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The Book of Science and Antiquities

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On the night after finishing The Book of Science and Antiquities, I dreamt of my father. 

December ten years ago my father died from Non-Hodgkins lymphoma. 

I spent two months at his hospital bedside. During that time, he slipped from sociability into a drug-induced alternate reality. He laughed and told me long stories, but I could only understand a word or two. 

This novel about "last things," the story and death of a man in the present time and the story and death of a man who lived 40,000 years ago, reached into my memory and in that dream, I relived a moment when my father was trying to tell me memories, or visions, while I listened hoping to catch his vision.

I consider rereading the novel's ending after my dream. Perhaps when I am ready for a good cry.

****
The novel is dedicated to Keneally's friend who found Mungo Man, and the storyline of this novel is inspired by this history. 

The fictional Shelby Apple filmed the finding of Learned Man whose remains were taken for scientific study. Now Shelby works to return Learned Man to his people. 

Shel has been diagnosed with cancer and his narrative illuminates his past and his grappling with impending death. Alternate chapters is in Learned Man's voice, telling of his world and life, climaxing with his sacrificial act to protect his community.

Both timeline stories kept my interest, but it was Learned Man who caught my attention early in the book. The imagined society and people are beautifully described. I saw parallels in the human experience of both men, for time nor technology, alter the basic human quest for love, meaning, and community. 

Finding that Keneally had prepared for the priesthood and was ordained a deacon as a young man was no surprise considering the novel's conclusion. I relished this existential talk.

Although Thomas Keneally has written fifty books, including the Booker Prize winner Schindler's Ark which inspired the movie Schindler's List, I had never read anything by him. 

I was granted access to a free egalley by the publisher through NetGalley. My review is fair and unbiased.
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Interwoven tales, one recreating the life of an ancient leader of a clan in Australia, the other the modern tale of a filmmaker involved in unearthing his bones and subsequently ensuring they are returned to the Aboriginal group’s land on which they were found. I loved the tale of Learned Man, which delves into the beliefs, relationships, customs and world views of the original inhabitants of Australia. I wasn’t as interested in the modern tale which struck me as yet another privileged white guy looking back on selfish decisions with regret...
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I was excited to receive this, having been familiar with the author’s previous works. It left me very underwhelmed. I was looking for an emotional read, and saved this for a time when that’s what I needed, and instead found it very sterile and not resonant.
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"The Book of Science and Antiquities" by Thomas Keneally is the story of two men from the Australian Continent who seem to have much in common.  However, one, Shelby Apple, lives in the present and the other, the "Learned Man", lived 42,000 years ago.  The book switches between timelines and between the perspectives of the two men.

I was really excited to read this book.  Thomas Keneally is a superb writer and I greatly enjoyed his previous works.  However, this one fell a bit flat for me.  Even though the writing is top notch as usual and I could tell that the author put a lot of effort and research into this work, it took me almost 1/3 of the book to finally get into the story, and even then I found myself skimming parts of it..  The book simply failed to come alive for me and it was a bit of a struggle to finish it.  

All in all, I look forward to this talented author's next work and hope that I enjoy if more.  I think this just wasn't the book for me.

I want to thank NetGalley, the publisher, and the author for the privilege of reading an advanced digital copy of this book.
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Many interesting paths in this book, perhaps a bit too many ventures without the needed adventure.  Perhaps I was too relentless to appreciate the work put forth into creating this novel.  Another day when I am more settled, I shall give this book another whirl
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This is a book that took on a lot of challenges for itself. It is a strikingly different book, that's for sure. It doesn't read like anything else I have read recently. But it also feels like Keneally hobbled himself with such a difficult subject matter. 
It is obviously enormously difficult to imagine what someone who lived so many millennia ago would be like. One of the major struggles of this book is that Learned Man comes across as quite a modern character. Similarly, his voice is far too similar to the modern main character. I think that a central theme of the commonality of human experiences could have happened (and even been improved by) characters who read very differently going through those same problems.
While there is some accomplished writing here, this book was not for me.
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I loved Schindler's List but this book was a little bit too much for me. I struggled and didn't really enjoy it.
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An interesting read, perhaps, but one that could have been a whole lot more interesting.  We see the world courtesy of a modern documentary director, partly as he reacts to his being condemned to suffer cancer, and partly through the eyes of one of his cinematic subjects – a man whose ceremonial funeral 42,000 years ago was the oldest known in Australia, if not the world, and whom his friend rediscovered.  The prehistoric side of things is a lot less clunky that it might read in summary – it is peppered with their names for the animals met, to the extent a bonus scene has to be added in the contemporary storyline for us to know what some of them were – but it rings true as an evocation of tribalism, proto-Aborigine myth and ceremony, and of course universal issues of duty, human coupling and threat of the inexplicable via god-given curses.  So no, I didn't mind it was written in English and dropped the C-bomb here and there.  It's the modern side of things that lets the book down for me – once we've covered a fair bit of ground regarding the modern resurrection of the prehistoric hero and such, we end up in much less interesting places, such as an eye surgery in Eritrea, a philandering quandary, and whatnot.  The director says "it is apparent even to me now that I sought to have other worlds than my normal, suburban one somehow enlighten and enliven me" – that's all well and good, but I didn't think any of it nearly enlightened or enlivened the book, however much the narrators try vainly to justify it all and thematically link everything.  Still, I've really taken against the last two or three of Keneally's ("Crimes of the Author", more like), so to actually finish one stands as a minor miracle.  I've yet to get to the liking stage.

