BILLAROOBY – by Jim Anderson
After the mysterious death of his grandfather, 11-year-old Lindsay Armstrong and his family leave England for a new life in New South Wales. Property is bought in remote Billarooby, a small settlement on the Lachlan River. It is 1942. The war is far away, but a stranger the boy chases from the farm, turns out to be a young Japanese soldier escaped from a nearby POW camp. His witness of the brutal recapture of the prisoner, triggers the horrific memory of a festering family secret involving both himself and his tyrannical father. The trouble in Billarooby has just begun. Lindsay acquires a picture book about ancient samurai warriors and their Code of Bushido. He comes to believe that the prisoners wish for nothing but to rejoin the Emperor and regain their honour, something he feels is lacking in the local world that surrounds him.
Lindsay is not the only one obsessed with the prisoners. The district’s paranoid fantasies of mass escape are decidedly blacker than Lindsay’s imaginings. Racial tensions erupt as the great drought grips and threatens to destroy the once flourishing farm. Vigilantism combined with inability to tackle the truth about the Armstrong family’s darkest past, drive Lindsay’s parents to desperate measures and bouts of madness. For Lindsay, it’s a coming-of-age of great poignancy as the story reaches its climax on the dried-up river bed of the Lachlan.
“Mr Anderson uses his young narrator’s confusion as a symbol of the general confusion of his troubled times. War, he is saying, not only leads to a breakdown of morality but to a feverish inability to distinguish between truth and fiction.” (New York Times)
“It’s a highly readable, magic tale, which dances through the minefield of childhood with surefooted agility. A book written with love and honed with care…” (Sydney Morning Herald)
“Billarooby is not an easy book to read because beneath the exciting surface story are conflicts grown men and women should not have to deal with, much less an 11-year-old boy. But it’s a book that will draw you in, capture your attention, and then leave you wondering.” (United Press International)
“The climax crowns a novel about credible people, not one of them a minor character, as the author presents each with failings as well as qualities that augur hope for a better future. It is a story that will remain in the reader’s memory.” (Publisher’s Weekly)
“Raised in Australia, Anderson effectively conveys its ambience, particularly in his terse yet vivid dialogue… this first novel is ultimately a very fine study of a child’s mind.” (Library Journal)