By Richard Flanagan
(Atlantic Monthly Press, Hardcover, 9780802119001, 272pp.)
Publication Date: April 1, 2009
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One of our most inventive and important international literary voices, Richard Flanagan now delivers Wanting, a powerful and moving tale of colonialism, ambition, and the lusts and longings that make us human.
It is 1841. In the remote penal colony of Van Diemen’s Land, a barefoot aboriginal girl sits for a portrait in a red silk dress. She is Mathinna, the adopted daughter of the island’s governor, Sir John Franklin, and his wife, Lady Jane, and the subject of a grand experiment in civilization—one that will determine whether science, Christianity, and reason can be imposed on savagery, impulse, and desire. Years later, somewhere in the Arctic, Sir John Franklin has disappeared with his crew and two ships on an expedition to find the fabled Northwest Passage. England is horrified by reports of cannibalism filtering back from search parties, no one more so than the most celebrated novelist of the day, Charles Dickens, for whom Franklin’s story becomes a means to plumb the frozen depths of his own life.