NB – it's interesting to see this was initially called "Two Old Men Dying" – the change itself is a lesson in our approach to honesty.
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I must say I loved the subtext of this novel. All of it. 
It is a dream of archeologists/historians and humanists alike to view the world from all its points of view. Both in time/ space/ gender/ race/ what have you. 
All in all...we are more similar than we are different. Simple as that
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In this markedly Australian novel, Keneally has used his nation’s history in a tale that explores a number of themes and concerns of his life.  Shelby Apple, a lead character, is an aging film-maker. Facing a diagnosis of possible terminal cancer he will look back over his life and his family relationships (longstanding, but not always smooth). His first major success was filming around the discovery of “Learned Man”- apparently 40,000 years old. Passing through his career we are told of his experiences around this, in the Vietnam War, recording the battle for Eritrean liberation from Ethiopian rule, undertaking Arctic travel – all significant periods in his working life. But he also needs to come to terms with – like Keneally - aging and approaching death.
The discovery of Learned Man was not just important in terms of Shelby’s early filming career, but was a significant archaeological discovery of “international” significance. This will have continuing fallout as more modern, political, concerns evolve around the nature of respect for the views of indigenous people and their beliefs – regardless of the requirements of “tourism” or academic research themes. A battle still being fought. It becomes important to Shelby that Learned Man’s remains are returned to the local tribe. 
A careful, but very detailed construction of Learned Man’s life will be created and linked throughout this novel. Setting aside the belief that as other “advanced” civilizations have come and gone the aboriginal cultural tradition, albeit located in hostile desert conditions, has survived for over 40,000 years, mostly intact until the mass emigrations of recent centuries have placed it in danger of collapse. Shelby will believe that Learned Man might represent a significant mental and spiritual shift in the development of humankind to our “advanced” current thinking, talking people of today. He will present Learned Man as extra special in a spiritual sense too, as he leads in the practises that are needed to keep the people “in balance” with others and their environment both, thus preventing chaos. 
Taken together the two themes reflect on family life, morality, values, community support, co-operation or violence and maintaining peace -  the principles and the realities for both the indigenous Australian and one from a first world or western culture – over many millennia. A minor hope of one character is whether humans could make other leap in spiritual development and create a better way for people to live. Not something that has obviously happened at the moment – rather the reverse. But the requirement for balance is surely not just an issue for the local tribal people, also a wider lesson for all people of all cultures.
A novel then of ideas - especially about the nature of people and where we are heading as a race. Do people learn from experiences, their own and others? Can an individual effect serious change or does it take more? Do seemingly local wars have implications and impact for us all? Will we evolve to something better?  Ideas that have more than Australian implications.
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This was interesting but didn't quite work overall. There were moments when I was really engaged, but it was written in a bit of a subdued tone. The plot concept and method of telling the story were interesting. He is such a talented writer. I look forward to his next work which I hope to enjoy more. 3.5 stars.

I really appreciate the ARC for review!!
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I should start by mentioning how much I love all things to do with prehistoric civilizations. I don’t think I’ve ever read a Neanderthal story I didn’t like. Or a show for that matter, either. In fact, there’s a great recent PBS one you should definitely check out. So that was the main attractor here. But also I wanted to check out one of Australia’s greatest authors, whom I’ve somehow never read before, although obviously everyone has seen Schindler’s List movie adaptation. So a well respected author, a subject of great interest…this was meant to be a slam dunk and instead it just sort of limply bounced around the court. And I’m not even sure why. I really tried to like it. It is objectively well written. It’s just so…whatever the opposite of lively is. The sentences, well crafted as they are, just sit there. The images, well rendered as they are, just lay there. The book fails to come to life. The parallel stories of both the modern day documentary maker and the Learned Man of some 40000 years ago tepidly intertwine thematically in a slow paced meditation on the nature of life and love and search for meaning. It tackles all the major questions, but does so in such a strangely unengaging way. I’m not sure if that’s typical of the author or something specific to this book, but it just really didn’t work for me. Many reviewers mentioned how unnatural it seemed that the Learned Man thought and spoke in modern vernacular and to me that wasn’t even as distracting and offputting as the fact that this was a story of a prehistoric man and it wasn’t interesting to me. Such a strangely muted delivery on this novel. So yeah, I read it, it read quite quickly, it was conceptually and thematically intriguing, but that seems to only highlight the actual dissatisfaction of the reading experience. Definitely more of an acquired taste read. Thanks Netgalley.
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I don't really know why this book by Keneally really didn't work out for me, possibly because the premise doesn't seem to hold water for as the narrative unfolded.  No-one could be more surprised than me that I found myself just unable to continue on after 45% of the book.  Perhaps I read the book in the wrong frame of mind, and I might possibly try again some time in the future.  But for now this novel turns out to not be for me.  I would recommend that readers try it for themselves and see what they think.  Many thanks to Atria for an ARC.
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Thomas Keneally delivers an unexpected and ambitious read studded with philosophical queries and conundrums. Like other readers, I found the contemporary slang slightly offputting--but I applaud the scope of this unusual novel.
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First off, I want to thank netgalley.com and the author for giving me to chance to read this book. 

