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The Great World (1990)

by David Malouf

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367450,603 (4.01)12
"Every city, town and village has its memorial to war. Nowhere are these more eloquent than in Australia, generations of whose young men have enlisted to fight other people's battles - from Gallipoli and the Somme to Malaya and Vietnam. In THE GREAT WORLD, his finest novel yet, David Malouf gives a voice to that experience. But THE GREAT WORLD is more than a novel of war. Ranging over seventy years of Australian life, from Sydney's teeming King's Cross to the tranquil backwaters of the Hawkesbury River, it is a remarkable novel of self-knowledge and lost innocence, of survival and witness."… (more)

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I love the way David Malouf writes. After reading his Remembering Babylon I would welcome a chance to read all his books. This one was perhaps a bit to ethereal for me but it was unforgettable and totally original. Set in Australia it concerns two men who form an unlikely bond during WWII when they were held for three years as Japanese prisoners of war. Starved and sick, they rely on each other to survive. After the war they return to their previous lives, meeting occasionally, and always feeling oddly alienated from each other yet intimately acquainted. Malouf is a master at capturing nuance and the private inner workings that makes each of us a solitary being in this world. ( )
  Eye_Gee | May 8, 2017 |
A huge favourite of mine. I've loved the Malouf books I've read to date, "Harland's Half-Acre" and "Johnno".

This book exposes the "other" history of its two principals, traced through childhood, capture by the Japanese and a return to the new post war world of Sydney.

"All those unique and regrettable events, the little sacraments of daily existence, movements of the heart and intimations of the close but inexpressible grandeur and terror of things...the (history) that goes on in a quiet way....and is the major part of what happens each day in the life of the planet,and has been from the very beginning."
1 vote ivanfranko | Sep 12, 2016 |
THE GREAT WORLD, by David Malouf.
This is the first Malouf book I have read, and I have to say it simply blew me away. It is a deep and absorbing look at an unlikely friendship between two men, Digger Keen and Vic Curran, who met in the Australian army during WWII, and then spent more than three years together under the most brutal and inhumane conditions as POWs of the Japanese, laboring to build a rail line in the jungles of Burma. (A setting which brought to mind a fine WWII memoir I read a few years back, Eric Lomax's RAILWAY MAN.) In a narrative which spans both World Wars (as well as Korea and Vietnam, if only tangentially)and a couple of generations, and closely follows the fortunes of the two men's families, THE GREAT WORLD could easily be written off as one of those blockbuster generational 'sagas' (think, say, THE THORNBIRDS), a description which usually sends me running in the opposite direction. But because Malouf delves so deeply into the minds and souls of his characters, particularly Digger, the novel takes on multiple layers of meaning and experience, which forces its readers to reflect on their own lives, and their own places in 'the great world' of the title.

Both of the central characters spring from extremely humble origins, but Vic, through a series of serendipitous breaks and his own cunning, manages to become wealthy beyond his wildest dreams. Digger, the more thoughtful of the two, lives a much more modest life, working with his hands and also living a rich life of the mind.

On second thought, okay, maybe this is a generational saga, but the characters here are so fully realized and completely human that they grab you from the story's beginning and won't let go 'til you've read the last page. And then you keep on thinking about them. I was continually struck by various passages, turns of phrase, descriptions, etc. For example, Digger's wonder at how Vic's previously inept and socially awkward father-in-law became moderately successful as a poet -

"In the small world of writers, reviewers, university lecturers and other people who cared for these things, he had begun to be well known, but it was a very small world of course; most people didn't even know it existed."

Poets. Indeed. Or Vic's sorrow at the sudden death of that same father-in-law, who had been like a real father to him. Unable to voice what he is feeling, he finally tries, unsuccessfully, to read and understand the man's poetry, and in the process begins to get an inkling of his own mortality -

"It is a sobering thing, even when you are a father yourself and have some force in the world, to find, in the childish part of yourself that goes on existing despite the years, that there is no hand you can reach out for ... Now, for the first time, he felt orphaned."

And more than once in the novel, repeatedly in fact, Malouf touches on what he calls "this difficult business of fathers and sons," with Digger and his father, and also with Vic's tortured feelings about his brutal drunk of a father, and, years later, the estrangement with his own son, Greg.

I have only just discovered David Malouf, who is "internationally renowned as one of Australia's finest contemporary writers." It is easy to see why. I loved this book and hated to come to the end of it. Very highly recommended. ( )
  TimBazzett | Mar 9, 2015 |
Did not expect to like this but I did. First time I've read Malouf - he writes with an extraordinary lyrical tone and poetic introspection. His characters tend to follow a Joycean road with their intense and rich interior lives while inarticulate with the people around them.

The plot covers about 60 odd years, two wars and two families interconnectedness via the main characters of Digger and Vic. While WW2 is pivotal for Digger and Vic, the book begins a bit like Faulkner's The Sound and The Fury - don't let that put you off. it gets a bit like Henry James later on.... These two men who met as Japanese POW's survived Changi & the Malay railway - their friendship survives into the 80's boom. The title The Great World implies the world outside Digger's head (which he continually fills with facts to remember), outside his family and outside Keen's Crossing where he grew up along the Hawkesbury River: it's also hauntingly the name of a place where they were interred as POW's.

Both of the men are entirely different in temperment but forge a lifelong bond owing each other their lives but it is fraught with tension. Malouf writes about these men's inner lives in a way that for the times startled & surprised me. Australian men were/are not known for expressing hurts about friendships, fears or their sense of displacement (as women do more often), but prefer to joke about and get on with it, rather than admit those feelings. "Why is he acting that way, I bet he's going to dump me". So when Malouf voices their inner lives in this way, I felt a sense of relief and wonder, that men and women are not totally alien species. The women in the story are no less interesting with tangled and emotionally charged pasts.

Malouf had me to tears several times, he's a tender writer of great beauty that I hope to read more of.


loaned to pop ( )
  velvetink | Mar 31, 2013 |
Showing 4 of 4
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"Every city, town and village has its memorial to war. Nowhere are these more eloquent than in Australia, generations of whose young men have enlisted to fight other people's battles - from Gallipoli and the Somme to Malaya and Vietnam. In THE GREAT WORLD, his finest novel yet, David Malouf gives a voice to that experience. But THE GREAT WORLD is more than a novel of war. Ranging over seventy years of Australian life, from Sydney's teeming King's Cross to the tranquil backwaters of the Hawkesbury River, it is a remarkable novel of self-knowledge and lost innocence, of survival and witness."

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The story of a complex relationship of two Australians who meet in a World War II Japanese POW camp. Digger Keen is strong, courageous, contemplative, and phlegmatic - the ideal comrade-in-arms. Vic Curran, orphaned during the Depression when his alcoholic father died, causes the death of Digger's closest friend through his lack of Discipline. Later, Vic's ministrations save Digger's life. After the war, Vic becomes a tormented, successful entrepreneur who continues for 40 years to seek out Digger.
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