Author: Kim Kelly
Published: March 5th 2019
Publisher: Jazz Monkey Publications
Genres: Fiction, Australian, Historical
Rating: 4.5 stars
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.
‘To achieve something. Something measurable. Something decent. To rescue himself. A few months ago, he knew nothing of citrus fruit, except oranges were orange and lemons were yellow, and the intensity of all the learning he’d had to do gave his mind its firmest branch to cling to.’
Sunshine, a 2019 historical novella released by Jazz Monkey Publications, is another fine addition to the Kim Kelly collection. I count Kim Kelly as one of my most respected Australian historical fiction novelists and trusted storytellers. In her latest piece of writing, readers can expect a warm but hard hitting tale, revolving around powerful themes of love, loss, friendship, resettlement, injustice and hope. Sunshine reminds us of the endurance, resilience and the fighting spirit of our Great War heroes.
Opening in the year 1921, and based in the compact locale of Sunshine, Kim Kelly exposes the deep set wound left by the scars of WWI. A time of immense loss and tragedy, we receive an insight into the feelings of guilt, regret and sacrifice experienced in the wake of WWI, from a distinct Australian perspective. As part of the Australian government’s soldier resettlement scheme, three very different servicemen converge on Sunshine. One of these returned soldiers is Jack, an indigenous man who served as a light horseman in the war. Then there is Snow, an ill tempered farmer and Art, a quietly suffering engineer. Alongside Art, is his wife Grace, a former nurse on the front line, who manages to work her magic and bring them all together. Sunshine is a compact and heart rendering tale from start to finish. It is a heart rendering examination into the long recovery after war. It has a memorable parting message on learning to embrace the small gifts in life again, after witnessing the horrors of the battlefield.
There can never be too many stories about the Great War and its aftermath in my eyes. As modern Australian citizens, we need to continue to embrace these stories, it is an essential part of where we have come from. One of Australia’s historical fiction figureheads, Kim Kelly, brings to light the varied experiences of post WWI in her brand new novella, Sunshine.
Stepping into one of Kim Kelly’s books, Sunshine included, is like entering a great glass historical elevator. With the simple push of a button, the reader is transported to another time and place, in vivid detail. With any of Kelly’s books, this one included, the reader knows they will be taken right back to Australia’s past. Kelly offers her audience a taste of the historical context, the landscape, the social and moral mindset of the times and a rich exploration of character. Within Sunshine, despite its small size, expect to be faced with many strong themes. These cover plenty of ground, from trauma, PTSD, persecution, prejudice, heartbreak, loss, acceptance and peace. Kelly’s perceptive and insightful tone is applied to all these themes.
The history line is drawn thick in Sunshine and I appreciated this aspect of the story very much. I vaguely recall reading a little about the Australian veterans of the war resettlement scheme set up by the government in the years following the war, perhaps in a previous novel. However, Sunshine delves into this aspect of Australia’s past with a new set of eyes. I was able to learn so much from the experiences of the characters in Sunshine. Sadly, I also gleaned a great deal about the treatment of our returning indigenous soldiers of WWI. I was shocked and disgusted by our treatment of these men.
‘No one would give Jack Bell a flaming job, regardless of all he’d done for his King and his country. Regardless that this country was his by a right likewise unrecognised. But, in the four and a half years he’d been away, things had changed for the worse, and the worse.’
It is a shameful period in our history. The act of discounting the efforts of our indigenous soldiers by engaging in practices such as the forced removal of their family members and children, was utterly appalling. The role of books like Sunshine play in exposing us to the historical methods that were unjust and cruel in our not too distant past, is clearly imperative.
By looking closely at a particular set of characters, Kelly sends a powerful message, that the experience of war is such an individualised set of circumstances. We all react and respond in different modes. We can see this very clearly through the experiences of the male and female leads in Sunshine. This book also goes a long way, reminding us that although the aftermath of war is incredibly gruelling, there is a definite beacon of light. This can come from the small gifts or gestures that we witness in day-to-day life.
I do believe that I could extend my response to Sunshine further, but I think it is wise to leave a parting message of my complete trust and full recommendation of Kim Kelly’s latest historical novella. Sunshine is a book that deserves the highest rank, the writing shows distinct excellence, the level of research has been completed with masterly skill and the characters display longevity. I just wished it didn’t end so quickly! Remember to spend some time reading the insightful ‘Author Note’, as it will be sure to add more to your reading experience of Sunshine.
‘This was a perfect place. She kept her hand pressed to her belly. A perfect place to grow things. All things.’
Sunshine by Kim Kelly was published on March 5th 2019 by Jazz Monkey Publications. Details on how to purchase the book can be found here.
To learn more about the author of Sunshine, Kim Kelly visit here.
*I wish to thank the author, Kim Kelly, for providing me with a free copy of this book for review purposes.
Sunshine is book #34 of the 2019 Australian Women Writers Challenge