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  • Written by Matthew Kneale
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  • English Passengers
  • Written by Matthew Kneale
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A Novel

Written by Matthew KnealeAuthor Alerts:  Random House will alert you to new works by Matthew Kneale

eBook

List Price: $11.99

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On Sale: December 10, 2008
Pages: 464 | ISBN: 978-0-307-48431-4
Published by : Anchor Knopf
English Passengers Cover

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ABOUT THE BOOK ABOUT THE BOOK
ABOUT THE AUTHOR ABOUT THE AUTHOR
PRAISE & AWARDS PRAISE & AWARDS
READER'S GUIDE READER'S GUIDE
Synopsis|Excerpt

Synopsis

In 1857 when Captain Illiam Quillian Kewley and his band of rum smugglers from the Isle of Man have most of their contraband confiscated by British Customs, they are forced to put their ship 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 sinister thesis about the races of men.

Meanwhile, an aboriginal in Tasmania named Peevay recounts his people’s struggles against the invading British, a story that begins in 1824, moves into the present with approach of the English passengers in 1857, and extends into the future in 1870. These characters and many others come together in a storm of voices that vividly bring a past age to life.

Excerpt

Say a man catches a bullet through his skull in somebody's war, so where's the beginning of that? You might say that's easy. That little moment has its start the day our hero goes marching off to fight with his new soldier friends, all clever and smirking and waving at the girls. But does it, though? Why not the moment he first takes the shilling, his mouth hanging wide open like a harvest frog as he listens to the sergeant's flatterings? Or how about that bright sunny morning when he's just turned six and sees soldiers striding down the village street, fierce and jangling? But then why not go right back, all the way, to that long, still night when a little baby is born, staring and new, with tiniest little hands? Hands you'd never think would grow strong enough one day to lift a heavy gun, and put a bullet through our poor dead friend's brain.
If I had to choose a beginning for all these little curiosities that have been happening themselves at me, well, I'd probably pick that morning when we were journeying northwards from a certain discreet French port, where tobacco and brandy were as cheap as could be. Not that it seemed much like the beginning of anything at the time, but almost the end, or so I was hoping. The wind was steady, the ship was taking her weather nicely, and as we went about our work I dare say every man aboard was having a fine time dreaming money he hadn't yet got, and what pleasures it might buy him. Some will have been spending it faster than a piss over the side, dreaming themselves a rush of drink and smoke, then perhaps a loan of a sulky female's body. A few might have dreamed every penny on a new jacket or boots, to dazzle Peel City with fashion for a day or two. Others would have kept cautious, dreaming it on rent paid and wives quieted.
And Illiam Quillian Kewley?
As the Sincerity jumped and juddered with the waves I was dreaming Castle Street on a Saturday morning, all bustle and everyone scrutineering everyone else, with Ealisad walking at my side in a fine new dress, both of us holding our heads high as Lords, and nobody saying, "Look see, there's Kewleys--don't you know they used to be somebody." Or I dreamed my great-grandfather, Juan, who I never met, but who was known as Big Kewley on account of being the only Kewley ever to make money rather than lose it. There he was, clear as day, leaning out of heaven with a telescope, and calling out in a voice loud as thunder, "Put a sight on him, Illiam Quillian, my own great-grandson. Now there's a man who can."
Then all of a sudden our dreamings were interrupted. Tom Teare was calling down from the masthead, where he was keeping watch. "Sail. Sail to the northwest."
Not that anyone thought much on his shout then. The English Channel is hardly the quietest stretch of ocean, so there seemed nothing too worrying in discovering another ship creeping along. The boys went on scrubbing down the deck, while chief mate Brew and myself carried on standing on the quarterdeck, making sure they kept at it.
But you should know a little about the Sincerity, as there was a wonder all made of wood if ever there was one. Truly, you couldn't imagine a vessel that looked more normal from the outside. I dare say she was a little old--her prow was round and blunt and well out of fashion, and her quarterdeck was too high for modern tastes--but other-wise she seemed as ordinary as seawater. I'd wager you could've spent all day aboard and still been none the wiser. Unless, that is, you had a particular eye for the measure of things. Or you happened to take a look above the inside top rim of the door to the pantry.
And that would be hardly likely.




