Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Esty's Gold by Mary Arrigan

There is a perfect little philosophical statement towards the end of this well written and well researched historical novel Esty’s gold by Mary Arrigan : “It’s a funny thing about life : one moment you can be in the depths of despair and the next you are working a new plan to make things better.”

Esty is living through the Irish potato famine and while her family are not farmers and she herself is not starving, the impact of these terrible events is nevertheless devastating. Early in this story Esty (short for Esther) befriends a young starving girl called Brigid only to witness her quiet death as they sit together outside Esty’s home.

Following the death of her own father, he works for the land owner as a tax collector, Esty herself is sent into service. Here she makes real friends and learns important life lessons. Having the rare skill of literacy, she reads all about the discovery of gold in Australia and so when an offer is made to send her mother and grandfather to America she persuades all concerned that instead they should head to Australia.

This story is told in two parts. Life in Ireland and life on the Goldfields. I especially liked the way Arrigan made the transition between the two times. She didn’t labour over the journey to Australia but just filled us in gradually, through Esty’s eyes, as she journey’s to the goldfields encountering prospectors, and bushrangers along the way. The characters and relationships in this story will stay with me for a long time. This is an excellent book for senior Primary students even though the publisher’s web site lists it as suitable for 12-15 year olds. I had to keep reminding myself the author is Irish and lives in Ireland because the second half of the book in the goldfields feels very authentic.

If you need an accessible way to explain the politics of Ireland in 1850s and the politics of the Eureka Stockade in Australia this is the perfect little novel.

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