Book Review: “The Divine Wind” by Garry Disher (#LoveOzYA)

 

Garry Disher’s The Divine Wind is the third book I have read that is set in Broome, Western Australia. It has been reprinted many, many times since its original publication by Hodder Headline in 1998. The edition I read was published by Hachette Children’s Books Australia in 2002. The book won the 1999 New South Wales Premier’s Literary Award for Young People’s Literature, and was short-listed for that year’s Children’s Book Council of Australia Book of the Year Award – Book of the Year: Older Readers.

Through Disher’s The Divine Wind – as well as Simone Lazaroo’s The Australian Fiancé (Picador, 2000, winner of that year’s Western Australian Premier’s Book Award for Fiction) and Christine Piper’s After Darkness (Allen & Unwin, 2014, winner of that year’s The Australian/Vogel’s Literary Award) – I get a glimpse of life in Broome, especially its tropical climate and somewhat isolated yet strategic position on Australia’s Northwest Coast. Also noteworthy is Broome’s pearling industry, which has long relied on the skills and experiences of aboriginal, islander and Japanese divers.

Thus Broome has been a multicultural community since very early on. And, like every other multicultural community across the globe, it is here that friendship and mutual respect as well as prejudice and discrimination exists between people of different ethnic backgrounds. Disher, Lazaroo and Piper have all addressed this issue in their books, but from different angles. In The Australian Fiancé, the nameless first-person narrator is an Eurasian bride from Singapore with a tragic past. In After Darkness, the first-person narrator is Dr Ibaraki from Japan who is also haunted by dark secrets from his past.

In contrast to the protagonists in these two books – individuals from the outside who remain as outsiders throughout their days in Broome – Disher’s protagonist Hart in The Divine Wind is the son of a pearling master, a local. Therefore we are offered a rare opportunity to observe how prejudices and discrimination were formed and allowed – even actively encouraged – to become standardised and widely circulated, eventually taken for granted as a “natural” way of life. In exquisite yet sober prose, Hart describes how war and propaganda slowly and steadily changes people’s perception of others and themselves, turning friends to enemies, tearing families and lovers apart, masquerading cruelty, betrayal and vengeance as loyalty, denying individuals and communities their dignity and basic human rights. It is a wakening call to those followers of the MISCONCEPTION that just because life is the way it is, it cannot and should never be challenged and even changed.

The Divine Wind tells a heart-wrenching story. Like the other two books, it does not offer a happy ending. We are left with these words, that even after the war “it won’t be easy, we may not make it” (p.151). Yet these words are particularly powerful to us, the locals, as they serve as a reminder of our potential to turn ugly and hostile the next time a certain conflict threatens what we are told is and should continue to be the way of our life. We are not allowed to simply lament the misery suffered by the protagonists/outsiders as they leave Australia with their broken hearts and bodies in The Australian Fiancé and After Darkness and then get on happily with our own lives. It is us who live here in this country and it is this multicultural society that we need to stand guard over, against any intolerance and disrespect of anyone among us on the basis of their ethnic, cultural, linguistic and/or religious backgrounds. It is us and only us who can make Australia a better place.

More information about Garry Disher’s The Divine Wind can be found here, i.e. the author’s notes on writing the book.

 

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