Devotion by Hannah Kent

‘It is time, I think, to tell my story.’

Prussia, 1836. Johanne (Hanne) Nussbaum is almost 15 years old, living with her family in the village of Kay. Her family are part of a community of Old Lutherans, which the King wants to reform. Bound by their interpretation of God’s law, the community seeks to move to a place where they will not be further persecuted. Hanne is different. She does not fit easily into the community because she does not conform to their expectations. She is close to her twin brother Matthias but has no close friends until Dorothea (Thea) Eichenwald and her family arrive. Hanne and Thea become close.

The families of Kay are finally granted permission to leave Prussia, their voyage to South Australia is arranged, and in 1838 they board a ship. All aboard are looking forward to new beginnings. Hanne and Thea are inseparable. They love each other. But the ship is overcrowded, and the six-month journey will take its toll. Illness and poor food in cramped unhygienic conditions means that not all will survive the journey.

There are some magical moments on this horrific journey: Hanne is in touch with nature wherever she is. One of the most memorable scenes is when Hanne, on the deck of the ship, sees a whale breach. She hears the songs in nature and appreciates them.

And now I will stop telling you about the story because to fully appreciate Ms Kent’s magic, you need to read it unspoiled. The historical setting for this novel is based on the real-life settlement of Old Lutherans at Hahndorf in South Australia’s Barossa Valley. This provides the framework for a beautifully imagined story of transcendent love and devotion.

Note: My thanks to NetGalley and Pan Macmillan Australia for providing me with a free electronic copy of this book for review purposes.

Jennifer Cameron-Smith