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The Bush Soldiers by John Hooker. New York. 1984. 439 pages. October 1984. hardcover. 0670197513. Jacket design by Nell Stuart. Jacket painting by Hodges Soileau, 1984. keywords: Literature Australia.

 

FROM THE PUBLISHER -

 

   It is August 1943. The Japanese have invaded Australia and are holding its eastern coastal cities. In the deserted interior moving from one desolate outpost to another, are a group of men united by little more than their bravery and common plight. Two of them are English and the rest Australian; some of them are old - the hero, Geoffrey Sawtell, saw action In World War I as a raw Australian recruit in the trenches - and some very young; some of them are experienced and one is nothing but a drifter. Yet in this inhospitable landscape they are in certain respects all equal. After sabotaging a mine held by the Japanese, the bush soldiers retreat into central Australia, looking constantly for their pursuers, seeing nothing but the infrequent smoke of a campfire. Chapters recounting their adventures alternate with flashbacks about the heroic Sawtell - his love, his work, his inarticulate deep search for an ideal of progressive Australian life. But as the men move deeper into the country not even Sawtell, the one most attuned to the land essential beauty can escape the truth that they are all foreigners and newcomers in this ancient, aboriginal place. And the cruel terrain and their own weaknesses suggest that the Japanese nightmare is not, perhaps, the principal one. The tension mounts as the enemy continually eludes them; the final tragedy is played out when - their supplies depleted, their way uncertain, their destiny clouded - the implacable truth of the Australian bush brings the soldiers to their knees and all but two of them to their certain death. Of John Hooker and THE BUSH SOLDIERS, the Australian poet and novelist David Malouf has written, ‘Difficult to say what is most admirable, the action of his epic plot, the daring with which he moves from a precise vision of Australia between the wars to his imaginary historical moment, the irony of his contrast between British, Australian, and aboriginal heroes, the complexity with which he presents his leading character, or the surprise he springs in locating the real enemy not in the Japanese invaders but in the invaded land itself, before which Geoffrey Sawtell’s virtues as a man of action, and all his weaponry, are of no value whatsoever. THE BUSH SOLDIERS is set in the past - in fact an imaginary one - but its argument is utterly contemporary. It’s a real achievement.’

 

 

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