James Vance Marshall’s Walkabout

On their way to visit their uncle in Adelaide, two children, an eight-year-old boy and a thirteen-year-old girl, are the sole survivors of a plane crash in the beautiful but harsh Australian outback. Fear pervades the novel, and is introduced in the very first sentence: “It was silent and dark, and the children were afraid.” With no food or clear sense of direction, they are forced to confront “the basic realities of life,” from which they had been shielded back home in Charleston, South Carolina. They encounter an Aboriginal boy who represents the complete opposite of their coddled existence and he teaches them how to survive. But can he be trusted?

Etched in arresting detail, Marshall’s adventure tale is also a parable, meditating upon the collision of civilizations and cultures and the greater themes of nature, spiritual redemption, selfless love, and mortality. Walkabout has been compared to Adalbert Stifter’s Rock Crystal, Richard Hughes’s A High Wind in Jamaica, and William Henry Hudson’s Green Mansions.

Walkabout, first published in 1959, was not well known until the release of Nicolas Roeg’s 1971 film, though Roeg’s adaptation was a striking departure from the book. For more about the differences between the film and the book, read Lee Siegel’s introduction (pdf).

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The Mountain Lion
By Jean Stafford
Afterword by Kathryn Davis

“It’s a terrific book, witty and smart as Stafford always was, and kind in its treatment of these two strangely irresistible children.” —Jonathan Yardley, The Washington Post

A High Wind in Jamaica
By Richard Hughes
Introduction by Francine Prose

A tale of seduction and betrayal, of accommodation and manipulation, of weird humor and unforeseen violence, this classic of twentieth-century literature is above all an extraordinary reckoning with the secret reasons and otherworldly realities of childhood.

Rock Crystal
By Adalbert Stifter
Introduction by W.H. Auden
Translated from the German by Elizabeth Mayer and Marianne Moore

Stifter’s rapturous and enigmatic tale of village life begins with a small anecdote—one Christmas eve, a brother and sister lose their way amid snowdrifts while crossing the Alps—and opens onto vast questions of faith and destiny.

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