Matthew Kneale

About Matthew Kneale

Matthew Kneale - English Passengers

Photo © Frederic Reglain/Gamma

Matthew Kneale is the authorof the novel When We Were Romans, the short story collection Small Crimes in an Age of Abundance and the novel English Passengers, which won the Whitbread Book of the Year Award and was short-listed for the Booker Prize. He is a keen traveler who has lived in Japan, Canada, and Italy, and has journeyed extensively across the globe, visiting seven continents and walking in mountains from New Guinea to Ethiopia, Patagonia to Pakistan. Kneale lives in Rome, Italy, with his wife and two children.
Praise | Awards

Praise

?A grim but hilarious historical novel involving the extinction of the Tasmanians [and] a search for the Garden of Eden.??The New York Times Book Review

Awards

WINNER ALA Best Books for Young Adults
WINNER 2000 Whitbread Book of the Year
FINALIST 2000 Man Booker Prize
Reader's Guide|About the Book|Author Biography|Discussion Questions

About the Book

The questions, discussion topics, and suggested reading that follow are designed to enhance your group's reading of Matthew Kneale's English Passengers, a riveting historical novel that was nominated for the prestigious Booker Prize (2000). Set in the nineteenth century, it explores in dramatic, eyewitness detail the colonization of Tasmania and the thirst for conquest, adventure, and fame that propelled the spread of the British Empire.

About the Guide

English Passengers presents the diverse and often conflicting perspectives of a remarkable cast of characters—including British convicts, government officials, missionaries who impose their European standards and self-serving rules on the native population, aboriginal Tasmanians caught in a desperate struggle for survival, and members of a bizarre expedition searching for the Garden of Eden. The narrative begins in 1857, as Captain Illiam Quillian Kewley of the Sincerity, thwarted in his plans to smuggle tobacco and brandy into England, is forced to put his boat up for charter. He soon finds himself bound for the Pacific, carrying not only his well-hidden contraband but also the Reverend Geoffrey Wilson, an eccentric vicar out to prove that the Biblical Garden of Eden lies in the heart of Tasmania; Dr. Thomas Potter, an arrogant scientist developing a revolutionary and sinister theory about the races of mankind; and Timothy Renshaw, a diffident young botanist. Each man offers a highly personalized record of the high seas adventures and internecine feuds that mark the voyage.

The situation that awaits them in Tasmania is brought to life in narratives exposing the dark history of British and aboriginal relationships since the 1820s. Peevay, the son of an Aborigine raped by an escaped convict, describes the subjugation of his people by English invaders who are as lethal in their good intentions as they are in their cruelty. His impressions, ironically confirmed by reports from white officials, schoolteachers, and settlers, chronicle the destruction of a thriving, self-sufficient community in the name of God, science, and "civilization."

Based on historical facts, English Passengers is an epic tale, packed with swashbuckling adventure, humor, and memorable characters. Matthew Kneale renders the prejudices and follies of the Imperialist Age with dead-on accuracy and captures—through the voice and destiny of Peevay and his tribesmen—the irreversible tragedies it wrought.

About the Author

Matthew Kneale, the author of several novels, lives in Italy. English Passengers is his American debut.

Discussion Guides

1. 2

2. English Passengers focuses on the evils of colonialism and particularly on the racism that "legitimized" it. Kneale cites several examples of insidious racial theories that started in the 1850s and continued to flourish in the twentieth century [p. 440]. What other figures or writings perpetuate this legacy? In what ways do they echo Potter's pseudo-science and Wilson's insistence on the literal truth of the Bible?


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