Book Review – Only Birds Above ~ Plus Zoom Interview With Portland Jones

With Ukraine happening all around me as I began reading Portland Jones’ second novel, Only Birds Above, just published by Fremantle Press, I went through various stages of grief – and anger.

War. Bloody war. Interminable war. The atrocities. The reality that those who never seem to suffer are those sitting in their impregnable, bomb-proof bunkers far away from the ‘theatres’ of war.

Those who are at the front, and those close to them, however, inevitably suffer. Both at the time and later.

As with Ukraine, Only Birds Above has war themes. WW1 and WW2 are happening around you, although as it happens in theatres of war novelists don’t often visit. ‘The Holy Lands’, WA’s famous 10th Light Horse, in the first case, and Sumatra, the Pekanbaru Death Railway, in the second. Although there is a unity of action here through the direct experiences of father and son, wife and daughter are indirectly, but, as you’d expect, no less crucially enmeshed.

Portland Jones has imagined war in Palestine and prisoner of war conditions in Sumatra with reality and colour. I say colour as well as reality, because I’ve always imagined past wars, before my birth, in black and white, not in the full and changing colours of summer, autumn, winter and spring. Not in real life. Fooling myself I suppose.

Death is, not surprisingly, with us tragically in these pages. How do soldiers and prisoners of war cope? Before and after. How do loved ones cope? Before and after. How do kids cope during and after when their parents don’t seem able? With difficulty.

But we keep on waring.

There is also fun, and history, and simpler times, and love and poignancy in these pages. War and peace. Arthur, Helen, Ruth, Tom.

I really enjoyed the story lines, I learned things. Indeed I came to better understand how it must have been for my own grandfather in Palestine, he also a member of the 10th Light Horse from Western Australia who feature in the WW1 scenes.

Our editor, Michael Barker, was also fortunate to be able to speak with the Portland Jones about her latest novel.

Here’s the Zoom podcast interview with Portland Jones.

* By Michael Barker Editor, Fremantle Shipping News

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