Cover image for A river town
A river town
Keneally, Thomas.
Personal Author:
First edition in the U.S.A.
Publication Information:
New York : N.A. Talese, [1995]

Physical Description:
324 pages ; 25 cm
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"A novel based on real events in the life of Thomas Keneally's grandfather, A River Town takes us back to the turn of the century. Like the immigrants who came to America's shores, Tim Shea has left his native Ireland and its confining social codes to seek the wide-open spaces of Australia. Struggling to make a living as a storekeeper and to support a growing family, Shea finds his stubborn integrity has made him vulnerable to the kinds of social pressures he thought he had left behind in Ireland." "A River Town tells of how a man triumphs through compassion, of the heroism of looking beyond a community's easy prejudices. Engrossing, funny, and touching, it is, in short, vintage Keneally."--BOOK JACKET.Title Summary field provided by Blackwell North America, Inc. All Rights Reserved

Author Notes

Thomas Keneally was born in Sydney, Australia on October 7, 1935. Although he initially studied for the Catholic priesthood, he abandoned that idea in 1960, turning to teaching and clerical work before writing and publishing his first novel, The Place at Whitton, in 1964. Since that time he has been a full-time writer, aside from the occasional stint as a lecturer or writer-in-residence.

He won the Booker Prize in 1982 for Schindler's Ark, which Stephen Spielberg adapted into the film Schindler's List. He won the Miles Franklin Award twice with Bring Larks and Heroes and Three Cheers for the Paraclete. His other fiction books include The Chant of Jimmy Blacksmith, Gossip from the Forest, Confederates, The People's Train, Bettany's Book, An Angel in Australia, The Widow and Her Hero, and The Daughters of Mars. His nonfiction works include Searching for Schindler, Three Famines, The Commonwealth of Thieves, The Great Shame, and American Scoundrel. In 1983, he was awarded the order of Australia for his services to Australian Literature.

Thomas Keneally is the recipient of the 2015 Australia Council Award for Lifetime Achievement in Literature. The award, formerly known as the Writers' Emeritus Award, recognises 'the achievements of eminent literary writers over the age of 60 who have made an outstanding and lifelong contribution to Australian literature.

(Bowker Author Biography)

Reviews 3

Booklist Review

With 21 novels to his name, including Schindler's List (1982), internationally acclaimed Australian writer Keneally navigates the fictional universe with consummate ease. His own family history figures in this intricate tale of small-town life in New South Wales at the end of the nineteenth century. Keneally's exquisitely moral and individualistic narrator, Tim Shea, is eager to cast off the restrictive social mores of his native Ireland but is also leery of the rough-and-tumble ethos of his frontier home. A barely solvent shopkeeper, his philosophical and spiritual balancing act is put to the test in a series of tragic events. First, when no one can, or will, identify a young woman who died trying to terminate a pregnancy, the police--in a grisly act of expedience that horrifies Tim--decapitate her and cart her head from town to town. Then, another accidental death of a stranger brings Lucy, an eerily self-possessed young girl, into his life just when his marvelously imperturbable wife, Kitty, is quarantined during a plague scare. Amid all these distressing trials and tribulations, Tim is also subject to vicious gossip, blatant harassment, a soul-searing conflict over his friendship with a Muslim herbalist, and serious financial woes. His river town, a tiny huddle in a vast and mysterious land, is rife with petty tyrants and their worthless taboos, but Tim holds his own, able to simultaneously open and steel his heart. Rich in context and psychologically elegant, this is a beautifully rendered tale that gains potency in reflection. (Reviewed Mar. 15, 1995)0385476965Donna Seaman

Publisher's Weekly Review

Australia at the turn of the century is the setting for Keneally's 21st novel, surely his most masterfully crafted, morally searching and compassionate work. Reflecting a keen and ironic awareness of social injustice, it's a thoroughly gripping story that follows its protagonist over a four-month span as some seemingly unrelated events take on tragic significance and move to a dramatic confluence and a dark night of the soul. Tim Shea, proprietor of a general store in Kempsey, a little river town in New South Wales, is aware that the community is devoid of refinement and amenities. Yet he is disturbed that the severed head of a young woman who died after an abortion is displayed in a glass jar to help the constable learn her identity. He is also dismayed to encounter the same hypocritical social conventions and rigid class stratifications that led him to leave his native Ireland. Yet Tim himself is prejudiced against young Muslim medicine hawker Bandy Habash, who tries to cultivate his good will, and he is only dimly aware of how the aboriginal tribes are scorned and subjugated by the new settlers. Content to be a devoted husband to Kitty and father to two children, a generous businessman and a modest bystander to the community's events, Tim is pushed into the limelight when he rescues two children orphaned in an accident; the destiny of one of them, little Lucy Rochester, becomes entwined with that of his own family. Then bubonic plague comes to Australia, and Tim's peril is financial as well as physical, for he stands to lose his livelihood even if he escapes with his life. Because of the enmity of some men in high places, he realizes he has become an outsider: ``I am a white nigger,'' he despairs. Keneally's adroitness in handling period detail is superb. He makes the cultural and historical background vividly clear: from the names of Australian writers and poets to the atmosphere engendered by England's insistent exhortations to Australians to join the mother country in the Boer War; from details of topography and weather to the emigrants' dress, social behavior and everyday speech. The narrative has a mesmerizing readability, a succession of inspired scenes whose unflagging momentum leads to a powerful denouement. The story is haunting because it is both commonplace and universal. Keneally looks clearly at moral rot, but he is cautiously optimistic about the survival of good people and the uplifting heritage they bequeath. Major ad/promo; author tour. (Apr.) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved

Library Journal Review

Here is another departure from the author of such widely diverse books as Confederates, Schindler's List, The Playmaker, and Woman of the Inner Sea. Australian Keneally draws on his immigrant heritage in this turn-of-the-century story of Tim Shea, an Irish storekeeper struggling with his own and society's demons to make a life for his family in New South Wales. Deaths frame the novel: Tim is haunted by the image of a nameless young woman, dead from an abortion, whose severed head is trotted around in a jar by the local constable in an effort to identify her; and after attending to a farmer killed in a gory buggy accident, Tim feels obliged to support the farmer's elder child, Lucy. First regarded as a hero for his quick action after the cart accident, then excoriated publicly for his anti-Boer War sentiments, Tim fears losing his business. A final quarantine after exposure to the black plague ends Tim's tribulations. The Irish/Australian dialect is difficult at first, and the narrative sometimes seems flat despite the often melodramatic events. Nevertheless, this book, which teems with themes from race and class discrimination to the wages of sin, has the flavor of a 19th-century novel, and Keneally may catch the historical saga market with it. [For an in-depth look at River Town and the publishing process, see "The Birth of a Book," on p. 122-124; previewed in Prepub Alert, LJ 12/94.]-Francine Fialkoff, "Library Journal" (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.