Ovens & Murray Advertiser - North East Regional Extra

Corporal Hitler’s Pistol

- with Mark from Edgars Books and News Wangaratta

FOR his 35th novel, Tom Keneally ensures that his reputation as Australia’s pre-eminent writer remains intact.

Winner of the Booker Prize in 1982 for Schindler’s Ark which was adapted into the 1993 Best Picture Academy Award winner Schindler’s List, Keneally’s writing encompasse­s early classics such as The Chant of Jimmie Blacksmith, Australian­s Volume 1, 2 and 3 through to the sensationa­l Dickens Boy.

Corporal Hitler’s Pistol proves that a great storytelle­r improves with age.

Set primarily in the north New South Wales coastal town of Kempsey in 1933 (an area Tom Keneally grew up in, although he was born in Sydney), the characters and townspeopl­e are the subject of gossip, rumour and innuendo as happens in all country towns.

While the main character is dairy farmer and returned World War I hero of German/Australian descent, Bert Webber, who is rumoured to possess a pistol that had belonged to Corporal Hitler this story has interconne­cting characters and stories woven through it and the ensemble characters fascinate and flesh out this book.

There is Flo Honeywood, wife of an eminent local builder, who spots a young aboriginal boy from the camp outside Kempsey who possesses an uncanny likeness to her husband.

Chicken Dalton, the effeminate and stylish pianist at the Victoria Cinema who rouged his cheeks to give the impression he suffers from TB.

Irish born farm manager Johnny Costigan, with mysterious links to the 1922 Irish Civil War and the repressed Christian Webber (son of Bert and Annie) who quietly pines for Chicken Dalton.

The storyline centres on Bert’s first visit to the local cinema in 14 years when, during the newsreel screened before the main picture, Bert recognises German politician Adolf Hitler as the skinny moustached Corporal Hitler he encountere­d back in the war.

His recollecti­on and memory of the encounter causes Bert to suffer a fit and his subsequent breakdown leads to electrocon­vulsive therapy and New Age mesmerism to help Bert heal.

Continual flashbacks to both World War I and the Irish civil war highlight the mental strain and continual effects of exposure to extreme violence.

Use of phrasing is superbly old school Australian and include ‘beat that for a quinella’,’you talk flash’ and ‘the hallway smelt like polish and virginity’.

Set in a country town and era so well known to rural Australian­s, Corporal Hitler’s Pistol is not afraid to cover early 20th century taboos such as black and white relationsh­ips, mental health issues, war and same sex relationsh­ips.

This is yarn-telling at its best and only a master wordsmith like Tom Keneally could bring all the strands together while heading towards an emotive and compelling ending.

I would recommend highly for bookclubs and for that person who loves Australian history.

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