Those of you who know me know that I’m a pretty fast reader, but this was one book that made me slow down so that I could savour every line. Kim Kelly always manages to write in such a beautiful way so as to touch you deep inside. I have just finished reading Sunshine for the second time in a month, as I felt I needed to absorb the writing and the story again, I know it will be one of those rare books I come back to over and over. I highlighted so many passages throughout this short novel because Kim Kelly’s words conveyed so much.
We meet Jack, Snow and Grace along with Art, these four damaged and lost souls all trying to rediscover life after physically surviving the war. Sunshine is the place they choose to make their new start, it is the place that draws them together, though Sunshine itself is as much a character in the story as it is a place.
The earth deepened all its colours, all its own pleasure, the reds of the earth redder, the greens of the scrabbly grass greener and spreading across the land like hands seeking hands, and in every puddle stood flowers of a kind she’d never seen before: white globes atop tall, slender stems, their petals unfurling like feathery suns.
It’s not just Sunshine itself that binds these four people it is their ability to see into each other and realise that they are each connected by the war, by the atrocities they have seen and experienced, by the damage that has been done to them deep inside.
Yes, horror was everywhere, injustice was everywhere, the whole globe over, but, thought Grace, new life is here. New life in this most ancient of lands.
Sunshine has been divided up into lots for the Soldiers Settlement Plan, for returned men. Except for Jack, Jack’s story is one that many aboriginal people suffered through, he returned from fighting a war in the Light Horse in Palestine, but on return that sacrifice is not acknowledged, nor is he entitled to any of the opportunities given white returning soldiers. The unfairness and discriminatory nature of the way Aboriginal people were (and are) treated makes me so angry and heartbroken.
‘Aborigines are controlled by the state,’ her husband explained further and more dreadfully. ‘They don’t get a say in these sorts of things. Or anything, really. They’re told where to live, where to go, what to do.’
Snow is a broken man, he’s barely surviving and is hopeful that Sunshine and his plan to grow citrus trees will help him live again. He’s a loner who doesn’t have much to say to anyone and doesn’t want to be close to anyone again, including his horse, because with relationships comes loss.
And Snow could only reply, ‘Yep,’ for that word comprised approximately half of his spoken vocabulary – the other half consisting of its opposite, Nah.
Grace and Art, what a strange but wonderful couple they are, especially Grace, who has so much joy and hope that it seems to spill from her. They are full of dreams and hopes whilst both trying to survive the fallout from the war.
she should have known he wasn’t recovered. He would never recover. And that was all right. They would live life their way, as it came, and in gratitude that they had lives to be getting on with. She’d go anywhere with him or for him. She’d go to the moon.
This cast of four unlikely people come together and form friendships of different sorts in an unlikely place that might help them find themselves and start them on their journey towards the future.
Perhaps it wasn’t the most ideal time to bring a child into the world– a world too wounded in every way. A crippled world, a mangled world, a world that would never, ever be the same. But looking out across this bloom-strewn field towards the river, this world seemed nothing less than perfect.
I loved this novel, I highly recommend it and wish I could do it justice in my review. These four characters and Sunshine will stay with me for a long time.
About the book: A tale of longing, loss and growing love under the bright Australian sun.
It’s 1921 and the Great War has left in its wake untold tragedy, not only in lives lost, but in the guilt of survivors, the deep-set scars of old wounds and the sting of redoubled bigotries.
In the tiny hamlet of Sunshine, on the far-flung desert’s edge, three very different ex-servicemen – Jack Bell, an Aboriginal horseman; Snow McGlynn, a laconic, curmudgeonly farmer; and Art Lovelee, an eccentric engineer – find themselves sharing a finger of farmland along the Darling River, and not much else. That is, until Art’s wife Grace, a battle-hardened nurse, gets to work on them all with her no-nonsense wisdom.
Told with Kim Kelly’s inimitable wit and warmth, Sunshine is a very Australian tale of home, hope and healing, of the power of growing life and love, and discovering that we are each other’s greatest gifts.