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A stunning debut
“Eucalyptus blanketed the room. He had the feeling that the trees were peering in through the windows, that they had uprooted and crept over to take a peek. The leaves of the banana tree on the roof were a gentle tap tap tap let me in”
After the Fire, a Still Small Voice is the first novel by prize-winning Australian author, Evie Wyld. A story that spans three generations, it is told from the perspective of Frank, who, in the present day, is fleeing behaviour he is ashamed of; and of Leon, decades earlier, forced to follow in his father’s footsteps.
Frank arrives at Mulaburry, determined that life in his grandparents’ hut in the cane-fields will help him forget Lucy, the woman he mistreated. “The clearing was smaller than he remembered, like the cane had slunk closer to the pale wooden box hut. The banana tree stooped low over a corrugated roof”.
Having watched the broken remains of his father, once a master baker, return from the Korean War, Leon finds himself plucked from his own baking career to land in the jungles of Vietnam.
Wyld alternates the narratives so that the significant events of each man’s life are gradually revealed, and the reader learns how one man’s history impacts on that of the other. There are common elements to each narrative, echoes that draw the stories together: the wedding-cake figurines, the baker’s fare, the cane-fields hut.
Wyld’s characters are real and flawed, characters for whom the reader can readily hope, be disappointed in and exult in minor triumphs. Their moods are deftly evoked: “With effort he stood up, ignored the squealed noises of the teacher, the weird electric sound of laughter, saw only that Amy Blackwell’s blue eyes watched him as he walked out of the classroom, away from the school, heavy enough that he might sink into the ground and suffocate, or else fall on the pavement and shatter into splinters”
Wyld touches on some topical and age-old issues: domestic violence; child abduction; the devastating effect of war on the combatants’ psyche; the lack of support for Vietnam Veterans; racial discrimination. Wyld has a talent for descriptive prose and conveys her settings with consummate ease: the humidity of the Vietnamese jungle, the sounds of the Queensland cane-field, the langour of a Sydney Christmas, all are vividly heard, seen and felt. A stunning debut.