Rosie’s #Bookreview Team #RBRT Child Adoption Drama THE LOST BLACKBIRD by @LizaPerrat

Today’s team review is from Cathy, she blogs here https://betweenthelinesbookblog.wordpress.com/

#RBRT Review Team

Cathy has been reading The Lost Blackbird by Liza Perrat

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The story begins in January 1962 when Lucy and Charly Rivers’ father comes home drunk, as he often does, and a fall leaves him dead at the bottom of the stairs. Their mother, who was out at the time, was charged with his murder and the sisters were sent to Easthaven Home for Girls. The home was run by authoritative and heartless Mrs Mersey, who spared no kindness or pity for the unfortunate girls in her supposed care.

“Because once Mrs Mersey rang the meal bell, you had to stop talking, sniffing and coughing. And there was definitely no crying. You had to go to the toilet and wash your hands. And on the next bell you had to go to the dining room, and if you even sneezed Mrs Mersey would dart you the crow-eyed look that knocked your knees together. You were only allowed to speak to say Grace or answer if Mrs Mersey — Mrs Merseyless the Seniors called her, behind her back — spoke to you, which she only ever did to tell you off or punish you.”

When the girls were offered the chance of what seemed like a wonderful new life in Australia, with its sunshine, long, sandy beaches, fruit that can be eaten straight from the tree, parks and play areas, not to mention the kangaroos and koala bears, Lucy was concerned it sounded too good to be true and their mother would never be able to find them. But they had no choice in the matter. They were shipped out, along with Lucy’s best friend, Vinnie, and several others. Lucy hoped the life described to them would benefit Charly, who wanted her mum and was having a hard time coping at Easthaven.

The children bloomed on the six week trip across the ocean, with fresh air, good food, new clothes and lots of time for activities. Their idyll came to an abrupt end when they reached Australia. Despite being promised siblings would be kept together, Lucy and Charly were separated and were taken to different areas of the country.

The Lost Blackbird is a fictionalised account based on real events and exposes a dark and terrible time in a not too distant past. Vulnerable children, who were not necessarily orphans, were shipped off to Australia, in most cases without their parents’ knowledge or consent, and very often with a life of drudgery and servitude ahead. No better off, in fact, than life in Easthaven, and in some cases worse. Carly, at five years old, was adopted. Lucy, twice her age, wasn’t so lucky. The story is told from both Lucy’s and Charly’s perspectives, Lucy’s harsh life on a farm in the outback and the contrast of Charly’s life with her adoptive parents. But even then things weren’t as they seemed and had adverse effects.

Liza Perrat has obviously researched the historical facts extensively and consequently the story reflects the abuse, both physical and mental, in England and Australia, that children were forced to endure. Characters are extremely well defined, their personalities evident and believable in the way their experiences shaped them and were easy to visualise, in some cases hard to forget.

The writing is wonderful, the setting perfectly realised. Liza Perrat has the knack of pulling the reader in and giving a sense of involvement. A compelling, moving and powerful read, all the more so because we know it actually happened. I’m very glad Lucy and Charly’s story ended they way it did, although I’m sure this wasn’t the case for many of those deported.

Book description

A powerful story of sisters cruelly torn apart by a shameful event in British-Australian history. Clare Flynn, author of The Pearl of Penang
London 1962. A strict and loveless English children’s home, or the promise of Australian sunshine, sandy beaches and eating fruit straight from the tree. Which would you choose?
Ten-year-old Lucy Rivers and her five-year-old sister Charly are thrilled when a child migrant scheme offers them the chance to escape their miserable past.
But on arrival in Sydney, the girls discover their fantasy future is more nightmare than dream.
Lucy’s lot is near-slavery at Seabreeze Farm where living conditions are inhuman, the flies and heat unbearable and the owner a sadistic bully. What must she do to survive?
Meanwhile Charly, adopted by the nurturing and privileged Ashwood family, gradually senses that her new parents are hiding something. When the truth emerges, the whole family crumbles. Can Charly recover from this bittersweet deception?
Will the sisters, stranded miles apart in a strange country, ever find each other again?
A poignant testament to child migrants who suffered unforgivable evil, The Lost Blackbird explores the power of family bonds and our desire to know who we are.

