Black Sunday by Evan McHugh (Omnibus Books) PB RRP $16.99
Reviewed by Jenny Heslop
When Nipper is asked by his teacher to keep a diary he thinks it is a waste of time. But what emerges over the period during which he records his life is an evocative (fictional) account of the twelve month period between June 1937 and 1938 as Australia emerges from the Depression and thunderclouds of World War II appear on the horizon.
Nipper has no intention of continuing school after he turns thirteen. All he wants to do is follow in his Grandpa Jack’s footsteps and become a life saver. Living in Bondi and secretly training to achieve his goal, the beach and ocean are his whole world.
Gradually, over the year, he begins to understand more about Grandpa Jack, about himself and about the world around him. And then one hot Sunday in 1938, a day which was to become the infamous Black Sunday, he gains insight into the nature of true heroism and whether he has it inside of him.
When a novel is written in diary form you get to be right inside the head of the main character. While this gives an immediate intimacy, you also need to feel a connection or empathy with them for it to work and hold interest. Black Sunday did this incredibly well. Nipper was real for me, even though he grew up in a world very different to me.
And this world rang true. The language, attitudes and way of life were all authentic to the setting of Australia and Bondi of the early 1930s. Other characters in the book came to life too. Nipper’s family, particularly Grandpa Jack, Nipper’s childhood friend Damo and his new friend Rachel (from a Jewish family who newly immigrated from Germany), teacher Mrs Kearsley and Arthur, an elusive aboriginal man who the three children try to befriend.
The writing was in keeping with Nipper’s voice and contained wonderful descriptions of the sea, Nipper’s greatest interest.
‘The surf today was all confused. It was a bi grey and windy, and the waves were coming from about three different directions at once, all choppy and changey.’
Some days, the surf or the weather were all that Nipper wrote about in his diary, other days there were small or larger events for him to record. I loved his descriptions of the promenading on the pier which families took part in on Sunday evenings in the summer.
Black Sunday is story about a normal boy going about his daily life in the 1930s, but in capturing a snippet of Nippers life, this book also captures a slice of Australian history (and not just the history of the live saving movement) in an evocative, readable and very accessible way.
This is a thoroughly entertaining book in the My Australian Story series which will be enjoyed by boys and girls alike from the age of ten years.