A novel of breath-taking reach and inspired imagination, drawing on the discovery of Australia's oldest known human inhabitant. Shade lives peaceably with his second wife on the shores of a bountiful lake. Conscious of ageing but still vigorous, when called on by the spirit ancestors to sacrifice himself for the sake of his clan, he knows he must obey. Over 40,000 years later, Shade's skeleton is unearthed near the now dry Lake Learned in New South Wales. The sensational discovery of so-called 'Learned Man' rewrites the history of Australia and fuels the Aboriginal people's claim to be the land's rightful owners - and has a lasting impact on a young documentary maker, Shelby Apple, who gets caught up in the fate of Learned's remains. When Shelby, too, faces mortality and looks back on his life, Learned stands as an enduring spirit, a fellow player in the long, ever-evolving story of humankind.
[T]he parallels between the two [men] are engaging . . . [an] elegiac novel . . . with its joyful descriptions of Shade's family, his songs, his gods and the flame of praise he feels under the stars, and of the huge creatures - the razor-toothed great lizard, the giant kangaroo - that he and his clan hunt amongst the saltbush. -- Markie Robson-Scott * The Tablet * [Keneally] steps forth into a wild landscape of evolution, myth and primal emotion . . . a hymn to idealism, and to human development . . . As a portrait of passion, belonging, anger and forgiveness in marriage, in whatever stage of evolution, this book is deeply affecting. * Sydney Morning Herald * [An] impressive sketch of ghostly affinities between a man who makes images at once artistic and real out of the life he records and shapes, and another who conjures and kills and wills himself on the tightrope of justice and mercy in a time that Keneally is very adept at animating . . . It leaps to Africa, it resounds with the shadow-world of ancient Australia, it can evoke a background of the Inuit, of any damn thing pertinent to the purposes of a master craftsman who has no intention of taking anything lying down. * The Saturday Paper * Learned's voice is a wonderful creation: modern, compassionate and filled with moral authority . . . Both perspectives will fascinate Keneally's dedicated followers who have come to expect daring narratives dealing with themes of family, morality and moral responsibility. * Australian Bookseller * A paean to belonging, idealism and human evolution. * The i * Bristles with what makes life worth living . . . a book of wonder and regular brilliance . . . Keneally's art is to make the profound accessible. The important is rendered seamlessly . . . In a book that teems with journeys, both spiritual and physical, he finds something true, brave and powerful to say about mankind's fate. -- Hugh MacDonald * Herald (Glasgow) * Electric with life, passion and appetite . . . intensely personal, hugely inventive and often moving novel. -- Geordie Williamson * Australian * Wonderfully imaginative -- Jeffrey Burke * Mail on Sunday * Like The Chant of Jimmie Blacksmith, it uncovers a rich hidden seam in Australian history; like Schindler's Ark, it addresses appalling violence with impressive tact . . . passionate and heartfelt -- Robert Douglas-Fairhurst * The Times *