands to sell- the farm is her livelihood and the only protection she can offer her half-sister Pearl, as the Aborigines Welfare Board threatens to take her away.

Ostracised by the local community for even acknowledging Pearl, Kate cannot risk another scandal. Which means turning her back on her wartime lover, Luca Canali ...

Then Jack drops a bombshell. He wants a divorce. He'll protect what's left of Kate's reputation, and keep Luca out of it - but for an extortionate price.

Soon Kate is putting out fires on all fronts to save her farm, keep her family together and protect the man she loves. Then a catastrophic real fire threatens everything . . .
'This sweeping epic set in rural NSW is about love, family and testing our mettle - and it's compulsively readable. Just the thing for those lazy summer days' Marie Claire on The Woolgrower's Companion

'Joy Rhoades' Kate Dowd is Elizabeth-Bennet-meets-The-Drover's-Wife . . . an accomplished debut' Sydney Morning Herald

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Book Details

ISBN: 9780143793724
Format: Paperback / softback
(232mm x 154mm x 32mm)
Pages: 384
Imprint: Bantam Australia Original
Publisher: Random House Australia
Publish Date: 6-Aug-2019
Country of Publication: Australia

Book Reviews - The Burnt Country by Joy Rhoades

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Book Review: The Burnt Country by Joy Rhoades - Reviewed by (11 Jul 2019)

5 stars

“Kate was sure she didn’t need a solicitor. Doctors were for the dying, and solicitors for the guilty, her father always said. The locals would assume the worst.”

The Burnt Country is the second novel by best-selling Australian author, Joy Rhoades. If three years of good rain and productivity at Amiens have been a reprieve from Kate Dowd’s biggest concerns, that all seems to be coming to an abrupt end in November, 1948. Her estranged husband, Jack has returned from the islands intent on a divorce, to which Kate is agreeable, but the price he is asking in return for not smearing her reputation is an amount that is beyond her wherewithal to raise. And sell Amiens? She could never do that.

The Aborigines Welfare Board, an inflexible bureaucracy which Kate considers is more intent on following regulations than actually caring for its charges, has issued her an ultimatum: by the end of the month, she either hands over her almost-three-year-old half-sister Pearl to be adopted by a white family, or the child’s aboriginal mother, Daisy will be moved from her position at Amiens to another employer.

Despite the fact that Harry Grimes, now thirteen, has been happily living and learning at Amiens, his recently-returned great-uncle (and Amiens ex-manager) Keith Grimes is insisting a very reluctant Harry come to live with him. Also back on the scene, Luca Canali, the man Kate is trying hard to convince herself was merely a wartime indiscretion and not the man she loves.

On top of all this, a horror bushfire season is predicted, and Kate’s carefully managed back-burns have met with disapproval from local graziers, the most vociferous of these being her close neighbour, John Fleming. “Kate knew: the same rules didn’t apply to her as to other graziers, to the men. If she did anything that was disapproved of the town felt, without exception, that she needed to be taught a lesson, as if she were a child.”

Once again, Rhoades captures the mood and feel of the mid-forties farming community with consummate ease. In the era she describes there were few rights for women, children, migrants and aboriginal people, and often even fewer to advocate for them. Sexism was de rigeur, sexual harassment not unusual and there was a common mindset that mixed blood aboriginal children could only be properly raised by white folk. Divorce carried a stigma, as did the misdemeanours of one’s elders.

Rhoades’s extensive research is apparent in every chapter; the dialogue is authentic and her characters are multi-faceted, harbouring secrets and displaying entirely human reactions to the dilemmas they face. Kate makes errors of judgement that add to her woes. But, when it matters most, there is support for Kate, some of it from surprising quarters. The irrepressible Harry Grimes, with his non-stop commentary, cheeky banter and unquenchable curiosity, is an utter delight.

Each chapter is prefaced by a quote (often relevant) from Kate’s essential reference book, The Woolgrower’s Companion (which never once concedes that the eponymous woolgrower might be a woman). This wonderful story is enclosed in a gorgeous cover and complemented with seven classic recipes and a list of thought-provoking Book Club Questions.

This sequel to The Woolgrower’s Companion easily stands alone but readers intending to read TWC should do so first (and why deny oneself that pleasure?) as the recap necessarily contains many spoilers. A brilliant, heart-warming novel that stays with the reader long after the last page is turned. This unbiased review is from an uncorrected proof copy provided by Penguin Random House Australia and the author.

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