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Noble savages adopt a young mutineer in this tale spun around the possible first arrival of European settlers to Australia.
Vividly depicted as a wretched hive of scum and villainy (the first page alone contains references to lice, filth, fetid odors and piss), the Dutch trading ship Batavia strikes a reef in far western Australia, and while part of the crew sets off in a small boat to seek rescue, the rest begin ruthlessly raping and/or murdering the hapless passengers. Seventeen-year-old cabin boy Jan is reluctantly forced to join in the general rapine to stay alive himself—and, instead of being hanged with the rest of the mutineers when relief arrives, is marooned with a companion on the mainland. Abruptly and inexplicably switching from third-person past-tense to first-person present with alternating narrators, Hayes then sends him inland to meet, befriend, learn the ropes of survival from and ultimately raise a family among a group of helpful, welcoming, generous, generic Aboriginals who believe him an ancestral spirit. Nonetheless, the author sticks closely to 17th-century records of the actual mutiny and closes with a note about later events and Jan's possible native descendants.
Gutwrenching (and no more explicit than necessary) in the early going and a romantic idyll by the end, despite the hinky narration, this illuminates an intriguing byway of Aussie history. (bibliography) (Historical fiction. 12-15)