Publisher: HQ Fiction
Publication Date:Published April 23rd 2018
Genre: Historical Fiction
1954: When sixteen–year–old Hungarian Elizabeta arrives in Australia with her family, she is hoping to escape the hopelessness of life as a refugee in post–war Germany. Her first stop is the Bonegilla Migrant Camp on the banks of the Murray in rural Victoria, a temporary home for thousands of new arrivals, all looking for work and a better life. There, Elizabeta becomes firm friends with the feisty Greek Vasiliki; quiet Italian Iliana; and the adventurous Frances, the daughter of the camp’s director.In this vibrant and growing country, the Bonegilla girls rush together towards a life that seems full of promise, even as they cope with the legacy of war, the oppressive nature of family tradition and ever–present sorrow. So when a ghost from the past reaches out for Elizabeta and threatens to pull her back into the shadows, there is nothing that her friends wouldn’t do to keep her safe.But secrets have a way of making themselves known and lies have a way of changing everything they touch…
I have to admit, I found Last of the Bonegilla girls a struggle. The main character – as I perceive it – is actually Frances, the Australian girl who happens to the the camp director’s daughter, but the first POV character we are introduced to is Elizabeta. She comes across as quite flat, with some dark secret preventing her from truly being herself. The chapters then move on through the other three girls: Frances, Iliana and Vasiliki (not necessarily in that order). The introduction to each of the girls was relatively long, but not particularly interesting as most of the girls various struggles, while quite appropriate to the time, setting, and the age of the characters, felt a little underwhelming. I would have liked to have spent some more time getting to know each of them, especially Elisabeta, and what they wished to become of their lives earlier on. By having my attention split between four characters, none of whom I found particularly engaging, my attention waned.
Once the girls leave Bonegilla, their lives become far more interesting and the reading easier. It is clear Victoria did her historical research since the characters, setting, and situations feel authentic to the time and place. However, even though there were some serious topics brought up in the book, a lot of them were brushed over. There are large forward skips in time which also don’t help, because you’re not ever really allowed to go through the aftermath of the events that happened with the characters. In some instances, the characters lives have changed drastically from when you last saw them, and you have no idea why. It eventually comes out, but it’s hard to remain connected to characters who themselves have distanced themselves from feeling anything.
The ending felt dissatisfying especially since the character we saw the least throughout the novel, but who I would have liked to get to know better, is ‘The Last of the Bonegilla girls’. I don’t really know how the others ended their lives – and whether or not they were content.
Overall, it is an interesting story and one clearly close to Victoria’s heart since it relates to experiences within her own family. I’m glad I read it, for the historical context, if nothing else.
Off-topic: I have been experiencing technical difficulties with my blog over the past month, hence the lack of posts. It was to do with a security certificate issue, which I should hopefully have fixed now.