Strengths: Beautiful prose – it’s a book to be savoured.
Weaknesses: Took a little while to understand the characters – persevere and you’ll be rewarded.
Why I read it: Sent to me by Allen & Unwin after I cheekily asked for it – thank you!
Pages: 518 (ARC)
Publisher: Allen and Unwin
Setting: Australia, England, Sri Lanka, Italy, Indonesia…many places
Rating: 8.5 out of 10
From the moment I saw the cover of this book, I was intrigued – a distant ocean, land far away, a single bird…it just all seemed so peaceful. Like a holiday. Questions of Travel certainly covers a lot of journeys and travel, but not all of them for holiday purposes.
The novel opens with short, sharp chapters alternating between the childhoods of the two main characters, Laura and Ravi. Laura is an average Australian girl; Ravi is from Sri Lanka. Laura has a desire to paint, while Ravi chooses mathematics and computing. Laura receives an inheritance which allows her to travel, first to Bali and then to Europe. She takes up residence in England, then Italy and England again. In between the wanderlust and complex relationships though, is a strange longing for home. As an Australian myself, I can definitely relate to the things that bring a tear to our eyes – the faint scent of eucalyptus, the clear and strong light, sunny days…
Ravi’s life is in complete contrast to Laura’s. Civil unrest and the mangled body of his wife lead him to flee his homeland for Australia to seek asylum. Given the recent media coverage in Australia of the ‘boat people’, the insight into the life as someone on the fringe of Australian society is as fascinating as it gut-twisting. Do Australians really treat foreigners with that slight distain or in some cases, outright suspicion? I didn’t realise that there were so many hoops to jump for someone to become a legal citizen of this country while clearly being unable to return to their place of birth.
For the majority of this story, Laura and Raji’s lives don’t intersect. When they do, it’s not the relationship you expect, which is one of the things that keep this story interesting. The beautiful, lyrical prose that de Kretser writes is to be savoured, not devoured – you should read this book with complete abandonment to time and place (just as if you were on holiday). The glimpses that are revealed into both Raji and Laura’s lives are like an intricate puzzle that is stunning when complete. It’s the type of book that you’ll remember for a long, long time due to its beauty. Definitely one for those who love travel (the descriptions are amazing) and those who like being swept away by a book.