Three Famines by Tom Keneally

by |October 1, 2010

Tom Keneally shares three shocking stories and one controversial theory in a standout history.

This is the story of three great famines. The first is an Gorta Mór, the great hunger of Ireland, which began in 1846 and whose end-date is a matter of debate. The second is the less well-known but more deadly famine that struck Bengal in 1943. The third is the Ethiopian famine, which first sprung up in lethal form in the 1970s under Emperor Haile Selassie and then again under the brutal dictator Mengistu in the 1980s. Keneally himself visited Eritrea in 1984 to see the effects of this grave event.

In those who suffered these famines; in those who denied their suffering; in those who propounded theories to excuse it; in those who – against the wishes of each government – told the world what was happening; and in those who tried to relieve it, there is a remarkable continuity of impulse and experience and dilemma. Though these famines are diverse, they are in many ways as similar as if they were related by DNA, or a malignant force of fallibility.

Tom Keneally shares these three shocking histories with his customary penetrating wisdom, and he presents a controversial theory in his utterly compelling narrative: in all three famines, ideology, mindsets of governments, racial preconceptions and administrative incompetence were, ultimately, more lethal than the initiating blights, the loss of potatoes or rice or the grain named teff.

THOMAS KENEALLY won the Booker Prize in 1982 with SCHINDLER’S ARK, later made into the Academy Award-winning film SCHINDLER’S LIST by Steven Spielberg. He has written ten works of non-fiction, including his recent memoir SEARCHING FOR SCHINDLER, and the histories THE COMMONWEALTH OF THIEVES, THE GREAT SHAME and AMERICAN SCOUNDREL, and 28 works of fiction, including THE WIDOW AND HER HERO (shortlisted for the Prime Minister’s Literary Award), AN ANGEL IN AUSTRALIA and BETTANY’S BOOK. His novels THE CHANT OF JIMMIE BLACKSMITH, GOSSIP FROM THE FOREST, and CONFEDERATES were all shortlisted for the Booker Prize, while BRING LARKS AND HEROES and THREE CHEERS FOR THE PARACLETE won the Miles Franklin Award. His most recent novel THE PEOPLE’S TRAIN was longlisted for the Miles Franklin Award and shortlisted for the Commonwealth Writers Prize, South East Asia division.

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About the Contributor

John Purcell (aka Natasha Walker) is the author of The Secret Lives of Emma trilogy published by Random House Australia. The Secret Lives of Emma: Beginnings reached the top ten on the Australian fiction charts and Natasha/John was the tenth highest selling Australian novelist and third highest selling Australian debut author in 2012. The trilogy has since sold over 50,000 copies in print and ebook and has been translated into French and Polish. John has worked in the book industry for the last twenty years. While still in his twenties he opened John’s Bookshop, a second-hand bookshop in Mosman in which he sat for ten years reading, ranting and writing. Now he is the Head of Product and Chief Buyer at booktopia.com.au.

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