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Pre­pare to be beguiled by beau­ti­ful prose in this tale of love, death and iden­tity,

Australian Women’s Weekly NZ - - CONTENTS - writes Juliet Rieden.

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The River Sings by San­dra Leigh Price, Harper­Collins.

The first thing that strikes you about this rich and lyri­cal novel is the lan­guage. Au­thor San­dra Leigh Price is a beau­ti­ful wordsmith and her at times mag­i­cal, of­ten bru­tal, fa­ble based on the English gyp­sies who were trans­ported to Aus­tralia in the 1800s be­guiles with its lilt­ing prose preg­nant with Ro­many phras­ing.

“My in­spi­ra­tion for The River Sings came in three strik­ing im­ages,” San­dra tells The Aus­tralian Women’s Weekly. “One was the Ro­many tra­di­tion of bury­ing dead chil­dren by the side of the road with acorns in their palms so that they’d al­ways be near the road and never lonely or for­got­ten.

“The other was the idea of dolls and ob­jects as hold­ers of mem­ory – in par­tic­u­lar, the young Princess Alexan­d­rina (later Queen Vic­to­ria) and her fas­ci­na­tion with dolls. And lastly, my con­vict an­ces­tor’s house, which still stands in Rich­mond, NSW. I was fas­ci­nated by the turn­around of his for­tune within a short time and the idea of emo­tional dam­age trans­porta­tion caused fam­i­lies left be­hind.”

The story opens in 1819 on a ru­ral Ro­many camp in Eng­land with the vivid scene of Pa­trin, the daugh­ter of Ro­many gyp­sies Josiah and Sarah, giv­ing birth. Josiah is catch­ing rab­bits as Pa­trin’s wa­ters break and he and Sarah take their daugh­ter into the freez­ing swirling river for a wa­ter birth.

The wider “kin” in­sist on a later bap­tism, su­per­sti­tiously fearing bad luck, but Pa­trin knows her daugh­ter is a “River­ling” (her pri­vate name for the tot), who was nat­u­rally bap­tised the minute she was born.

When dad Am­ber­line sees his daugh­ter, he gives her a sil­ver heart, which he has fash­ioned from a six­pence, and names her Eglan­tine af­ter his mother, who lives in London. The ac­tion then jumps and we find six-year-old Eglan­tine liv­ing with her fa­ther and a house­keeper in a chic house in London, with no sign of the child’s mother Pa­trin.

Am­ber­line is teach­ing his daugh­ter the art of pick­pock­et­ing, which is at the heart of his du­plic­i­tous stock and trade. Eglan­tine is a con­fused lit­tle girl, des­per­ate to please her fa­ther, un­aware of her Ro­many her­itage yet clearly drawn to her wa­tery destiny.

What hap­pens next is a com­plex tale of love and death (in­clud­ing a hang­ing), guile and in­nate na­ture, as Eglan­tine is buf­feted be­tween her fa­ther’s brash, dark and de­vi­ous world, her in­ner gypsy and a new love who of­fers life in a brave new world – Aus­tralia’s New South Wales.

Watch out for a fab­u­lous rat-catch­ing episode in Kens­ing­ton Palace and some prophetic Ro­many royal palm-read­ing de­li­ciously wo­ven into our hero­ine’s com­plex and en­gross­ing jour­ney.

Pa­trin knows her daugh­ter is a ‘River­ling’ (her name for the tot), who was nat­u­rally bap­tised the minute she was born.

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