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From Barnes & NobleThe Barnes & Noble Review
History comes alive in this narrative about women convicted of petty crimes in 18th-century England, then transported to New South Wales, Australia, as companions to the lonely men serving time in the "land beyond the seas." This recovered history, based on the recently discovered journals of one of the officers aboard the transport ship Lady Julian, gives us a remarkable portrait of British colonialism from a most relevant perspective -- that of the women who made the harrowing, yearlong journey: their petty crimes, their hopes, their dreams, and the lives they went on to make for themselves in this other New World.
The book has a highly cinematic quality to it: Sian Rees, no stranger to the world of ships, draws on her expertise and has filled the book with sights, smells, sounds, and images that convey what the voyage out was actually like. The Floating Brothel is a history, and a wonderful series of recaptured stories -- of love, adventure, danger, illness, death, and triumph -- that sheds light on the founding families of English Australia.
At the book's core is a love story: between ship's steward, John Nicol, and one of the convicts, Sarah Whitelaw. Along the way we are given vivid accounts of the 18th-century English penal system, the problems of a society in the throes of the Industrial Revolution, and detailed accounts of life aboard ship for this very special human cargo. Wonderfully written, interesting, and always lively, The Floating Brothel has all the ingredients for a great read and (hint, hint) a compelling film. (Elena Simon)
Elena Simon lives in New York City.