Teo Degas Wednesday, 23 May 2012

Published by The Text Publishing Company in 1998, the book won the Miles Franklin Award in 1999, and the Commonwealth writers Prize in the same year. 

Widower Cave Holland lives in an isolated farm In New South Wales with his daughter Helen. She is in marriageable age, but she doesn't seem to find a suitable suitor or even search for a husband. Cave comes with a solution to the problem: he will give the hand of his daughter to the first suitor who is able to name all the five hundred varieties of eucalyptus trees he has planted in his farm over the years. A gargantuan task that, however, will attract plenty of suitors from all over the world after the fame of her beauty spreads by worth of mouth. 

It sounds like a fairy tale, and the premise and structure purposely is, but this is not a children or ladies book. In fact, Eucalyptus is both the story of a courtship and a story about storytelling, storytellers and oral stories. It is also story about family ties, our connection with the land, the Australian land and landscape in particular, and the power of words over the soul. It is a story about individuality within commonality, too. 

Eucalyptus is very well written and structured, narrated with great simplicity, power and originality, very modern and timeless, very Australian and Universal. The novel is divided in chapters bearing the name of a variety of eucalyptus, whose characteristics and qualities are described as they are indeed related to the story and stories that will be told in the pages that covers. 

The story is set in an undated period that some reviews have set after WW2. However, when I was reading the book, I personally placed it at the end of the 19th century or beginning of the 20th, where marrying your single daughter would be relevant, establishing tests to suitors not rare, when suitors would travel hundreds of miles to get a woman, and collecting, classifying and experimenting with plants, or trying to grow them, was part of the hobbies and interests of yeomen. Still, the book is mostly timeless, and it is up to so and your imagination when you place the story. Isn't that cool?

This is an Australian modern classic novel that any Australian should read, not because it is Australian Literature, but because it is a terrific book, good lyric literature, full of  magic for grown-ups with a heart .


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