The Lost Blackbird is the third book by Liza Perrat that I’ve read, the others being The Silent Kookaburra and The Swooping Magpie. This is my favorite.
Ms. Perrat is an Australian author and she creates the world of that country with wonderful detail and ambience. Here she pays homage to the children brought to Australia from England’s orphanages and care centers in the 1960s, purportedly for a better life. These children were a costly burden to England, and the government’s solution was to ship them off to populate various other countries in its former Empire, often without any documentation of where they came from and whether they were in fact orphans. In Australia they became prisoners, working in slave labor camps with little food, clothing, or education and often beaten, degraded and subject to abuse. This is something I knew nothing about, but it is a story that has to be told.
Five year old Charly and her ten year old sister Lucy are sent to Easthaven Home for Girls in England when their mother is accused of killing their father by pushing him down the stairs and then is sent to prison for her crime. In fact, drunk and in a rage at Charly, he tripped and fell down the stairs, but Charly is too young to understand what had happened.
Easthaven is run in a brutal fashion by unforgiving women, and Lucy considers it a stroke of luck when she and her sister are chosen to go to Australia, freeing them from their awful fate in that institution. After a magical six week trip aboard an ocean liner to Australia, with new clothes, good food, games to play with their fellow migrants, and two women who care for them, Lucy are Charly are wrenched apart on the Sydney docks. Charly is adopted by a privileged family and her new parents do everything in their power to erase her past. Lucy is sent to live at Seabreeze Farm in the interior of the country, where she and some friends she made on the boat live in inhuman conditions, working as slaves, and suffering from lack of food, heat, flies, and the bullying of the sadistic owner of the farm.
As Charly begins to suspect her parents are hiding a secret, Lucy descends into despair and cynicism, although never ceasing to think about Charly and how to find her. How does Lucy survive and will Charly ever learn the truth of her beginnings and the fact she has a sister?
Liza Perrat paints a harsh picture of the orphans’ lives against the brilliant background of Australia. As a reader, my emotions meshed with those of Lucy and I also despaired of her survival, but I read on! I’m glad I did. The story is heart-breaking but told with enormous compassion. The author not only does a wonderful job of presenting the country but also creates well-rounded, real characters whose emotions are easily felt: Charly and Lucy, of course, but also the hate-filled farmer Yates, his beaten wife Bonnie, and the Ashwoods who adopt Charly, both so desperate to replace their dead daughter.
I read the book in two sittings, and it flowed so well and was engrossing that I overlooked the very few places needing line edits. I recommend The Lost Blackbird to everyone with a heart, so everyone!
About the author (from Goodreads)
Liza Perrat grew up in Australia, where she worked as a general nurse and midwife for fifteen years.
When she met her French husband on a Bangkok bus, she moved to France, where she has been living with her family for twenty years. She works part-time as a French-English medical translator, and as a novelist.Since completing a creative writing course ten years ago, several of her short stories have won awards, notably the Writers Bureau annual competition of 2004 and her stories have been published widely in anthologies and small press magazines. Her articles on French culture and tradition have been published in international magazines such as France Magazine, France Today and The Good Life France.
I highly recommend her other books set in Australia: The Silent Kookaburra, and The Swooping Magpie. Friends, Family and Other Strangers also beckons.
Liza Perrat can be found:
On twitter: @LizaPerrat
On her website: http://www.lizaperrat.com
The Lost Blackbird can be found on Amazon: