BILLAROOBY by Jim Anderson


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A consistently engrossing, if not entirely convincing, first novel about a troubled family in the Australian outback during WW II. The Armstrongs settle in Billarooby in 1942, after leaving England under a cloud and pulling up stakes repeatedly as various Australian ventures fail. Their story is told by son Lindsay, who is 11 when he encounters an escaping Japanese soldier from the nearby prisoner-of-war camp and then sees the man recaptured and beaten. Lindsay--who is having a rough time in his life, especially because of a problematic relationship with his father--becomes fascinated with Japan and the samurai code. Jack Armstrong, Dad, is a rather grim disciplinarian and teetotaler who reads the Bible at the dinner table while methodically swatting flies. He later turns to drink and brutality, without ever giving up his stern view of religion, and remains tormented by memories of his own father's death, officially a hunting accident. Sometimes Lindsay remembers that he himself was carrying the gun when it went off; sometimes he thinks that the gun was in his own father's hands and that the death' was no accident. Ultimately, father and son must work out their mutual love, fear and hatred, and each one must choose between killing or saving the other. Meanwhile, there are many other characters, conflicts, and events: Lindsay's mother has a more-or-less-chaste romance with a wounded soldier, and father Jack a not-so-chaste affair with a tarty ""Landgirl"" (wartime farm laborer); the vigilante Bush Brigade plans to attack the POW camp; a drought threatens the Armstrongs' livelihood, and more. The author, unlike some of his afflicted characters, never loses control. But after everything that's gone on, the ending, with its promise of family harmony, is hard to swalloW. Nonetheless, this is good, old-fashioned storytelling, with high marks for color and heart.

Pub Date: April 28th, 1988
Publisher: Ticknor & Fields/ Houghton Mifflin