AmazonUK | AmazonUS

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Rosie’s #BookReview Team #RBRT THE LOST BLACKBIRD: An emotional dramas based on true life events by @LizaPerrat

Today’s team review is from Terry, she blogs here https://terrytylerbookreviews.blogspot.co.uk/

#RBRT Review Team

Terry has been reading The Lost Blackbird by Liza Perrat

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This book is certainly an eye-opener.  In the 1950s and 60s (and as late as 1970), children were taken from English children’s homes for a ‘better life’ in Australia.  Sometimes the children were orphans, other times they were in care because the parents were temporarily unable to look after them, and they were shipped off without parental consent.  A few were fortunate, and were adopted by families, but most were used as slave labour on farms, until they were sixteen, when they would be sent to cattle stations to serve an ‘apprenticeship’ – more slave labour.  Most suffered permanent separation from siblings and families in England.

This is the fictional story of Londoners Lucy and Charly Rivers who ended up in ‘care’ (a brutal, regimental establishment) after their mother was wrongly convicted of having killed their father.  When Charly was six and Lucy ten, they were put on a boat with many others, to sail to the other side of the world.

The story alternates between that of Lucy and Charly, who fare very differently.  I found Charly’s story absolutely fascinating, and it was so well written by Ms Perrat; it involved a slow brainwashing until by the time she was sixteen she was not sure what was a memory and what a fantasy or dream; the way in which she tried to capture fleeting images was perfectly illustrated, as was the behaviour of the people who perpetrated this; the gradual unravelling was riveting stuff.  Lucy’s story was so tragic and I was equally engrossed in the first two thirds or so, though I was less convinced by a couple of developments later on.

The book is certainly a page-turner, nicely structured, making me eager to know what would happen next, as hope twinkles in the distance for the characters, then disappears. The writing flows well, and I’d definitely recommend it to any readers who enjoy emotional dramas based on true life events – the fact that all this stuff actually happened gives a hugely compelling slant to the whole story.  At the end of the book, Ms Perrat writes about her research process, giving details of some of the books she used for reference, which has now added to my reading list, too!  I give her a round of applause for bringing these heinous crimes to light in this highly readable novel.

Book description

A powerful story of sisters cruelly torn apart by a shameful event in British-Australian history. Clare Flynn, author of The Pearl of Penang
London 1962. A strict and loveless English children’s home, or the promise of Australian sunshine, sandy beaches and eating fruit straight from the tree. Which would you choose?
Ten-year-old Lucy Rivers and her five-year-old sister Charly are thrilled when a child migrant scheme offers them the chance to escape their miserable past.
But on arrival in Sydney, the girls discover their fantasy future is more nightmare than dream.
Lucy’s lot is near-slavery at Seabreeze Farm where living conditions are inhuman, the flies and heat unbearable and the owner a sadistic bully. What must she do to survive?
Meanwhile Charly, adopted by the nurturing and privileged Ashwood family, gradually senses that her new parents are hiding something. When the truth emerges, the whole family crumbles. Can Charly recover from this bittersweet deception?
Will the sisters, stranded miles apart in a strange country, ever find each other again?
A poignant testament to child migrants who suffered unforgivable evil, The Lost Blackbird explores the power of family bonds and our desire to know who we are.

AmazonUK | AmazonUS

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Rosie’s #Bookreview Team #RBRT #HistFic Based On Real Events THE LOST BLACKBIRD by @LizaPerrat

Today’s team review is from Olga, she blogs here https://www.authortranslatorolga.com

#RBRT Review Team

Olga has been reading The Lost Blackbird by Liza Perrat

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Liza Perrat has quickly become one of my favourite authors. I read the Silent Kookaburra at the time of its publication, four years ago, and I’ve read all her novels since, both those in the Australia series (set in Australia in the fairly recent past) and also those in her historical series “The Bone Angel”, set in France over the centuries. They all have female protagonists and centre on the lives, difficulties, and challenges women have had to face throughout history. Although the novels are thematically related, they are fully independent and readers can pick any of them and enjoy them without worrying about not having read the rest (although I’d challenge anybody to read one of these novels and not feel compelled to explore the rest).

This novel —quite close thematically to The Swooping Magpie in many ways— offers readers an insight into a shameful and horrific event in recent British-Australian history, which those familiar with the work of the Child Migrant Trust and/or who have watched or read the story behind the film Oranges and Sunshine (the book was originally called Empty Cradles and written by Margaret Humphreys) will be aware of. If The Swooping Magpie talked about forced adoptions, here we go a step further, and children were not only adopted under false pretences, but also sent to the other end of the world (near enough), so they were completely severed from their relatives and all they were familiar with, in some cases to be adopted, but in others to became forced labour and had to undergo terrible abuse in many cases.

