Giramondo, $32.95 pb, 280 pp
One striking feature of Nicholas Jose’s fine new novel is its principled versatility. Set in multiple locations – Adelaide, Washington, DC, East Timor – and introducing alternative narrative voices, Jose evokes a world of complex intersections comprising many different angles and viewpoints. As a former diplomat himself, he writes with expert knowledge of a variety of professional and personal environments. His novel ranges across the ‘loyalties and long memories’ of lives rooted in Adelaide, along with some of the city’s ‘dunderhead complacencies’, while also presenting an insider’s view of diplomatic exchanges in Washington, DC and Canberra.
The scenes set in East Timor do seem a bit more of a stretch, but it is here that the idealist tendencies of Jose’s central character, Jake Treweek, are put to their fullest test. As a ‘defence liaison’ and East Timor specialist working for Australian intelligence, Jake’s task is to advise on the status and prospects of the East Timorese struggle for rights of self-determination. Indonesian military forces are their enemy, backed by American political and economic interests that are, much to Jake’s disgust, covertly supported by Australia. He comes to find his empathy with the East Timorese people enhanced and complicated by his romantic feelings for Elisa, a long-time leader in the independence movement, who says she is ‘singing what the sea sang to her’.