Okay, The concept of this book was interesting, but it didn’t really deliver. It was confusing how a human from almost 4,ooo years ago was almost using modern language. Or maybe this book was not my cup of tea.
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Well, this one was a bit strange. It’s trying really hard to be more than it is. Learned Man just...didn’t work for me. The whole thing felt forced. The premise drew me in but I was let down by the execution.
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4 stars

This book is a philosophical treatise on being human. It is a study of day-to-day life and the inevitable lead up to the ultimate question we all have – death and mortality.

Learned Man lived some 42,000 years ago in Australia, while Shelby Apple is a modern-day documentary filmmaker. Shelby feels a profound connection with this man who lived so long ago. He has traveled all over the world making films. He has experienced much in life and about life. 

This story is told with two voices. That of Learned Man and that of Shelby. What bothered me about the novel was that Learned Man thought and spoke in a contemporary voice. Of course, I'm not sure how Mr. Keneally would have made him speak in the language of 42,000 years ago. It would be hard to read a series of grunts, or whatever language was used at that time. Learned Man was wise, perhaps beyond his years and thoughtful in his actions. 

All in all this is a very thoughtful read. It made me wonder how life was back then. Very hard I'll bet, but Learned Man and his tribe carried on nonetheless. 

I want to thank NetGalley and Atria Books for forwarding to me a copy of this deeply fascinating book for me to read, enjoy (think about) and review.
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I was excited to read this book and I enjoyed the overall story. I did find it distracting that a man from over 4,000 years ago was using modern slang though. This is the story of a modern man and a man from over 4,0000 years ago and their connection. It was an intriguing read. I would recommend it, 

I would like to thank netgalley and the publisher for providing me with a copy free of charge. This is my honest and unbiased opinion of it.
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REVIEW
Having read Schindler’s List, I was eagerly anticipating Keneally’s The Book of Science and Antiquities. While not what I initially expected, I enjoyed this book. Reading about man over 40,000 years ago from a literary perspective was engaging. 

PRAISE
“A blunt meditation on last things, but still electric with life, passion and appetite...The account of two exceptional men who have lived ordinary lives: ordinary in the sense that they may be viewed as universal, as experiences of what it is to be a man, with all the virtues and humiliations that attend that station, across time and space...[An] intensely personal, hugely inventive and often moving novel.” -The Australian

AUTHOR
Thomas Keneally began his writing career in 1964 and has published thirty-three novels since, most recently Crimes of the Father, Napoleon’s Last Island, Shame and the Captives, and the New York Times bestselling The Daughters of Mars. His novels include Schindler’s List, which won the Booker Prize in 1982, The Chant of Jimmie Blacksmith, Gossip from the Forest, and Confederates, all of which were shortlisted for the Booker Prize. He has also written several works of nonfiction, including his boyhood memoir Homebush Boy, The Commonwealth of Thieves, and Searching for Schindler. He is married with two daughters and lives in Sydney, Australia.
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"Two tales, parallel and yet individual."  This is Thomas Keneally's description of this, his latest work.  Best known for Schindler's List, Mr. Keneally is a literary force, intensely curious and loving toward the entire world, its histories and inhabitants.  Here we have "a story by one old man about the deaths of two other old men," one contemporary, the other, some 42,000 years ago, united by forces of what it means to be human, what is called "flashes of DNA" by one character.   Shelby Apple is a documentary filmmaker whose work has taken him from the desert warfare of Eritrea to the bottom of the ocean in a submersible, and even to the outermost reaches of the arctic.  Each memory of such travel is presented in counterpoint to his aboriginal counterpart, while each man is coming to grips with the fact of his own mortality.  To read Thomas Keneally is a privilege.
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