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Remembering Babylon [Hardcover]

David Malouf
4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (10 customer reviews)

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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Great for a book club discussion March 21 2000
Our book club recently read this novel for its monthly selection and found it to be a good choice. Although a couple of members were confused by the book's seemingly aimless direction and lack of a central character, the discussion we had was very lively and interesting. The author's nuanced insight into the point of view of each character let us see the profound effects Gemmy had on all the lives of the villagers. The work takes some digging to fully appreciate; then its poetic artistry and structure and purpose become more evident. The key is not to expect the book to read like a conventional novel of cultural conflict. This is more like a prose poem where the details are distilled to essentials, where an entire community is compressed into five or six main individuals, where symbolism expands the meaning and emotional content, where lyrical language stimulates thought, where ambiguity and mystery draw in the reader without giving way to romance. Gemmy, the catalyst for change, is complex and hard to figure: on the one hand he is pathetic, childlike, and vulnerable but on the other he is observant, considerate and spiritual. He brings out the best of those in the village who are open to new experiences and the worst in those who are close-minded and fearful. Also he touches the reader. This fable will be appreciated by the poetically-inclined and scorned by the literal-minded.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
I didn't read this for a class or an essay but I can see how it might have ruined it for me if I had to pick through it trying to find something tangible to say. That said, I found the trading of power (or at least the characters' perception of it) in this book most compelling. From one second to the next, as the characters in a scene come and go, or the shock of first appearances fade or linger, a feeling of control quickly becomes one of fear and distrust. It's a true Malouf masterpiece because he makes us think about the people in our own world today by letting us into a story in an otherwise distant time and place. It's a beautiful book, and reads to me- like most of Malouf's writing- like a pure stream in a dirty world.
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4.0 out of 5 stars The repressive power of fear and conformity... May 7 2002
Gemmy Fairley doesn't belong anywhere. Tossed from the sea upon a wild Australian beach, the boy is a curiosity to the indigenous natives who discover and allow him to tag along, learning their language and customs. A strange yearning assails his dreams, images, memories of a beginning, brutal people and things barely glimpsed.
From a truly ignominious beginning, Gemmy schools himself to adapt to circumstances, intuiting acceptable behavior as necessary for survival. Throughout his wanderings with the Aborigines, he assumes the coloring of his surroundings, much as they do. But another voice, a distant curiosity calls Gemmy ever closer to the poverty-riddled settlers who view him as a threat. There is a life-defining moment for two young people, Lachlan and Janet, when they first see Gemmy, perched precariously atop a fence, held for a moment in time that marks their consciousness indelibly. Drawing Gemmy into their world, Lachlan is his mentor, Janet his friend, both protective of his innocence, forever fascinated with that first seminal glimpse.
In such an intimate and hardscrabble community, where human connections insure survival, Gemmy is a freak, too strange to be perceived as non-threatening, white, but with the outward visage of a black. Fearful and superstitious, they draw away, repulsed. Eventually, Gemmy finds himself moving back into the bush, unable to manage the demands of such a borderline civilization. Years later, as adults, Lachlan and Janet deeply reconnect over their youthful remembrance, that slender thread that attached them to Gemmy for that short time in their young lives.
The writing is powerful and beautifully rendered, with a sense of awareness that pulses with life. Immersed in nature's stark reality, words become feelings, thoughts merge with the heartbeat of humanity at its most vulnerable.
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3.0 out of 5 stars Sparse, but still rewarding Oct. 29 2001
By Megami
Remembering Babylon is the story of Gemmy - washed up on the Australian coast as a boy after a life of harshness that is hard to imagine, he is taken in by group of Aborigines. Sixteen years later, he makes himself known to the white community of northern Queensland, where he causes the community to examine not only it's attitude towards what is 'civilised', but also causes them to look inwards upon themselves.
This is a story about frontiers - the physical frontier of the small community that Gemmy joins; the frontier of the new state of Queensland; and the frontier between civilised and primitive. There is some beautiful work in this book, especially in its examination of small community dynamics, and coming of age. But I feel that Malouf starts threads that he doesn't bother to finish - the ambiguous characters of Mrs. Hutchence and Leona are introduced with promises of an exotic past, yet we never get to know them. George the school teacher is developed, only to be left out of the second half of the story. While Malouf manages to pack a lot of punch into a short tale, I feel that perhaps just a little be of expansion would have made this an even better book. But I will admit that I got a kick out of reading a story set in my home state of Queensland - it is nice to see that there is some Australian historical fiction set somewhere other than the Southern States!
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Most recent customer reviews
4.0 out of 5 stars Caught Between Worlds
Gemmy Fairley had been working as a ship hand when he became ill and feverish. His shipmates put him adrift on a raft rather than risk the health of the whole crew. Read more
Published on Jan. 2 2011 by Heather Pearson
4.0 out of 5 stars Fear And Ignorance
Mr. David Malouf has the ability to take familiar topics, amend them, and create a new viewpoint, a valid book, and worthwhile reading experience. Read more
Published on Jan. 26 2001 by taking a rest
2.0 out of 5 stars Confusing, even for an Australian!!
Remembering Babylon, I found wasn't aas good as I thought it was going to be. I found at times it was hard to read. I used it as a book to put me to sleep!!!! Read more
Published on May 30 1998
5.0 out of 5 stars The return of White man-child's return to his own language
Malouf doesn't need much introduction, in all truth, the fairest comment one can make is "read him." With that said and in the spirit of contradiction, here is why I believe... Read more
Published on May 26 1998 by Juan Mobili
4.0 out of 5 stars Notes on Malouf's "Remembering Babylon"
I found the issues addressed in this novel compelling. Firstly, the title, 'Remembering Babylon' refers to Psalm 137 where Hebrew slaves in Babylon lament the loss of Zion, their... Read more
Published on Nov. 9 1997
5.0 out of 5 stars Is civilization "civilized," the noble savage...
Setting this book in the mid-1800's on the nearly uninhabited north coast of Australia provides David Malouf with plenty of leeway to explore some of his favorite themes. Read more
Published on April 25 1997 by Mary Whipple
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