“Death of a River Guide makes good on a truly soaring ambition and flirts with literary greatness. . . . An indelible vision of how surely the history of a land plays its part in shaping the interior landscape of the human beings who occupy it.” —The Chicago Tribune
With Death of a River Guide, Richard Flanagan gives us an extraordinary novel as sprawling and compelling as the land and people it describes. Beneath a waterfall on a remote Tasmanian river, Aljaz Cosini is drowning. Beset by visions, he relives not just his own life but that of his family and forebears. He sees his father, Harry, burying his own father, Boy. He sees Boy himself as a young man, and his Auntie Ellie, chased by a cow she believes is a Werowa spirit. In the waters that rush over him Aljaz finds a world where his story connects to family stories that are Aboriginal, Celtic, Italian, English, Chinese, and East European—what he ultimately discovers in the flood of the past is the soul history of his country.
"The whole river is like a huge army on the march, overrunning the countryside, taking all before it, collecting ever greater strength from every dripping moss-lined rock face, from every overexcited stream." This body of water, Tasmania's Franklin River, is agent of life and death in Australian writer Flanagan's dark, prophetic novel. Jason Krezwa and Aljaz Cosini are the guides on a rafting trip that turns bad when the river floods. One of the paying guests dies and, shortly afterward, Aljaz stumbles into the raging waters and drowns. Granted the legendary ability of drowning men to see their life flash before them, Aljaz envisions his life, the lives of his mother and father and their ancestors, too. Family histories intertwine with the story of the four-day river journey, a trip perversely confirming Aljaz's sense of utter failure. The narrative skips from Aljaz's father, Harry, to his great-grandfather Ned Quade, a convict who died in the Tasmanian wilderness escaping from his captors. Aljaz himself has led a sad life, the low point the death of his daughter, Jemma, which permanently soured his relationship with his lover, Couta Ho. Aljaz's vision deepens some knowledge he already possesses--for instance, that Harry's grandmother was an aborigine. Harry and Aljaz are both decent men whose lives narrow to a cycle of futile efforts and bad luck. Like Australian Nobelist Patrick White, Flanagan (The Sound of One Hand Clapping) has a sense of history as a vast entanglement of genealogies, beginning with the original sin of deportation and compounded by the extermination or expropriation of the "blackfellas." Flanagan has written a Tasmanian anti-epic, an honest, painful investigation of the repressed, convict-haunted past. . In any case, this novel won't sell itself but will benefit from intelligent marketing.