Review Blog

Aug 21 2019

Inland by Tea Obreht

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Hachette, 2019. ISBN: 9780297867074.
(Age: 16+) Highly recommended. Themes: Historical fiction, Survival, Drought, Cameleers, Ghosts, Trust, Relationships. Set in the harsh drought ridden country of 1890's southwest America, Obrecht's Inland tells two stories that gradually draw closer together, both set in harsh inhospitable environments, with people struggling to make an existence, dealing with loneliness and ghosts of people dead.
Outlaw, Lurie, described as a 'hirsute Levantine' on the wanted posters, travels for a while with a band of cameleers attached to a US military expedition into the desert but pursuit by the relentless Marshal Berger sees him once again finding his own way, but this time with a strange companion for whom he feels a growing attachment.
The other story is one day in the life of homesteader Nora. With her husband gone to find water, and her two adult sons disappearing early in the morning, she is left with her anxious child Toby, a wheelchair-bound mother-in-law, and young helpmate, Josie, who communicates with the spirit world. With only the last dregs of water to contend with the scorching heat, Nora has to stand guard against hostile outsiders, and now, a phantom wild beast that has put fear into Josie and Toby.
Both Lurie and Nora are tough individuals each dealing with ghosts of the past. For Lurie it is past companions he continues to see and who infect him with their needs; for Nora it is the ghost of her daughter, dead from heat stroke many years ago. Both have to contend with loneliness, hardship, and distrust of others. Their stories are a journey of self-enlightenment and exploration of the human need for trust and companionship. The reader is drawn into the two stories, wondering how they will eventually come together. The twist at the end makes for an unforgettable ending.
It is a panoramic novel, each chapter written with a different voice, the language rich and poetic, evoking another time and place. It has many of the elements of the American western but is highly original in weaving in the little known history of the U.S. Camel Cavalry Corp, and the mix of Middle Eastern migrants, Mexicans, and Indians. It is a good reminder that America, like Australia, has always been a multicultural mix of people.
Helen Eddy

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