It's 1914 and Lithgow is booming. Daniel is a young German-Australian, a coalminer and a socialist; Francine is the bourgeois, Irish-Catholic, too-good-for-this-place daughter of one of the mine's owners. When their paths collide, they fall in love despite themselves and it very quickly becomes apparent that their only option is to wed. But before the signatures on their marriage certificate are dry, World War I erupts, throwing in their path a new and much more terrifying obstacle. Against his principles but driven by a sense of solidarity, Daniel enlists; Francine, horrified, has no choice but to support him. As they hurtle towards a daunting world of war, separation and grief, they each learn things about themselves and one another that they would never have expected in more certain times - about heroism, sacrifice, the thin line between courage and stupidity, and, most of all, about the magical power of love.
A moving story of a tumultuous period in our history, Black Diamonds is a wonderful celebration of resilience, told with verve and an generous dash of humour
I got this book as an uncorrected proof from the HarperCollins First Look program, the first time that I have ever been chosen, and I quite enjoyed it. I also thought it was quite timely because I finished reading it a few days before Anzac Day, and given that the book is set around World War I very relevant.
In a broad sense this book was a look at some of the issues that affected a young country, still trying to find it's place in the world, and as a unified country. Part of the reason why Anzac Day is so special to Australians and New Zealanders is that it is the first time that we fought as independent countries. We were still very closely linked to the British Empire, but instead of being absorbed into the British army we had distinct identities, and as time proved, distinct characteristics in terms of the way that we banded together and fought for each other. There are parts of this book where these ideas are explored especially as Daniel is sent first to Egypt to wait for his orders and then to the bloodbath that was the Western Front.
Kim Kelly also took the time to focus on what was happening at home, and for me, that was the most enlightening part of the book. Whilst our country was at war, the trade union movement was growing in strength and trying to at least protect some of the rights of workers who were left behind, some business owners were trying to take advantage of the war time needs and make more money, the people with dissenting voices against participation in the war were ostracised, and for those who returned from the war, there was still a degree of censorship about what they could say publicly, or even, for example, the kind of art they could produce with war themes.
This central story in the book is that of the love story between Daniel Ackerman and Francine Connolly. Daniel is a miner, and Francine is the mine owner's daughter, and we get to know them through alternate chapters from each of their points of view. They first meet when Daniel helps her pick up apples that she has dropped into the road, but she doesn't know how to interact with him, and so he thinks that she is stuck up. When they meet up again not too long after that it is under very different circumstances - Daniel has just been injured in a mine accident, the same accident that claimed the life of his father, and he is now laid up recovering from his injuries. Francine begins to visit him on a regular basis and before long they have fallen in love, and due to circumstance outside of their control, they are almost railroaded into marrying, which changes everything for both of them.
It isn't too long before war breaks out, and despite his principles, or maybe because of his conflicted principles, Daniel enlists and is sent off to Europe to fight in the war, leaving Francine at home to look after their home and affairs. When Daniel returns he is a much different man - a man struggling with the injuries that he received and the pain he is in, both physically and emotionally, and what follows is a long period of rehabilitation, at a time when there is already great upheaval everywhere throughout both the town and the country.
Overall this was a good read, although I did have some issues with the dialogue. Daniel was portrayed as a quiet man, a thinker, someone who internalises a lot, whereas Francine was for the most part portrayed as a happy go lucky young woman, especially at the start of the book, and as a result the dialogue in particular was uneven and a bit jarring at times, but I think the author made up for that with other elements in the book. For example, the author didn't take the easy way out and give our couple a picture perfect life, and there were several weighty issues that were dealt with even once Daniel returned from the war.
Whilst I don't think that this book has the emotional depth of, for example, The Bronze Horseman, for the Aussies reading this, I would say that this author is comparable to Belinda Alexander (or at least the one book that I have read by her!). If you are interested in reading a book that gives some of the information that you would expect to read about WWI, but also some things that you wouldn't necessarily expect as well, then this book may be for you. It is being released here in Australia on 1 May.