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Salonika Burning – Gail Jones

Salonika Burning – Gail Jones

This novel was recommended to me by several friends and then I bought a copy as a gift for another friend, so I decided I should read it myself. I read Sixty Lights way back in 2009 and enjoyed it.

Here’s the blurb …

Greece, 1917. The great city of Salonika is engulfed by fire as all of Europe is ravaged by war.

Amid the destruction, there are those who have come to the frontlines to heal: surgeons, ambulance drivers, nurses, orderlies and other volunteers. Four of these people—Stella, Olive, Grace and Stanley—are at the centre of Gail Jones’s extraordinary new novel, which takes its inspiration from the wartime experiences of Australians Miles Franklin and Olive King, and British painters Grace Pailthorpe and Stanley Spencer. In Jones’s imagination these four lives intertwine and ramify, compelled by the desire to create something meaningful in the ruins of a broken world.

Immersive and gripping, Salonika Burning illuminates not only the devastation of war but also the vast social upheaval of the times. It shows Gail Jones to be at the height of her powers.

I knew nothing about Salonika or the Macedonian front during WW1, and amongst the four protagonists I only knew about Stella. Hence this novel was interesting just from the historical perspective – when the frozen rabbits from Victoria arrived (to a place with no refrigeration), I laughed out loud. Such a symbol of well-meaning, but ultimately useless action.

What I really enjoyed was the interleaving of the stories; one of the characters would describe an event – say swimming in the lake, and then you would get a different person’s perspective on the same event. The ending was unexpected and shocking, and we are left wondering what happens to all of these people after the war?

A review.

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Filed under 4, Fiction, Historical Fiction, Paper