Perrat’s fictionalised account takes as its protagonists two sisters from London, whose short lives (Lucy is 10 and Charly 5 when we meet them) had already seen much hardship and suffering, and then a traumatic event results in them ending up in care, and things only take a turn for the worse from then on. The chapters alternate between the point of view of the two sisters (Lucy’s chapters narrated in the first person and Charly’s in the third), although we have a few from the point of view of Annie, their mother (in the third person, present tense). This works very well because although initially we get different versions of the same events, which help readers get to know the two sisters and their outlook in life, later on, when they reach Australia, they are separated (despite the guarantees to the contrary they had been given) and we get to share in their two very different experiences. Although neither of them are as promised or expected, the challenges the two sisters have to face are miles apart. While the younger one gets her identity all but completely erased, the older sister is systematically abused, worked to the bone, and has to experience so many losses that she is almost destroyed in the process.

The story is not an easy read, and it deals with harsh truths and with difficult topics beyond the main historical subject (domestic violence, the institutional care system both in the UK and Australia, forced adoptions and child labour, drug abuse, alcohol abuse, prostitution, poverty, post-natal depression, pathological grief…) so although this is a compelling book, readers must be prepared to be confronted with some ugly truths. I’ve read novels that are much more explicit than this one; don’t get me wrong, but because of the degree of attachment to the characters, the nasty events hit hard.

The characters are well-drawn and believable. Both girls, Lucy and Charly, have their own distinct personalities, with Charly being quiet, a reader, and a deep thinker, and Lucy more of an action girl. She fiercely loves her mother and her little sister, but finds it impossible to keep her mouth shut and keeps getting into trouble, mostly for trying to help or defend others. She learns to be tough and to present a hard front to the world, but that also makes her resentful and unwilling to ask for help. She is mistrustful but also naïve at times, and her stubbornness sometimes works against her. There are moments when her extreme behaviour makes her difficult to like, but her reactions are quite understandable, and her circumstances are such that we can’t help but wonder if we would have done any better. The rest of the girls and boys they meet through their journey, and also their ersatz families are memorable, and some of the scenes that take place have become engrained in my brain and will keep playing there for a long time.

Perrat’s writing is flawless, as usual. She is particularly adept at making us share in her characters’ experiences, and we can see, hear, smell, taste, and almost touch, everything around them: bird songs and cries, food, clothes, the oppressive heat, the sting of mosquitoes, the joy of the first swim in the sea, the luxury of the big cruiser ship… Her depiction of the character’s mental state, their ruminations, the intrusive memories and flashbacks, are also excellent and there are plenty of action, secrets, mystery, and intrigue to keep us turning the pages. The book is also full of Australian and English expressions that will delight lovers of vernacular and casual expressions, and I’ve learned the origins of quite a few expressions I had heard and learned some new ones (blackbirding anyone?)

The ending, as the author comments on her acknowledgements at the end of the book, might not be the norm in many real cases, but it is very satisfying, and I enjoyed it (although throughout the novel we also get to see some pretty different outcomes). The author shares her sources and also thanks those who have contributed to this well researched and accomplished novel in the final pages of the book, and I advise people interested in the topic to read until the very end for further information.

I recommend this novel, and all of this author’s novels, to readers interested in books about the female experience, and also, in this case, about the forced migration of thousands of British children to Australia and other commonwealth countries over the years (this practice was only stopped in 1970). Because of the subject matter, this is not an easy read and can be heart wrenching at times, but it is a compelling fictionalised account of an episode of history that everybody should know about. It is wonderfully written, well-researched, and its characters are likely to remain with readers long after they close the book. A must-read. (Remember that you can always try a sample of the book if you want to get a taster and check if it’s for you).

Book description

A powerful story of sisters cruelly torn apart by a shameful event in British-Australian history. Clare Flynn, author of The Pearl of Penang
London 1962. A strict and loveless English children’s home, or the promise of Australian sunshine, sandy beaches and eating fruit straight from the tree. Which would you choose?
Ten-year-old Lucy Rivers and her five-year-old sister Charly are thrilled when a child migrant scheme offers them the chance to escape their miserable past.
But on arrival in Sydney, the girls discover their fantasy future is more nightmare than dream.
Lucy’s lot is near-slavery at Seabreeze Farm where living conditions are inhuman, the flies and heat unbearable and the owner a sadistic bully. What must she do to survive?
Meanwhile Charly, adopted by the nurturing and privileged Ashwood family, gradually senses that her new parents are hiding something. When the truth emerges, the whole family crumbles. Can Charly recover from this bittersweet deception?
Will the sisters, stranded miles apart in a strange country, ever find each other again?
A poignant testament to child migrants who suffered unforgivable evil, The Lost Blackbird explores the power of family bonds and our desire to know who we are.

