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30 June 2006 ·

Across the Dark Sea review

This is such a lovely review I had to share it! Thank you to Rebecca Maxwell for permission to quote it in full.

From Pass it On: Issue 96. Monday, June 19th 2006.

. “Across the Dark Sea” by Wendy Orr
Published last month, by the National Museum of Australia, Across the Dark Sea, by Wendy Orr, for the TRACKS Series of Australian stories based on particular objects in a special display at the museum. The publisher chose Wendy Orr to write the story of the voyage of the boat Hong Hai, from Vietnam to Australia, bringing “boat people”. Wendy has written a heart-wringing story of a little boy, Trung, separated from his mother and sister, journeying to life in Australia with his father, (recently restored to them from political imprisonment). The journey we accompany Trung on covers the dangers and privations of the long boat trip, and the griefs and privations of establishing himself in a “city empty as the country”, and unable to speak or understand the language. But Trung is not mute. His inner life is revealed in letters he composes to his mother.

Trung’s “voice” is so truly the voice of a real eight-year old child, that we cannot possibly relegate the refugee to the impersonal “they”. We cannot help recognizing the stranger as definitely one of us – different culture, same feelings; different customs, same needs; different language, same emotional vocabulary.

The Child’s sense of time and space:
“If the boat was a fever nightmare, Australia was morning dreams, as if Trung was nearly awake but nothing quite made sense.”
this brought me right into the quality of my childhood’s sensing. And there are many passages I would have liked to quote as samples of the author’s sensitive writing.
I was involved with the transition and resettlement of children from South-east Asia in the mid seventies, and adopted two children from Thailand. I am so grateful to Wendy Orr for writing “Across the Dark Sea”, and bringing the reality of this episode in our human history to our awareness. I know the book is one in a series of Australia’s stories, but to me it is more like a story of modern humanity’s experience of subjugation, hope, and revival.

The book is as accessible to young children as it is informative and valuable to the adult reader. My appreciation of the exotic foods of my Vietnamese neighbours is now extended to an appreciation of my neighbours for who they are.
This is a book to own. The text is so revealingly resonant, that, for me, the book becomes an historical artifact. Something to keep so I can revisit the making of multicultural Australia.

Thanks, Wendy! Rebecca Maxwell

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Wendy Orr is a Canadian-born Australian writer. Her books for children and adults have been published in 27 countries and won awards around the world. Nim’s Island and Nim at Sea have also become feature films, starring Jodie Foster and Abigail Breslin (Nim’s Island) and Bindi Irwin (Return to Nim’s Island.) Her latest book is Cuckoo’s Flight, a companion to the highly acclaimed Bronze Age novels Dragonfly Song and Swallow’s Dance. Read full bio