The floorboards were hard and uneven as she knelt beside the Saratoga. Squeezing the corroded latch, Gin carefully eased open the lid, trying to predict the treasures inside. The lining was shabby and mottled with mildew, and drifts of mustiness filled the air as she began to unearth the contents from the shrouding dust. Mostly books, she found, a few toys, and a fat-cheeked doll lying naked on top. What had she expected?
When twelve year old Gin is sent to stay with her Aunt on the family farm, she is at first scared and homesick, but her Aunt Attie proves to be a caring, interesting companion. While her mother takes a cruise holiday without her, Gin shares Attie’s quiet, but busy, life on the farm. It is here she also starts to learn about her father, Jasper, who she never met.
Finding Jasper is the tale of four women, from three generations of one family, impacted by the absence of Jasper, a son, brother, husband and father who does not return from fighting in World War II. Each woman must cope in her own way and, although they have each other, at times it seems that the only thing binding them is the absent Jasper.
Central to the story is Gin – Virginia – the baby daughter of Jasper and his English war bride Valerie. Sent to Australia to wait for Jasper’s return, the pair live first on the family farm in the South West and then, when Valerie can stand the country no longer, in Perth. Whilst Valerie moves on and remarries, Gin’s connection with her Aunt Attie, Jasper’s twin sister, provides an anchor in turbulent times. Whilst Gin is often the viewpoint character, the reader is also treated to the perspectives of Attie and Valerie and occasionally, Audrey, Attie and Jasper’s mother, and Gin’s grandmother.
Set in the 1940s, 50s and 60s, the story is not told linearly, with the novel broken into three parts set in 1956, 1945 and 1963 respectively, allowing the reader to re-evaluate what they think they know and to develop a greater understanding of each of the women’s experiences. The journey through the Western Australia of the times is also fascinating, with the South West and the Nedlands area particularly featured.
As a tale of the impact of war on families, Finding Jasper is excellent, but it is also an absorbing portrayal of time and place, and an exploration of four strong, very human, women. This is the kind of story which leaves you wanting to check up on the characters time and again.
Finding Jasper, by Lynne Leonhardt
Margaret River Press, 2012
Available from good book stores or online.