English Passengers

English Passengers

Book - 2000
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Random House, Inc.
"English Passengers is an old-fashioned book in the best sense: epic in scale, crammed with outsize characters, set in a long-ago time and a faraway place... 'A-'"
—Entertainment Weekly

"Robust and rollicking...unforgettable...It's tough to pull off a memorable epic, but Kneale has done it. So get comfortable, and be prepared to enter a fascinating world."
—New York Post

When Captain Illiam Quillian Kewley and his band of rum smugglers from the Isle of Man have most of their contraband—but not all—confiscated by British Customs, they are forced to put their ship Sincerity up for charter. The only takers are two eccentric Englishmen who want to embark for the other side of the globe.

The Reverend Geoffrey Wilson believes the Garden of Eden was on the island of Tasmania. His traveling partner, Dr. Thomas Potter, unbeknownst to Wilson, is developing a revolutionary, and sinister, thesis of his own, about the races of men. And these passengers are perhaps only slightly more odd than the crew itself, a diverse and lively bunch better equipped to entertain one another than to steer Sincerity around Cape Horn and across the Indian Ocean. Yet they set sail, pointed southward and bound for a thrilling, epic romp across the high seas and cultures of the nineteenth century.

Meanwhile, an aboriginal in Tasmania named Peevay recounts his people's struggles against the invading British, who prove as lethal in their good intentions as in their cruelty. This is no Eden but a world of hunting parties and colonial ethnic cleansing. As the English passengers haplessly approach Peevay's land, their bizarre notions ever more painfully at odds with reality, we know a mighty collision is looming.

Full of dangerous humor, English Passengers combines wit, adventure, and harrowing historical detail in a mesmerizing display of storytelling. Narrated by over twenty different characters, each one so distinct that the reader has the sense of a story not so much told as dazzlingly peopled, Matthew Kneale has created a buoyant tale, beautifully presented in a storm of voices that brings a past age to vivid and memorable life.

Baker & Taylor
While two Englishmen head for Tasmania on a confiscated pirate ship in search of the Garden of Eden, the British continue their violent "civilization" of the natives in this "paradise"

& Taylor

While two Englishmen head for Tasmania on a confiscated pirate ship in search of the Garden of Eden, the British continue their violent "civilization" of the natives in this "paradise."

Publisher: New York : Nan A. Talese, c2000
Edition: 1st ed. in the United States of America
ISBN: 9780385497435
Branch Call Number: FICTION KNEALE
Characteristics: ix, 446 p. ; 25 cm


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Jan 22, 2017

This book, Whitbread winner and Booker short list, tells the story of colonialism and the genocide of the aborigines of Tasmania. It is no doubt worthy in its intentions, but is less powerful than other books about the treatment of indigenous peoples everywhere. The many voices, while each presenting a different perspective, blended together, with only three or four characters distinctive. A well-known story; I did not finish it.

Nov 24, 2014

the more i think back about this book the more i really like it.
it's written from numerous narrator's points-of-view, so you really get a sense of what's going on and all sides of the issues. i learned more about Tasmanian history then i ever thought i would care to know. it's one i would re-read.

Sep 15, 2012

Wonderful characterisations, and his writing of the different "voices" is masterful. The sub-plot depicting the destruction of the Tasmanian Aborigines and their environment is heart-breaking. For me it was a big stretch to oscillate between the hilarious antics of the Manx smugglers and the desperate plight of Peevay and his mob. Not a comfortable read, but worth it for the overarching theme of resistance to oppression against all odds that crops up in all the sub-plots. I found it strangely hopeful.

Harriet_the_Spy Jun 16, 2011

This book is like two in one: a hilarious farce about an incompetent crew of Manx smugglers, and the tragic, and true, story of the destruction of Tasmania's aboriginal people. The two strands work surprisingly well together and the outcome is satisfying and more hopeful than you would expect.

Mar 24, 2010

This is one of my all-time favorite books. It's crammed with adventure and wit, social commentary and memorable characters. It will probably skewer one of your favorite viewpoints, as it cuts a broad swath, but will do more damage to those idiocies you hate. Read it. You won't regret it.

Dec 14, 2009

In 1857, Captain Illium Quillian Kewley is a rum smuggler. In order to lend an air of respectability to their escape from the clutches of suspicious customs officials, Captain Kewley and his crew take on three English passengers who are headed down under to Tasmania to find the original site of the Garden of Eden. This is the pet theory of Reverend Wilson; Dr. Potter is looking for supporting evidence for his sinister theories about the races of men. These guys are only slightly less odd than Captain Kewley and his rag-tag crew, who are currently on one of the worst runs of luck this side of the British Isles. Of course, it could be argued that the aboriginal tribes of Australia and Tasmania have it really bad?they are being systematically hunted down, rounded up, and ?civilized? by self-righteous colonialists. Peevay is one of these aborigines, a young boy whose greatest skill is his ability to endure. Kneale?s characters take turns narrating their stories, and they are distinct characters indeed. Captain Kewley is a clever rascal, Revered Wilson is priggish and sanctimonious, Peevay has a powerful ability to observe, and others provide glimpses into the real histories of the settlement of the Australian territories, including the brutal convict system. Author Matthew Kneale won the prestigious Whitbread Award (renamed the Costa Award in 2002) for this novel, and it?s a masterpiece of narrative voice that will make readers laugh and cry and keep the pages turning. The plotlines of Kewley?s ship and passengers are on a collision course with those of Peevay and the aborigines and settlers on Tasmania; the results of their meeting are the stuff great novels are made of.


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