Fiction – paperback; Hodder; 151 pages; 2002.
I will admit that when I purchased Garry Disher’s The Divine Wind last year from a secondhand bookstore for the princely sum of $1, I did not realise it was a young adult novel. I associate Disher with adult fiction, usually crime, and because I’d never read him before I jumped on the name and thought it might be a good introduction to his work. It wasn’t until I got home that I realised my mistake…
Except it wasn’t really a mistake, because The Divine Wind turned out to be quite an entertaining read, perfect fodder for an over-tired brain that just wanted some escapism while the outside world went a bit mad.
Against the backdrop of the Second World War, it’s essentially a coming of age story about four teenagers living in the pearling town of Broome, on the far north Western Australia coast, and what happens to them over the course of a few event-filled years.
The story is written from the perspective of an adult Hartley Penrose, the son of a pearling master, looking back on his teenage years. He has a younger sister Alice, with whom he is particularly close following their mother’s return to England (she could never quite get used to her isolated, lonely life in Broome), and together they are friends with Mitsy Sennosuke, the daughter of a Japanese diver employed by their father, and Jamie Killan, who has just moved to town with his family. The four of them hang out regularly; they go swimming and sailing, or see films at the cinema.
But the carefree nature of their existence changes when a disastrous cyclone hits the coast which results in Mitsy’s father dying at sea and Hartley suffering a serious leg injury from which he never fully recovers. Not long later, the Japanese bomb Broome and soon Mitsy and her mother are viewed with suspicion because of their ethnicity; they are later interned.
Against all this drama, Hartley falls in love with Mitsy, who later becomes a nurse, but his feelings are never fully reciprocated because it seems that she may have given her heart to Jamie…
Love and adventure
As much a love story as it is an adventure story, The Divine Wind is a richly written novel that deals with some very adult themes including love, death, racism and war.
It’s a highly evocative account of a particular time and place, where non-whites, whether Asian or Aboriginal, are treated with prejudice. It’s also an unsettling portrait of a harsh and demanding climate; of a lifestyle that is remote and lonely; and a community that isn’t always forgiving.
It’s wonderfully moving and powerfully told.
This is my 10th book for #TBR2020 in which I plan to read 20 books from my TBR between 1 January and 30 June.