AmazonUK | AmazonUS

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Rosie’s #Bookreview Team #RBRT 1960s Australian Drama THE LOST BLACKBIRD by @LizaPerrat

Today’s team review is from Noelle, she blogs here https://saylingaway.wordpress.com

#RBRT Review Team

Noelle has been reading The Lost Blackbird by Liza Perrat

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The Lost Blackbird is the third book by Liza Perrat that I’ve read, the others being The Silent Kookaburra and The Swooping Magpie.  This is my favorite.

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Ms. Perrat is an Australian author and she creates the world of that country with wonderful detail and ambience. Here she pays homage to the children brought to Australia from England’s orphanages and care centers in the 1960s, purportedly for a better life. These children were a costly burden to England, and the government’s solution was to ship them off to populate various other countries in its former Empire, often without any documentation of where they came from and whether they were in fact orphans. In Australia they became prisoners, working in slave labor camps with little food, clothing, or education and often beaten, degraded and subject to abuse. This is something I knew nothing about, but it is a story that has to be told.

Five year old Charly and her ten year old sister Lucy are sent to Easthaven Home for Girls in England when their mother is accused of killing their father by pushing him down the stairs and then is sent to prison for her crime. In fact, drunk and in a rage at Charly, he tripped and fell down the stairs, but Charly is too young to understand what had happened.

Easthaven is run in a brutal fashion by unforgiving women, and Lucy considers it a stroke of luck when she and her sister are chosen to go to Australia, freeing them from their awful fate in that institution. After a magical six week trip aboard an ocean liner to Australia, with new clothes, good food, games to play with their fellow migrants, and two women who care for them, Lucy are Charly are wrenched apart on the Sydney docks. Charly is adopted by a privileged family and her new parents do everything in their power to erase her past. Lucy is sent to live at Seabreeze Farm in the interior of the country, where she and some friends she made on the boat live in inhuman conditions, working as slaves, and suffering from lack of food, heat, flies, and the bullying of the sadistic owner of the farm.

As Charly begins to suspect her parents are hiding a secret, Lucy descends into despair and cynicism, although never ceasing to think about Charly and how to find her. How does Lucy survive and will Charly ever learn the truth of her beginnings and the fact she has a sister?

Liza Perrat paints a harsh picture of the orphans’ lives against the brilliant background of Australia. As a reader, my emotions meshed with those of Lucy and I also despaired of her survival, but I read on! I’m glad I did. The story is heart-breaking but told with enormous compassion. The author not only does a wonderful job of presenting the country but also creates well-rounded, real characters whose emotions are easily felt: Charly and Lucy, of course, but also the hate-filled farmer Yates, his beaten wife Bonnie, and the Ashwoods who adopt Charly, both so desperate to replace their dead daughter.

I read the book in two sittings, and it flowed so well and was engrossing. I recommend The Lost Blackbird to everyone with a heart, so everyone!

Book description

A powerful story of sisters cruelly torn apart by a shameful event in British-Australian history. Clare Flynn, author of The Pearl of Penang
London 1962. A strict and loveless English children’s home, or the promise of Australian sunshine, sandy beaches and eating fruit straight from the tree. Which would you choose?
Ten-year-old Lucy Rivers and her five-year-old sister Charly are thrilled when a child migrant scheme offers them the chance to escape their miserable past.
But on arrival in Sydney, the girls discover their fantasy future is more nightmare than dream.
Lucy’s lot is near-slavery at Seabreeze Farm where living conditions are inhuman, the flies and heat unbearable and the owner a sadistic bully. What must she do to survive?
Meanwhile Charly, adopted by the nurturing and privileged Ashwood family, gradually senses that her new parents are hiding something. When the truth emerges, the whole family crumbles. Can Charly recover from this bittersweet deception?
Will the sisters, stranded miles apart in a strange country, ever find each other again?
A poignant testament to child migrants who suffered unforgivable evil, The Lost Blackbird explores the power of family bonds and our desire to know who we are.

AmazonUK | AmazonUS

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