Book review: The Bride of Almond Tree
This novel by Robert Hillman was reviewed in the Sydney Morning Herald recently and mentioned that the protagonist is a young Quaker man who lives in regional Victoria, as did the author who now lives in Melbourne. I am always interested to read about Quakers in a fictional setting and see how recognisable the story is for me. The setting of the book is in the aftermath of WW2 and covers world and Australian politics in the late 1940s and 1950s.
In the book, three Quaker families have moved in the 1880s from Tasmania to settle in regional Victoria to grow fruit trees. The nearby township is called Almond Tree. The families are good horticulturalists and also excellent carpenters, builders and all-round fixers of any hands-on machines. They have not built a Meeting House and conduct Meetings for Worship, weddings and funerals in their homes. The Quaker values of simplicity, pacifism and being quiet pillars of society for social justice is woven through the development of the narrative that takes us into the aftermath of WW2, the devastation and radio-active illness in Hiroshima, and the rise of communism in Australia. The Petrov affair gets a look in, the disappointment and cruelty of the Stalin regime, and the rise of militant trade unions, etc. The young Quaker man’s love interest is a young local woman who embraces communism and although she likes him, is not interested in marriage as she is devoting herself to the righteousness of the communist ideals. The sister of the protagonist is a nurse and works in hospitals in Hiroshima where she feels called to face the inhumane aftermath of the nuclear bomb. She encounters Buddhism and feels supported by its mystical spirituality. The narrative weaves its way as well through Pentridge jail in the 1950s, Moscow and its jails and MI5’s influence in Australian politics.
The book is a pleasant read, although the content is confronting at times and is a good refresher of Australia in the 1940s and 50s. And to spoil the end, the end is a happy one in Almond Tree.
Published by Text 2021 ISBN: 9781922330666
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