The Lieutenant | Kate Grenville

I enjoy Kate Grenville’s historical fiction. She gets under the skin of her characters, she sees old stories anew. She applies our current sensibilites and understandings to old situations to help us see them with fresh insights. She adds complexity and nuance to the dry history texts we all grew up with.

This is the story of Rooke (aka Dawes) who comes to Australia on the First Fleet as an astronomer. Grenville, through Rooke, provides another voice, another view about that fateful landing and the impact it had on the local inhabitants.

Rooke is also a linguist and it is only natural for him to try and learn the local languages. But to learn the language he has to befriend them first. And with friendship comes connection, kinship & understanding. An understanding that most of his fellow first fleeters are loathe to believe or even care about.This is an adult story that many older teens would also appreciate. It would fit into the HSC ‘Belonging’ theme quite nicely.

Kate Grenville’s The Lieutenant is a gripping story about friendship, self-discovery, and the power of language set along the unspoiled shores of 1788 New South Wales.

As a boy, Daniel Rooke was always an outsider. Ridiculed in school and misunderstood by his parents, Daniel could only hope, against all the evidence, that he would one day find his place in life. When he joins the marines and travels to New South Wales as a lieutenant on the First Fleet, Daniel finally sees his chance for a new beginning. As his countrymen struggle to control their cargo of convicts and communicate with those who already inhabit the land, Daniel constructs an observatory to chart the stars and begin the scientific work he prays will make him famous. But the place where they have landed will prove far more revelatory than the night sky. Out on his isolated point, Daniel comes to intimately know the local Aborigines and forges a remarkable connection with one young girl, Tagaran, that will forever change the course of his life. As the strained coexistence between the Englishmen and the native tribes collapses into violence, Daniel is forced to decide between dedication to his work, allegiance to his country, and his protective devotion to Tagaran and her people.

Inspired by the notebooks of British astronomer William Dawes, The Lieutenant is a remarkable story about the poignancy and emotional power of a friendship that defies linguistic and cultural barriers, and shows one ordinary man that he is capable of exceptional courage.

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