Saturday, September 03, 2011

Nanberry by Jackie French

Title: Nanberry, Black Brother White
Author: Jackie French
Genre: Historical Fiction
Copyright: 2011
Pages: 309
Book Source: Courtesy of HarperCollins Australia

Synopsis: It's 1789, and as the new colony in Sydney Cove is established, Surgeon John White defies convention and adopts Nanberry, an Aboriginal boy, to raise as his son. Nanberry is clever and uses his unique gifts as an interpreter to bridge the two worlds he lives in. With his white brother, Andrew, he witnesses the struggles of the colonists to keep their precarious grip on a hostile wilderness. And yet he is haunted by the memories of the Cadigal warriors who will one day come to claim him as one of their own. This true story follows the brothers as they make their way in the world - one as a sailor, serving in the Royal Navy, the other a hero of the Battle of Waterloo. No less incredible is the enduring love between the gentleman surgeon and the convict girl, saved from the death penalty, to become a great lady in her own right.

This was both a compelling and challenging read. It's the relatively unknown story of the small aboriginal boy, Nanberry, adopted by surgeon John White, chief surgeon of the first fleet sent to establish a convict settlement at Botany Bay. Spanning the years 1788 to 1823, French employs meticulous research of actual historical figures; old letters, court transcripts and journal entries to provide a thoroughly absorbing backdrop to true events.

Nanberry was one of only 3 survivors of the Cadigal tribe struck by the devastating smallpox outbreak which decimated the aboriginal population in the area. You can't help but love Nanberry, he's intelligent, protective, and inspiring, a lad caught between two cultures but determined to take his place in the white man's world while retaining his roots.

 Surgeon White is an interesting combination of conventional old ethics and compassionate forward thinking. Rachel Turner, the convict girl who survived the death penalty and near death on the second fleet, captures Surgeon White's heart but convention prevents him from marrying a convict and returning with her to England. This is their story, John White, Nanberry White (black brother), Andrew, (Nanberry's white brother) and Rachel, Andrew's mother.

 French captures the cruelty, famine, debauchery, horror, squalor, the corruption of the marine corp and most importantly the uniqueness of the Australian landscape and aboriginal culture with simple but evocative prose.

It's terrible to plead relative ignorance of events in your own country so what I loved about NANBERRY was the inspiration I gained to read further. I found the extensive author's notes really enjoyable reading too. Nanberry should be compulsory reading in our school curriculum, suitable for readers age 10 and up but nonetheless one I can't recommend highly enough for young and old alike.

Want to know more about renowned Aussie author Jackie French? - visit her website.


  1. I love the cover of this book and the words beneath the title make me want to read it just to find out what they mean in the story. Glad to find out that it's a great historical fiction! :)

  2. I love Jackie French. This book is going on my TRP. She always presents Australian historical fiction is such a compelling way. Very thought provoking.

  3. I recently read her book Waltzing Matilda and loved it. Her detail is amazing. So when I saw this book popping up I was curious. Thanks for your review I will definately get it now.

  4. I find this topic fascinating and would love to add a copy of this book to my library shelves!!

  5. I loved reading your review, the subject of this true story makes me sad to think about.

  6. This is certainly a topic I know next to nothing about. This book sounds like a compelling read and if it makes me research further even better. Thanks Teddy :)

  7. This sounds fantastic - I must read this! Oh and now I see your super cute rating system too.... gah.... I have to know who designed your blog... so gorgeous!:)

  8. I have the NetGalley of this; have to move it up on the TBR list.

  9. That sounds very interesting. I've read the books by Kate Grenville and I love to read about the initial settlements of the British in Australia.

  10. Wow, this one sounds like an emotional story...but also one that fills in the blanks of historic events.

    Thanks for sharing.

    1. not really i doesn't teach you about history but teaches you a moral

  11. i think its a wonderful book for all ages as i am only 13 but still love it


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