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Reviewed in Australia on 6 October 2020
Molly lives with her father and uncle at the Darwin cemetery where they all dig graves. The men are failed gold prospectors who are mean drunks. We cringe at their treatment of her. Yet from her vanished mother she inherited a love of poetry and Shakespeare that lights her way even though she’s also the type of girl who can cut the head off a snake in the dunny with Bert the shovel. Her one friend is an Aboriginal boy called Sam.

Then comes the WWII bombing of Darwin by Japan which is described in so vividly you feel as though you’re there, being terrified. Molly takes off on a quest with the golden-haired Greta, actress and singer extraordinaire, who is also the abused girlfriend her Uncle Aubrey. Molly is guided by the cryptic lines scored on the base of a copper gold panning dish by her grandfather, a man said to be cursed for his gold greed by an old Aboriginal man known as Longcoat Bob. She fears her heart is turning to stone and wants Bob to remove the curse. Their journey through the spectacular deep country is splendid and terrifying. They have an unlikely ally - a downed Japanese pilot who proves to be a man of courage, grace and sadness. He saves them more than once and in their way, they save him too. The most unsettling episode is when they come across a deranged Dutch couple, botanists studying the properties of native plants, who have become addicted to opium, along with the dying old folk of many nationalities who are being eased into painless death in the river of Lethe. They escape, but there’s worse news: Aubrey is tracking them. He thinks Molly can lead him to gold.

And so the novel drives to a scary denouement. It works on one level like an action movie, and on others as deep tempering of the soul, all of which Trent Dalton describes with exceptional, vivid prose that makes you sit back in admiration. This will surely cement his reputation as a fine author. It will also help us to understand the depth and complexity of Aboriginal knowledge and possibly go some way towards healing the hearts of people who after WWII could not think kindly of the Japanese. It’s an exceptional novel - an instant classic, as they say.
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