It is 1934, the Great War is long over and the next is yet to come. Amid billowing clouds of dust and information, the government 'Better Farming Train' slides through the wheat fields and small towns of Australia, bringing expert advice to those living on the land. The train is on a crusade to persuade the country that science is the key to ...
It is 1934, the Great War is long over and the next is yet to come. Amid billowing clouds of dust and information, the government 'Better Farming Train' slides through the wheat fields and small towns of Australia, bringing expert advice to those living on the land. The train is on a crusade to persuade the country that science is the key to successful farming, and that productivity is patriotic. In the swaying cars an unlikely love affair occurs between Robert Pettergree, a man with an unusual taste for soil, and Jean Finnegan, a talented young seamstress with a hunger for knowledge. In an atmosphere of heady scientific idealism, they marry and settle in the impoverished Mallee with the ambition of proving that a scientific approach to cultivation can transform the land. But after seasons of failing crops, and with a new World War looming, Robert and Jean are forced to confront each other, the community they have inadvertently destroyed, and the impact of their actions on an ancient and fragile landscape. Shot through with humour and a quiet wisdom, this haunting first novel vividly captures the hope and the disappointment of the era when it was possible to believe in the perfectibility of both nature and humankind. 'Beautifully written ...kindly, sometimes hilarious and ultimately very sad' Times Literary Supplement 'A peach of a first novel by a writer with a deep understanding of relationships and the outside pressures that wear away the good soil' Sunday Times
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Publishers Weekly, 2006-01-02 The dusty farms of 1930s Australia are the backdrop for this rich and knowing debut novel about science, love and the limits of progress. The "Better-Farming Train," commissioned by the Agricultural Department of the Province of Victoria, travels throughout the country educating agricultural communities. Behind "[f]ourteen cars of stock and science and produce" is the women's car, home to Sister Crock, stern infant welfare teacher; Mary Maloney, cooking lecturer; and Jean Cunningham, the curious, headstrong narrator and sewing instructor. Jean avoids the men in the sitting car, where everyone gathers during long train rides. About love, she says: "I am not looking for it." Nonetheless, love finds her in the form of Robert Pettergree, who has the unusual ability to identify the origin of any handful of soil by its taste. Robert's belief in scientific progress-exhibited in his eight maxims, the Rules for Scientific Living-is unshakable. Determined to prove his theories, Robert buys a farm for Jean and himself in the vast, impoverished wheat district called the Mallee. Despite drought, mice, economic depression and war, Jean and Robert struggle to fulfill the promises of science and love. Acclaimed Australian story writer Tiffany writes in a deceptively simple style, notable for its craft and heartbreaking clarity; that as well as her unusual yet utterly believable period characters make for a stunning debut. (May) Copyright 2006 Reed Business Information.
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