Author: Alli Sinclair
Publication Date: May 21st 2018
Publisher: Harlequin Mira
Copy: Courtesy of the Publisher
Burning Fields is a bit of a change of direction for Australian author Alli Sinclair in that it is set right here in Australia, in the time following World War II.
Sinclair has taken a time of great upheaval for women and explored what this period meant, the war was over and many men were returning home; needing to adjust to life away from the war and often take back their pre-war jobs. Women who had stepped up during the war effort and worked were now expected to return to their traditional roles. Not all women were happy to step back into their previous roles.
Rosie Stanton has been in Brisbane but an unexpected crumbling of the life she had built sees her return to the family farm in the small town of Piri River. She wants to help run the farm but some old-fashioned attitudes are difficult to shift now that the war is over.
Burning Fields is a story that explores many of the issues faced in the post-war days from farming succession, love, loss, discrimination, the suspicion of those different to us, addiction, loyalty and family.
Rosie returns to the family farm to find her father struggling with the books, but unwilling to allow her to take over, her mother suffering the loss of her sons to the war and everything else the same as it has always been. A setting as familiar and welcome as you could hope for, though now that she is grown her father is less likely to let her roam the way she did when she was much younger. Around the workmen is no place for a young lady, and Rosie is determined to make him see that she is capable.
The Stanton cane farm is a multicultural place but Mr Stanton holds little regard for Italians, and Rosie can not understand why. It’s a blanket attitude towards the entire race but he is especially wary of the Conti family next door, Italians who have bought the farm in recent years.
Tomas is the newest Conti to the farm, running from his wartime memories to the new home his family have made in Australia. Tomas loves his new country but he still struggles to adapt and settle because the people aren’t always so willing to accept strangers.
A friendship grows between Tomas and Rosie, which of course isn’t something that is ideal. There are already tensions brewing between the families and this friendship could certainly ignite the issue.
Rosie finds herself managing the farm after her father falls ill and is left with little choice, but that lack of choice certainly shows when another option arises. Rosie’s dedication to the job, and her family, is unquestionable. She gives her all to looking after both her struggling parents, and managing the farm; all without going near the workmen; and never quite understanding what makes her parents tick.
There are a lot of secrets being kept and when they come out it will be anyone’s guess where the chips will fall.
We get to know Tomas through his recollections of the past and the part he played in the war but it’s a story that unfolds very slowly throughout the whole narrative. Slowly we discover what he did, why he’s troubled and why Rosie is being warned off getting close to him by those who love him the most.
Rosie is holding in a lot of emotion, things that she’s been carrying for years and when finally she begins to open up about her feelings it all comes pouring out. It opens a path of healing for her and a way forward for the relationships in her family.
The good thing about small communities is that often it doesn’t matter if you don’t see eye to eye when tragedy strikes, the community will come together to do what has to be done in a crisis. It’s unfortunate that sometimes it takes a crisis for people to put aside their prejudices and see people as individuals rather than grouping together entire races. I guess in the long run as long as it is all set aside that’s the main thing.
Alli Sinclair has done it again, she has written a story that brings together two very different people, two very different places and two times that may only span 5 years but when it comes to times of war 5 years can be a lifetime.
Burning Fields is a story that I really enjoyed, I liked the slow unfolding of the mysteries and I was firmly on the side of Rosie, cheering her on to get the position she so desperately wanted, and was perfect for.
It was interesting to explore a post-war community that was on one hand quite multicultural but at the same time prejudiced.
Burning Fields brings together very different worlds for healing, moving forward and new growth in the post-war canefields of northern Queensland. A story with a strong-willed and passionate heroine I couldn’t help but love.
Burning Fields is Book #26 for the Australian Women Writer’s Challenge 2018.