The Divine Wind is is a young adult historical fiction novel that I am currently reading with my high school students. I read it before they did, and I was entertained by the plot and character interactions as well as the multiple examples of conflict. So far, students have enjoyed the book as much as I did.
The setting is Broome, Austrailia both before, during, and after World War II. Broome is a seaside town with a mix of culture and ethnicity. The narrator is Hartley Penrose, a seventeen year old son of a pearl master, Michael Penrose. His family also includes a sister, Alice, and an English born mother, Ida Penrose. Hartley has a friend and love interest, Mitsy Sennosuke, a Japanese girl whose father, Zeke works for Michael Penrose as a pearl diver.
With war looming in the background, the cultural and ethnic differences begin to rise to the surface causing all types of conflict between families and friends. My students are half-way through the book and have found so much to discuss about relationships: can you choose whom to love? What if your parents don’t want you to be together because of race/ethnicity/culture? Can a relationship survive multiple challenges? We have discussed cultural differences of the English, Australian, Japanese, and Aboriginal. We have discussed the conflicts of the expectations of the time period and conflicts between countries in war time.
Garry Disher has so many little nuggets of historical and cultural information. I was not familiar with Broome, Australia past or present. I did not know what pearl divers did. I had no idea what the Register of Aliens was. Yet, I found myself exploring the Internet for information about Australia, stumbling upon the NFSA Film Australia Collection on YouTube. I’ve read countless informational articles about Australia’s beginnings and its geographical landscape, looked at Google Maps Streetview to see Hartley’s viewpoint at Cable Beach, and what Chinatown looks like in Broome. I’ve investigated the newsreels of the time, the music, fashion, and movies that might have been playing in the tin-topped cinema of Sheba Lane. I’ve share that information with my students and it has brought the text to life for them.
I think the book is interesting and entertaining. Disher’s language is plain, but he has some statements and sentences that are meaningful on multiple levels. I recommend the book for light reading and it shouldn’t take long for you to enjoy it. All the outside research is purely optional.