May 08, 2012

by English Muse

Greetings from the antipodes, this is Naomi Bulger, guest blogging from Melbourne in Australia’s south.

In Australia, I think we can tend to suffer from the “that could never happen to me” syndrome. We are a nation at peace. We are geographically isolated from most of the world. We don’t share borders with any other nation. Sure, we find domestic issues to debate and complain about but, on the whole, we are economically stable. We have a democratically-elected government.

Wars, invasions, civil disputes, surely these only happen to other people in other countries. We care, but it is hard for us to put ourselves in their shoes. After all, it could never happen to us. Right?

Of course this thinking is remarkably short-sighted of us as a nation, especially given what our colonial forbears did to the first Australians only two centuries ago, and the aftermath of suffering and injustice that continues to this day.

Why am I pondering this maudlin subject? I have just finished reading Tomorrow, When the War Began by John Marsden. Actually, I’ve just finished reading all seven books in the series. Have you been inside these books?

They tell the story of a group of teenagers who go away on an idyllic camping trip only to discover, when they return home, that Australia has been invaded. All their family and friends are gone – dead or captured – and they have to survive alone.

Tomorrow completely shatters the “it couldn’t happen to us” illusion. Of course it could. And if it does happen to us, the books hint, we may even have to shoulder some of the blame.

While fighting for their lives, the teenagers must also grapple with their morals and beliefs as they navigate life in a war zone. Issues like, “Is it really OK to kill someone to save myself or a friend? Who am I to decide one life is worth more than another?” and, “Can I kill in ‘cold blood’ versus the heat of the moment?” and, poignantly, “If we had been more willing to share our wealth and resources in the first place, would people have wanted or needed to attack us?”

These big issues go side by side with typical teenage problems like friendship and loyalty and sex and independence, and the book’s heroes and heroines must face everything all at once.

I think, more than anything I have read in the newspapers or seen on television or the Internet, the Tomorrow books helped me put myself in the shoes of the victims of invasion and war. The brutality, the constant fear, the loss of those you love… and also the little things, like seeing strangers living in houses that were stolen from your friends, and walking around your neighbourhood. Only now it is their neighbourhood, not yours. You are a prisoner or a fugitive.

What would you do? How would it change you? Those are the questions these books ask, over and again, from the point of view of its confused and gutsy narrator, Ellie. And I’m asking those questions of myself, now, because Ellie’s is a powerful voice.

(All images are screen captures from the 2010 movie Tomorrow, When the War Began, directed by Stuart Beattie. It’s OK, but this is one of those times when you really, really should read the books instead, or at least first. They are where it will all hit you.)


This entry was posted on Tuesday, May 8th, 2012 at 6:00 pm. It is filed under Books, Travel. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed.

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12 Responses to “Antipodean dispatch – war and peace”

  1. Luli says:

    I learn so much from your amazing posts. I feel like I’m expanding my mind everytime you write something!!

  2. Annelise says:

    This series was incredible. I read the first couple years ago when I was at high school and then about four or so years ago, I finished the rest of the series. I really did love the movie as well, but you can’t beat a book. And it’s funny, every time I hear a low-flying plane, I always think of the books and what could possibly be happening!

  3. Naomi Bulger says:

    Oh, Luli, you say the nicest things! Thank you.

  4. Naomi Bulger says:

    You are so right. I don’t think I’ll ever be able to look at (or ignore) a low-flying plane again.

  5. Sarah J says:

    I think you’re so right about us here in Australia. it can be so easy to forget what we have actually got, amidst all the distractions- it’s a kind of alternative reality.
    Much love.

  6. Naomi Bulger says:

    You’re right Sarah. We take for granted what we have, and we’re so busy protecting it that we can overlook the needs of others.

  7. Susan says:

    I did not know about this series or the show. I will investigate. Thank you…I will talk to some Australian friends about this…I have tried to explain how it feels to be in war & in high-conflict areas & they have not been able (or willing?) to ‘go there.’ Thank you so much for posting this, Naomi.

  8. Wendy says:

    This series was brilliant! Although the books are aimed at a YA audience, I’m sure adult readers will find the content, pace and atmosphere totally engaging. I was enthralled from start to finish. And then some.

  9. Naomi Bulger says:

    Susan I’d love to know what you think after reading these books. I wonder if it fits with your experience (I hope not, and I am so sorry if it does). It is so hard for Australians to put ourselves in the shoes of those who have lived in conflict areas, because we have only known peace for so long. Perhaps these books, even if they are not true to experience, can spark imagination in us that can lead to empathy… that would be a good thing.

  10. Naomi Bulger says:

    I agree Wendy. It’s funny, I was just reading a quote today from Maurice Sendak, who said he wished people would stop writing “for children” or “for adults” (or YA or any other, I would add), and instead just be a community of writers. I think adults can learn a lot from so-called children’s or YA books, just as I think children are capable of reading and digesting much more complex ideas and stories than we previously gave them credit for.

  11. Cara says:

    “Have you been inside these books?” What a wonderful way to put that question!

  12. […] put me through when I read my way through his Tomorrow, When the War Began series these past weeks. My post is here if you’re […]

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