strivetoengage

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Book Review – In Tasmania by Nicholas Shakespeare

In 2007 a friend gave me the book In Tasmania by Nicholas Shakespeare. I lived in Tasmania for 16 months (1987 and part of 1988). I had grown up until then living a semi-subsistence lifestyle in the bush, among modest people with limited scopes of life. In Launceston I discovered people with a much broader range of interests and experiences. As a 10 year old I loved Launceston for it’s history, the monkeys in Central Park, the museum of Natural History, freshly baked croissants on Sundays, and the gorgeous national parks.

Book Cover: In Tasmania

Book Cover: In Tasmania

Tasmania is famous for its violent past, harsh prisons for unwanted poor people of England (convicts), right wing politics that see majestic forests cleared, and the determined genocide of the indigenous people. Author Shakespeare decided to travel to Tasmania after hearing about its exceptional beauty. After arriving he discovered a set of letters written by his opportunistic and corrupt ancestor Anthony Fenn Kemp (‘father of Tasmania’). Despite the nasty things that Kemp did I found the section of the book about Kemp to be interesting but not particularly captivating.

When I would visit the museum of Natural History in Launceston as a child I always paused in front of the bust of Truganini and felt shame and sadness that she represented the last ‘full-blood’ indigenous person of Tasmania. For all Australians our forefathers’ merciless treatment of indigenous Australians is a hair-shirt that we all must wear. It was with considerable surprise to me then that Shakespeare discovered that the Tasmanian Aborigines did not die out. The entire section on the Tasmanian Aborigines was interesting but still I struggled to finish it.

Unfortunately Shakespeare then lost me by diving into minute details of his mother’s ancestor (Hordern). I tried to care but I found the writing dull and the topic boring. It’s for this reason that I took an inordinately long time to read this book. I didn’t love this book. On the whole I found the writing boring but there were passages that resonated with me, like this one:

The pieties of a place increase astronomically the further you are from home…The intensity of religious feeling was characterised by one lady who crossed out in her bible anything she found objectionable, deleting the entire ‘Song of Solomon’ and any reference to biological functions.

I found this quote apt because it captures my feelings about ignorance, by Julian Sorell Huxley:

It is just where knowledge is least sure that feeling always runs highest!

Other reviews:
http://www.nytimes.com/2006/06/02/books/02book.html?_r=0

http://www.theguardian.com/books/2005/jan/01/featuresreviews.guardianreview6

http://elyforlanguage.wordpress.com/2013/12/14/review-in-tasmania-by-nicholas-shakespeare/

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