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Book Review ~ The Promise: The Town That Never Forgets

30 May

The Promise: The Town That Never Forgets/Noublions jamais lAustralie by Derek Guille, illustrated by Kaff-eine, translated by Anne-Sophie Biguet, ISBN 9780987313959, One Day Hill. Hardback $24.99

The Promise

This non-fiction book depicts a century old relationship formed between a town in France, Villers-Bretonneux and Australia. The commitment to never forget the help provided by Australians, who saved them in World War I is expressed. Australia helped rebuild the town by providing some funds raised by school children in Victoria. Almost a century later, the people of Villers-Bretonneux returned help to Victorians after the bushfires that ravaged country towns. The article, ‘Bound by history, French children honour their debt’ in the Australian, provides information of the children from Villers-Bretonneux raising money to help rebuild the Strathewen primary school, and this is the event that forms part of the book.

Nelson Ferguson, a cornet player and artist, was a stretcher-bearer from Australia in Villers-Bretonneux, during World War I and suffered injuries. His grandson was inspired to travel on this journey and learn more about the town and the history. He invited musicians, from the Melbourne Symphony Orchestra (MSO) to form a brass band to play a private memorial at the Australian War Memorial, located just outside the village. Geoff Payne was amongst the musicians on this journey. Beyond the historical basis, of the connection between the two places, the book conveys a personal and emotional journey by Musicians from the MSO during a 2007 tour accompanied by the journalist and author of the book Derek Guille. It is the personal story of Geoff Payne that resonates with emotion in this journey. Whilst there, he discovers a photograph in the Memorial depicting his great uncles grave. The emotional impact of this discovery transfers to his ability to perform later that same day at the memorial.

I came to this book via a passion for the street art by the Artist Kaff-Eine. The artwork beautifully conveys the emotions depicted in the true story of the journey by musicians from the MSO in 2007 and it is the emotional connection that resonates. When Geoff Payne discovers a photograph a sense of feeling the shattering moment is captured in the artwork. The actual playing at the memorial heightens the emotional moment and affirms the enduring connection of the two countries. The artwork, by Kaff-Eine, is poignant in depicting the moments of emotion. The beautiful water-colour illustrations convey the story with a gentleness and contribute to the humanisation of this story about the harsh realities of tragedies and how they extend to affect people today.

This book was acquired for the school library and was placed on the display shelf as part of the lead up to ANZAC day. It is a bi-lingual book with the English story written on the top half of the page and the French translation written directly beneath. This contributes to relevance for Languages other than English (LOTE) programs in school, particularly if French is a subject studied. It is a great inclusion when exploring diversity and world connections with other cultures too.

Most non-fiction books, about history and war, in our collection depict prosaic iterations of history and its events. There aren’t many resources providing personalised perspectives, nor mapping a connection between Australia and another country over a significant period of time.

The Promise: The Town that Never Forgets, does not depict actual war experiences in detail, however moments are intertwined within the story of a modern day journey of musicians revisiting a town in France to play music at a private memorial. In the end it is a celebration of a connection formed during times of extreme situations. It’s a celebration of human bonding across borders and helps to make the world a somewhat smaller and friendlier place. It provides a faith in human capacity to provide support at times of greatest need.

Being able to review books, whilst working in a school library, contributes to greater knowledge of the library collection and assists in ability to provide recommendations to the school community about specific resources that are relevant to the curriculum. This book provides a fantastic avenue to explore the historical events mentioned by connecting with other available sources. Considering, History is now compulsory in the Australian Curriculum from Year 3 upwards, an evaluation of resources available in the library to support the curriculum is vital.

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