Jane Russ’ tale, based on “epic life stories in the Australian outback,” begins with a deceptively quiet tone as protagonist Zara celebrates her 80th birthday and commences sorting through the yellowing packets of letters and photographs in her old wooden writing desk. But as Zara reads, her mind returns to the past, recalling a youth steeped in tragedy that seems never to let up.
At the age of 5, Zara loses her mother. Her father decides that Zara will live during the week with the Henleys, who recently lost their daughter to a snakebite, and return home for the weekends. Zara forges a strong bond with the Henley sons, Stanley and Bruce, and the three become inseparable as they grow up in the rugged Australian outback. Then the brothers enlist to fight for their country in World War I. Zara is left behind to worry and wait as she takes over the family farm after her father dies.
“While the boys had been feeling the cold over there, at home they were going through a heat wave,” Russ writes. “Animals were dying daily, and all she could do was keep breeding stock alive, knowing that, in the end, she would have to kill the remaining stock.”
Life’s Circle is a well-told tale of a remarkably strong woman who endures loss and survives a brutal attack that will ultimately decide her life. Although the shift in the story from past to present is not always well marked, the narrative usually rights itself quickly enough. And while it can be a little on the saccharine side, that tone seems fitting for the era and story line. It’s a book for readers who enjoy history, strong women and life in the Australian outback.
Also available in hardcover and ebook.