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A Long Way From Home by Peter Carey

The blurb on the jacket of Peter Carey’s new book A Long Way From Home is “In his wildly exuberant, deeply surprising new novel about a road race that circumnavigates 1954 Australia, Peter Carey takes us on an unforgettable journey into the lies and secrets of his homeland.”

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Sounded good to me – and it is better than good. A Long Way From Home is the story of a young couple who, determined to prove themselves worthy of running a new car dealership, take part in the Redex Trail, a grueling long distance circumnavigation of Australia.

“Titch” and Irene Bobs are young, idealistic, and very much in love. Titch grew up around cars, his over-bearing and manipulative father a well-known car salesman. Irene would like to see Titch get out from under his father’s heavy thumb and become his own man. This race might be just the thing to do it, if they can win and establish their reputation, they may be able to secure the rights to a car dealership for themselves.

Titch and Irene live in the middle of nowhere, in Bacchus Marsh, where their closest neighbor is Willem Bachhuber, a disgraced schoolteacher. A sensitive, educated and intelligent, man he is fascinated by the Bobs and being presently at loose ends, is happy to become their navigator.

The unlikely trio set off with high hopes into a months’ long road trip fraught with the physical challenges of the landscape and perilous driving conditions. All are leaving something behind, and all will discover this trip is as much about personal exploration as it is about meeting the challenges posed by the geography of the remote outback. They are young, and only beginning to realize their adult selves. Their very different childhood experiences are revealed, and the relationships between each of them change, as miles and miles of time spent together pass.

Irene loves her husband but she also comes to care deeply for the loyal Willem. As she learns more and more about Willem’s past, he is also coming to terms with acknowledging the truth of past experiences, and discovering his own ability. As life changes dramatically for Willem, his story becomes more central to the novel.

I was reminded as I read this book, as with novels by Kate Grenville and Thomas Keneally, that Australia has an aboriginal population whose experience is, in many ways, similar to that of Canada’s native people. What is known in Canada as the Sixties Scoop also happened in Australia some years earlier. With compassion and honesty, Peter Carey explores the very difficult modern experience of the aboriginal people and those with racially mixed heritage.

A Long Way From Home is one of those, rare, wonderful novels that offers not only a page turning story, but a thought provoking one. We think about love and marriage, friendship, and parental love. We meet parents who believe they are doing what is best for a child, only to discover that the child is left with nothing when secrets and lies are exposed. We think about loyalty to friends, to a husband or wife, or a parent who may or may not be deserving of trust, or respect, but is loved nonetheless.

A Long Way From Home is a good read that also leaves the reader dwelling on some profound themes. Pretty perfect!

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