Sunday 6 May 2012

127. Nanberry: Black Brother White by Jackie French

Nanberry: Black Brother White by Jackie French
Published August 2011 Harper Collins

From the publisher:

Two brothers -- one black, one white -- and a colony at the end of the world
It′s 1789, and as the new colony in Sydney Cove is established, Surgeon John White defies convention and adopts Nanberry, an Aboriginal boy, to raise as his son. Nanberry is clever and uses his unique gifts as an interpreter to bridge the two worlds he lives in. With his white brother, Andrew, he witnesses the struggles of the colonists to keep their precarious grip on a hostile wilderness. And yet he is haunted by the memories of the Cadigal warriors who will one day come to claim him as one of their own.
This true story follows the brothers as they make their way in the world -- one as a sailor, serving in the Royal Navy, the other a hero of the Battle of Waterloo.
No less incredible is the enduring love between the gentleman surgeon and the convict girl who was saved from the death penalty and became a great lady in her own right.

This book has been shortlisted for the CBCA Book of the Year for Younger Readers.  It was published last year, but under my own rules I can read any books form the shortlist that I haven't already read.

I specifically chose this book because I have my doubts that it is a book for children.  After checking the criteria for the Younger Readers category, I still have my doubts.  It states that books in this category will be appropriate in style and content for middle to upper primary readers. 

Part of the story is about Nanberry, a young aboriginal boy who survived small pox, and went on to live with Surgeon White, as his foster son.  There is also the story of Surgeon White and his servant Rachel (a convict) who inside their home lived together as man and wife, but to the outside world they were master and servant.  Even when Rachel gets pregnant with his child, he cannot marry her, as she is ( as much as he may love her) a convict.

The story of Surgeon White (and his relationship with Rachel) is a big part of this story, as big as the story of Nanberry, especially as these stories become one, as they grow as a family.  This is my reason for believing this is not a story for younger readers.  The intimate relationship struggles between a man and a woman does not seem like reading material for primary school aged children.  In addition to this some of the descriptions in the book are equally unsuitable. The talk of 'men's rampaging lusts', the story of Bennelong beating a woman until she was unconscious, the arrival of 250 convict women with the comment 'Enough to tickle any man's fancy, eh? And them being convicts you can do what you want with em', and the sale of women on the street.

My issues about the age appropriateness aside, I have no criticism of the book itself, I loved it.  Jackie French has the undeniable skill of making history readable, and this book is extremely readable.  It's an up close and personal look at the birth of Australia through the eyes of people that we know from history, who lived through it.  The story of Nanberry and his struggle with the feeling that he is not English, but also no longer acknowledged by his people is heartbreaking.  His journey through life shows a boy and then a man living between two worlds.  A black man in a white world, who still has his Cadigal people close to his heart, and the decision he must make about where he belongs.

At t he back of the book Jackie French gives us more information about the real life characters in this book.  These people include: Surgeon John White, Rachel Turner, Nanberry, Wollarawarre Bennelong and Thomas Moore.  She also talks about the parts of the story that may or may not be true (the possum) and there's added historical information about other aspects of day to day life in the colony, medical treatments, Aboriginal languages and lands to name a few.

Who will like this book: Girls and Boys age 14+
Read it if you like: Jackie French

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