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Death of a River Guide [Paperback]

Richard Flanagan
4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (4 customer reviews)
Price: 7.99 & FREE Delivery in the UK on orders over 10. Details
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Book Description

12 Feb 2004
Beneath a waterfall on the Franklin, Aljaz Cosini, river guide, lies drowning. Beset by visions at once horrible and fabulous, he relives not just his own life but that of his family and forebears, and finds a world where dreaming reasserts its power over thinking.

Frequently Bought Together

Death of a River Guide + Gould's Book of Fish + Wanting
Price For All Three: 23.97

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  • Wanting 7.99


Product details

  • Paperback: 326 pages
  • Publisher: Atlantic Books; New edition edition (12 Feb 2004)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1843542196
  • ISBN-13: 978-1843542193
  • Product Dimensions: 12.9 x 19.7 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (4 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 424,426 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Review

'A torrent of a book – take the plunge’ -- Independent

'that rare commodity – a wonderful fiction which has pace, depth of feeling, and infinite imaginative possibilities’ -- Scotland on Sunday

‘Combines a rich voice, highly original, with great invention and engrossing narrative pace… very, very good indeed’ -- Thomas Keneally

‘One of the most auspicious debuts in Australian writing’ -- TLS

About the Author

Richard Flanagan is the author of three novels which have all been published to international acclaim: Death of a River Guide, The Sound of One Hand Clapping and Gould's Book of Fish. He lives with his family in West Hobart, Tasmania.

