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English Passengers


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About the Author

Matthew Kneale was born in 1960. He is the author of three critically acclaimed novels, including SWEET THAMES (1992), which won the John Llewellyn Rhys Prize. He lives in Oxford.


It is 1857, and Reverend Geoffrey Wilson sets out on his mission to prove scientifically the literal historical truth of the Bible by locating the Garden of Eden. However, the Reverend has placed Eden in Van Diemen's Land or Tasmania, a British prison colony. This sets the stage for Kneale's Whitbread-winning examination of mid-19th-century British colonial life. The work mixes a wide range of participants with their own agendas, e.g., the ship's captain, who attempts to sell his contraband cargo of tobacco and brandy while dealing with his passengers, and Peevey, a mixed white aboriginal who bridges the gap between the two worlds. English Passengers is further highlighted through the use of seven readers (Ron Keith, Simon Prebble, and Davina Porter, among others) to tell the story from multiple perspectives. Kneale's deeply researched work provides an excellent window into the British colonization of Australia and the savage treatment of the natives. Recommended for all audio collections. Stephen L. Hupp, West Virginia Univ. at Parkersburg Lib. Copyright 2002 Cahners Business Information.

"'A big, ambitious novel with a rich historical sweep and a host of narrative voices. Its subject is a vicar's ludicrous expedition in 1857 to the Garden of Eden in Tasmania, [as] meanwhile, in Tasmania itself, the British settlers are alternately trying to civilise and eliminate the Aboriginal population... The sort of novel that few contemporary writers have either the imagination or the stamina to sustain' - Daily Telegraph"

The brutal hand of British imperialism provides the foundation for this broad historical swashbuckler about the English colonization of Tasmania in the early and mid-19th century. U.K. author Kneale debuts stateside with this lengthy novel of hapless smugglers, desperate convicts, simpering bureaucrats, mad vicars and displaced aborigines. The English passengers are the Reverend Wilson, a vicar determined to prove that Tasmania was the site of the original Garden of Eden, and Doctor Potter, a ruthless scientist equally determined to prove Wilson wrong and gain fame in the victory. They're on their way to Tasmania aboard the good ship Sincerity, commanded by Captain Illiam Quillian Kewley, a high-seas smuggler and rascal of renown. This is an unpleasant voyage for everyone, especially Kewley, for he has been forced to charter his ship in order to escape punishment for dodging customs duties on his illicit cargoes. Storms, pirates and foul tempers, however, are just the prelude to the hardships that await everyone when they land in Tasmania. British self-righteousness in forcing civilization and Christianity on the aborigines causes wholesale slaughter and subjugation of the islanders, and the natives are more than just restless. Wilson and Potter's overland expedition is guided by Peevay, a wily aborigine not about to knuckle under to the white man. Of course, the expedition is a bloody disaster. Murder, madness, betrayal, mutiny and shipwreck spice up the action and provide intricate plot twists with surprising and satisfying resolutions, particularly for Captain Kewley. This rich tale is told by 20 different voices skipping back and forth across the years, but somehow Kneale manages to keep the reader from becoming confused. Kneale's careful research and colorful storytelling result in an impressive epic. BOMC featured selection. (Mar.) Copyright 2000 Cahners Business Information.

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