Lives intersect too neatly in this intellectually provocative latest from storywriter and novelist Jose (The Rose Crossing, 1996, etc.)--a tale that's as much about a group of friends as their native Australia. These several friends meet as children in the 1950s while observing a solar eclipse from their school playground. Included are: intellectually curious Alex; deeply religious Josie, from the wrong side of the tracks; Jane, who loves to draw; Elspeth, the heiress to an old fortune; venturesome Ziggy, the son of Lithuanian immigrants; Wendy, the beautiful daughter of pious parents; and part-Aboriginal Cleve, stolen by welfare officials from his Aborigine mother and given to a white family who wanted a son. Together, all of them make an ideally representative group to illustrate Jose's ideas about Australian history, domestic and foreign policy, and a future threatened by Asian expansion. While much of this is not without interest, it does lay a heavy burden on the characters, whose lives often have to answer more to punditry than passion. The story follows these custodians of Australia, who, like their country, can never escape the past, as they move through childhood, college, and into adulthood. Jane becomes a noted artist; Ziggy, an actor who stars on the London stage; Wendy fatally takes up with a handsome drug dealer; Josie becomes a nun until an affair with Cleve sends her home; Cleve becomes an Aboriginal activist; Elspeth discovers meaning in farming her family's vast land holdings; and Alex, a rising but emotionally detached political star, finds happiness with Josie, to whom he's been attracted since childhood. They all meet 40 years later at Elspeth's homestead to witness the handing over of a sacred Aboriginal site, and, as the moon goes into an eclipse, their friendship is affirmed, old hurts are forgiven, and new loves consummated. Lively and original characters in vivid settings are held hostage to history and a didactic plot. Still, Jose does offer an illuminating take on contemporary Australia.