BOOK CLUB: A Stranger In My Street

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Author: Deborah Burrows
ISBN: 9781742611013
RRP: $26.99

The year is 1943 and there is a World War raging. Perth is plastered with propaganda posters and in the midst of an American invasion with troops stationed permanently in the city.

I went into this book with an open mind and a deliberate lack of expectations. I wasn’t really sure what I was going to be letting myself in for so I wanted to be open to all eventualities.

Perth is pumping, there are lots of parties and lots of dancing. The women in Perth are having a ball living it up with the American troops; they have more of everything and are extremely generous with the Australians that welcome them.

Meg Eaton isn’t enjoying anything about the war as she struggles back from the heartbreak of losing her love to the war. And then everything changes the day she discovers a body in the neighbour’s back yard, and meets the older brother her lover idolised.

The discovery of the body changes everything in this quiet little street, it starts to show people in a different light  and demonstrate the discrimination faced by minority groups. Discrimination is present all the time, we see it even today in many different forms, but it seems that in times of war it becomes even more pronounced. All are judged on the actions of some. Men born in Australia of Italian parents are branded Italians, stereotyped and judged on the basis of their parentage, because the Italians are not fighting with the Australians in this war.

a stranger in my street

The discovery of Doreen’s body is the turning point for many people involved in this story and from this point on we delve into the lives of Perth natives and their American visitors throughout this bloody period of history. The men who were physically injured, psychologically damaged, those left behind by the men who didn’t make it home and the soldiers trying to make it bearable far from home.

On the surface this book is the story of a murder investigation in a quiet street where everybody knows everybody else, a street steeped in a sense of community where in most cases everyone feels at least a slight sense of responsibility for their neighbours.

It is also the story of a generation of men who faced horrors that defy understanding by those of us who never faced it, a tribute to their bravery and the demons that those who made it home had to live with for all of their days.

And it’s the story of corruption, addiction and deception that runs rife in a society plagued by rationing and conscription on their struggle back from the depression.

Of course there are also elements of romance so this books really does have a bit of everything.

If you are interested in the modern history of our country and the every day lives of people in a city affected by war but not in the first line of defence then I think this is a book you will enjoy. It was interesting to picture a Perth of today as it would have been during WWII, still struggling back from the depression.

The mystery and piecing together the puzzle of the murder captured me. The immediate finger pointed at the husband for reasons I won’t go into, by the police and the community. It is just that trusting Meg believes better of him and undertakes some sleuthing of her own.

Deborah Burrows has taken a dark time in our history and brought it to life in a way that I wasn’t expecting. The characters are vivid and I can actually picture Lagrange in his khakis, more so than the Americans in their tailored uniforms.

12 thoughts on “BOOK CLUB: A Stranger In My Street

  1. I’ll start this review by saying that I’m not the biggest fan of history. It was always my least favourite subject at school – perhaps because of our monotonous teacher who was old enough to be in the textbooks herself – and I viewed much of what we learned as a dreary timeline of dates, events and names. To me, history neither had that spark of life (pun intended), nor the captivating fascination of other subjects.

    This is why I was so surprised by how much I genuinely enjoyed this book. I’ll admit I was tentative at first when I actually received the book and saw all the pages, the weight of the novel in my hands capturing unwelcome flashbacks of the heavy textbooks we used in class. Yet once I began to read and immerse myself in the very different world of Perth during WWII, those textbooks became a distant memory (as they should be).

    The strength of this book comes from its ability to beautifully capture and portray the holistic atmosphere of a vibrant city affected by the war, from the dances and parties of the social scene to the multi-layered war heroes and everyday Australian locals that bring the town to life. Hitting the right balance between descriptions, dialogue and narrative, the prose is written smoothly and consistently, and makes for an easy read. I was especially impressed with the meticulous details that Burrows seemed to effortlessly integrate throughout the book, such as the WWII propaganda posters that she even went so far as to describe and quote, without ambitiously over-scrutinizing the details as one might be tempted to do. Reaching the final pages, the notes on “Further Reading” displays the great lengths of research that was put into this book, and such effort certainly gives the novel a realistic, honest glow.

    Further, the characters are well described and three dimensional. It is completely believable that such individuals could have lived in Perth in 1943, and Burrows does a brilliant job of bringing each of their personalities and mannerisms to life. In particular, I really enjoyed following the relationship between main protagonists, Meg Eaton and Tom Lagrange. Their relationship is complicated enough to start with as Tom is the older brother of Meg’s past lover who was recently killed in the war, but entwine that with a murder mystery, a fiercely jealous fiance, corruption in the army, unjust racism and a scandalous newspaper that reports it all, and you’ve just scratched the surface of this complicated plot.

    All in all, I have to say that this book has restored my faith in history being more than comatose-inducing textbooks. I remember studying Australia during WWII in class and would have loved it if a book like this was a reading requirement, because I learned so much about the past from the story yet it never felt like studying due to the effortless integration. This is a lovely read that I would recommend to friends, especially if I know someone learning about WWII or is interested in history. For a debut author, this book is brilliant, and I look forward to future books by Burrows.

    Thanks Beauty and Lace for this review opportunity… and a chance to reconnect with our fascinating past!

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