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First Sentence
As I was born the umbilical cord tangled around my neck and I came into the world both arms flailing, unable to scream and thereby take in the air necessary to begin life outside of the womb, being garrotted by the very thing that had until that time succoured me and given me life. Read the first page
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A vivid narrative of utter despair. 18 Sep 2003
By Mary Whipple HALL OF FAME TOP 100 REVIEWER
Format:Paperback
Aljaz Cosini, a Tasmanian river guide, is trapped under water, his body wedged between rocks in the Franklin River, into which he has dived in an effort to save a reckless rafter. "I have entered the realm of the fabulous, of hallucinations," he muses. "There is no way anybody stuck drowning could experience such things," he observes, as many generations of his family history pass through his mind. As this remarkable narrative unfolds, it alternates between Aljaz's dying, first person memories of his family's past and his objective, third person observations about life in contemporary Tasmania. Through Aljaz's memories, the reader learns the sad history of the island, a former penal colony for the most hardened criminals, the site of genocide for the aboriginal natives, a remote colony with little hope and no tolerance for differences.
This is a story of abject hopelessness, the misery of Aljaz's family continuing through the four or five generations we meet during Aljaz's final moments and culminating in Aljaz's own predicament. The author does not even hold out the hope that Aljaz himself will be rescued, choosing to confirm the death in the book's title, before the reader even opens the book. What unites the generations (and keeps the reader going) is the clear and abiding respect for nature we see throughout the book--for the power of the river, for the unique animals of the island, for the stories and myths of the old people--and the belief that there is a unity of man and nature.
The characters one meets in this book are memorable, as they survive the best way they can. The tales of nature and the mystical moments that Aljaz experiences are vivid and uplifting, a fitting contrast to the reality of life.
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5 of 6 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars an amazing book 7 Aug 2004
Format:Paperback
having read gould's book of fish , i could not resist read flanagan earlier work , because never before a fiction story teller has aroused my interest as much as mr flanagan stories do
death of river guide is a fascinating book not only because it recounts the last few minutes of the life of a drowning man but also because it leaves you with the impression that it is only when the main character aljaz cosini is dying, after a lifetime of misfortune and empty life , that he finally find solace in those last moments of existence as if it is when life was departing from his body , sanity and clear mind were claiming suddenly the place ,
the book while telling the story of this river guide , leap out back and forth to aljaz family's past, it does not follow any timeline , leaving gap and filling them later
it is also a book about australia digruntled past hence the sadness of it all, from its a "mystical" aboriginal past to the bland modern autralia with its desperate soul searching.
i urge everyone to read it
it is a delight of a book
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10 of 14 people found the following review helpful
By A Customer
Format:Hardcover
Told through the narrator's out-of-body, third person perspective and through flashbacks,DEATH OF A RIVER GUIDE'S nonlinear progression requires a reader's close attention to detail. Richard Flanagan's beautiful writing rewards the reader's effort with insight into a man's journey and into the history and natural wonders of Tasmania. Like all archetypal quests, this one provides food for the soul.
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1 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Between a rock and a wet place 19 Aug 2005
By Stephen A. Haines HALL OF FAME
Format:Paperback
Richard Flanagan has an almost unexcelled capacity to weave historical threads into his fiction. In line with many writers of the Australian scene, he deftly conveys his awareness of the Aborigine condition in this story. Despite his name, Aljaz Cosini, born far away in Trieste, yet manages to return to his ancestral homeland. Ancestral roots bear little, if any, sway on our monotheistic world. In other cultures, however, forebears are the foundation for existence, a tradition widespread and of extended duration. Flanagan's awareness of that cultural milieu is forcefully portrayed in this story of a man's final living moments.
Flanagan's method is subtle. We mourn for the drowning guide as the story opens. His fate is clearly inescapable. Strangely, he condemns neither his situation nor the river that is taking his life. The attitude is far from fatalism, however. His circumstance is opening a new realm of Aljaz' awareness. As he confronts the inevitable, Aljaz comes to perceive his ancestral roots. Visions arrive of events he could not have witnessed, yet bear no skein of fabrication nor the supernatural either in Aljaz' mind or in Flanagan's depiction of them. There are no deities or spirits here. Aljaz resents that at first - "visions ought be given you by divine beings, not ... marsupials and their mates". Yet these visions are events from the reality his ancestors experienced. They are also of those real people - his father, grandmother, and most importantly, his former girl friend and the child they lost. Flanagan accepts the Aborigine view of children - love them intently, but if they are lost, long-term grief is too debilitating a luxury. The white world didn't understand this view when they first encountered it, and it remains enigmatic even now.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)
Amazon.com: 4.7 out of 5 stars  11 reviews
12 of 13 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A vivid narrative of utter despair. 11 April 2001
By Mary Whipple - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover
Aljaz Cosini, a Tasmanian river guide, is trapped under water, his body wedged between rocks in the Franklin River, into which he has dived in an effort to save a reckless rafter. "I have entered the realm of the fabulous, of hallucinations, for there is no way anybody stuck drowning could experience such things," he thinks, as many generations of his family history pass through his mind. As this remarkable narrative unfolds, it alternates between Aljaz's dying, first person memories of his family's past and his objective, third person observations about life in contemporary Tasmania. Through Aljaz's memories, the reader learns the sad history of the island, a former penal colony for the most hardened criminals, the site of total genocide for the aboriginal natives, a remote colony with little hope and no tolerance for differences. A bright boy, Aljaz himself has intentionally failed everything in school, because "by failing, Aljaz begins to fit in with people...there is a camaraderie amongst the ranks of the fallen....They expect to be failed, to be unemployed, to be pushed around, to know only despair."

This is a story of abject hopelessness, the misery of Aljaz's family continuing through the four or five generations we meet during Aljaz's final moments and culminating in Aljaz's own predicament. The author does not even hold out the hope that Aljaz himself will be rescued, choosing to confirm the death in the book's title, before the reader even opens the book. What unites the generations (and keeps the reader going) is the clear and abiding respect for nature we see throughout the book--for the power of the river, for the unique animals of the island, for the stories and myths of the old people--and the belief that there is a unity of man and nature. And Aljaz experiences the ultimate unity with nature in his death in the river, as he becomes one with the sea eagle who "carries the spirits of the ancestors."

