In Richard Flanagan’s first book, Death of a River Guide, Aljaz Cosini, a whitewater rafting guide, becomes trapped under a rapid in the wild Franklin River. As he slowly drowns, Aljaz sees visions of his history and of those of his diverse and complicated Tasmanian family. The story of Aljaz’s family is that of Tasmania itself – built upon conflicts and relationships between transported convicts and free settlers – English, Irish, and Aboriginal.
Building on the mythologies of Aljaz’s diverse heritages, Flanagan weaves together the stories of Aljaz’s father, who lost a thumb logging on the Franklin in the 1940s, and his mother, a Slovenian fleeing the destruction of World War II. In 1832, an escaping convict searches for the “New Jerusalem” where convicts live in imagined luxury. An uncle in the 1930s sells his teeth to pay for iron housing siding. Aboriginal people throughout history are stripped of their culture, livelihoods, and independence. Trapped in the river, Aljaz witnesses the strands of his history braid together.
Flanagan’s novel is rich not just with history but also lyrical descriptions of the terror, beauty, and mystery of the Tasmanian landscape. It’s an impressive first novel, and a prediction of the author’s growing abilities as a writer.
Review Submitted by: Kaitlyn Grigsby
Rating: Highly Recommended