The characters one meets in this book are memorable, as they survive the best way they can. The tales of nature and the mystical moments that Aljaz experiences are vivid and uplifting, a fitting contrast to the reality of life. The action on the river is realistic and exciting, and there is a thematic unity which connects the generations of the past with the action in the present. It may be self-defeating, however, to create a novel in which the reader is asked to become personally involved with a main character whose death is foretold from the outset. Though that confirms and reinforces the point the author is making about the hopelessness of Aljaz's life, it certainly makes this novel a depressing ride for the reader. Mary Whipple
8 of 8 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A great novel about life on Tasmania's Franklin River. 12 Jan 1998
By kflynn@ozemail.com.au - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback
I was interested to read this first novel by Richard Flanagan after reading his acclaimed novel "The Sound of One Hand Clapping". In going back to this earlier work I wanted to see if he was pursuing similar themes and if the writing was as compelling. It was. Here again was a master storyteller at work who refuses to release the reader until the last page has been read and the reader held in the grip of an idea that the broken in spirit will be redeemed.
This story of a man drowning beneath a waterfall provides the canvas to explore the emotional history of his family and by extension the emotional history of his island state, Tasmania.
3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars unique 20 July 2002
By Sarah Yates - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover
perhaps i found this book enjoyable because i have been a river guide and also because i enjoy magical realism. the sense of time and space throughout this book captures not only a family history but the essence of a river itself, and being caught up in it. as i began reading, i found myself hating the main character for his apathy towards his own life. i resented that i would have to wait until the end of the book for him to finally end his miserable existence and drown. but then as i read on i wasn't so sure what i wanted for the main character. a very satisfying read.
5 of 6 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Between a rock and a wet place 24 Jun 2003
By Stephen A. Haines - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback
Richard Flanagan has an almost unexcelled capacity to weave historical threads into his fiction. In line with many writers of the Australian scene, he deftly conveys his awareness of the Aborigine condition in this story. Despite his name, Aljaz Cosini, born far away in Trieste, yet manages to return to his ancestral homeland. Ancestral roots bear little, if any, sway on our monotheistic world. In other cultures, however, forebears are the foundation for existence, a tradition widespread and of extended duration. Flanagan's awareness of that cultural milieu is forcefully portrayed in this story of a man's final living moments.
Flanagan's method is subtle. We mourn for the drowning guide as the story opens. His fate is clearly inescapable. Strangely, he condemns neither his situation nor the river that is taking his life. The attitude is far from fatalism, however. His circumstance is opening a new realm of Aljaz' awareness. As he confronts the inevitable, Aljaz comes to perceive his ancestral roots. Visions arrive of events he could not have witnessed, yet bear no skein of fabrication nor the supernatural either in Aljaz' mind or in Flanagan's depiction of them. There are no deities or spirits here. Aljaz resents that at first - "visions ought be given you by divine beings, not ... marsupials and their mates". Yet these visions are events from the reality his ancestors experienced. They are also of those real people - his father, grandmother, and most importantly, his former girl friend and the child they lost. Flanagan accepts the Aborigine view of children - love them intently, but if they are lost, long-term grief is too debilitating a luxury. The white world didn't understand this view when they first encountered it, and it remains enigmatic even now. Aljaz meets death calmly after a tormented life, but it's not release from suffering he gains, but a fuller understanding of who he really is. He is joining with a lost heritage.
Describing Flanagan's style as "powerful" is frail praise. "Formidable" might be something of a start. This is not a book to rush through, or if done, one to turn back to again. Flanagan wants to confront you with the realities of history and become aware of the long-term effects of lack of cultural awareness. These aren't lessons acquired at one sitting. He knows there are deeply set roots underlying behaviour and this book is attempt to reveal some of these to us. He has accomplished this effort with vivid imagery and exemplary characterisation. We must applaud his effort with enthusiasm. [stephen a. haines - Ottawa, Canada]
5 of 6 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Possibly will be considered the great Australian novel. 11 Dec 1997
By A Customer - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback
Death of a River Guide consists of the meditations of a drowning man. As he reflects on his wasted life and troubled family, he begins to understand his past. The novel's broad sweep encompasses a lot of the darker parts of Australia's history, but it's really of general interest and deserves more recognition in North America. Flanagan is concerned with universal themes of original sin, forgiveness and, in the end, redemption. He presents these themes in the context of the life, times and death of an individual. And he tells the story with such a restrained yet effective narrative technique. It's worth your time, if you can find a copy.
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