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The Lieutenant Paperback – September 14, 2010

88 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Grenville (The Secret River) delivers another vivid novel about the British colonization of Australia, this one a delightful fictionalization of the life of William Dawes, a soldier-scholar who sailed from England in 1788 with the first fleet to transport British prisoners to New South Wales. Dawes's stand-in is Daniel Rooke, a loner with a passion for mathematics and astronomy who makes a living as a marine. He joins the expedition with the hope of tracking a comet that will not be visible from Great Britain, building a makeshift hut and observatory separate from the settlement (largely so he can avoid his prison guard duties). Although food is insufficient and the marines are outnumbered by the convicts, there is little unrest, but while Daniel shifts his ambitions from identifying previously unnamed stars to discovering a language and culture unknown in England, tensions escalate between the newcomers and the Aborigines, forcing Daniel to choose between duty to his king and loyalty to a land and people he has come to love. Grenville's storytelling shines: the backdrop is lush and Daniel is a wonderful creation—a conflicted, curious and endearing eccentric. (Sept.)
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From The New Yorker

Grenville’s novel, based on the true story of William Dawes, who was among the soldiers accompanying the first prisoners sent to Australia, concerns Daniel Rooke, a lonely, introverted sort whose skill as an astronomer earns him a privileged position in the first colonial mission sent to New South Wales, in 1787. Living apart from his regiment for the purpose of studying stars, Rooke befriends a young Aboriginal girl and begins to compile a vocabulary and grammar of her language. But as tensions between the two groups escalate he must choose between what he feels is right and what he considers his duty. Grenville’s thematic relentlessness can be stultifying, but the honest beauty of her story wins out. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 320 pages
  • Publisher: Grove Press; Reprint edition (September 14, 2010)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0802145035
  • ISBN-13: 978-0802145031
  • Product Dimensions: 8.2 x 6.5 x 0.8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 10.4 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (88 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #771,625 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Kate Grenville ( was born in Sydney, Australia. She's published eight books of fiction, including the multiple prize-winners 'The Secret River', 'The Lieutenant', 'The Idea of Perfection', and 'Lilian's Story'. She's also published three books about the writing process that are classic texts for Creative Writing classes, and a memoir about the research and writing of 'The Secret River'.

Grenville writes about Australia, but her themes are universal: love, violence, and survival. Her characters are often inspired by real historical characters: her own nineteenth century convict ancestor, an early Australian settler; a bag-lady on the streets of 1950s Sydney who quotes Shakespeare for a living; a soldier in the Sydney of 1788 who shares an extraordinary friendship of tenderness and respect with a young Aboriginal girl.

Grenville's international prizes include the Orange Award, the Commonwealth Writers' Prize, and a shortlisting for the Man Booker Prize. Her books have been published all over the world and translated into many languages, and two have been made into feature films.

Learn more about Kate Grenville, her books, and how to get hold of them, at

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

29 of 29 people found the following review helpful By Friederike Knabe VINE VOICE on August 27, 2009
Format: Hardcover
... to squeeze gently the fingers of another person." This is a long winded explanation for the word "kamara", the Cadigal expression for something like 'my friend'. The Cadigal are one of Australia's aboriginal 'tribes' who Daniel Rooke, astronomer by passion and soldier by necessity, encounters after landing in New South Wales with the First Fleet in 1788. Rooke, a loner since childhood, highly intelligent and curious about science, but awkward in his dealings with people, is an unlikely hero for an engaging gentle story of first intercultural encounters with aboriginals as the new British administration struggles to establish the first settlement in Sydney Cove. In her typical gentle and sensitive writing Kate Grenville has achieved something admirable and exciting with this novel: by recreating a fictionalized version of the actual events of the time, she has shown how human beings can succeed in interacting across any language and cultural divide and as a result can develop friendships that will change them fundamentally.

Daniel Rooke, similar to William Thornhill in The Secret River, her 2005 award winning novel, is loosely based on a real person: William Dawes, a little known soldier with an keen interest in the stars, the strange natural beauty of the local environment and, last but not least, a talent for languages. He inspired and informed Grenville's fictional treatment of a subject matter that has not lost its importance for Australians since.
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19 of 21 people found the following review helpful By Daffy Du VINE VOICE on August 7, 2009
Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
I had decided on three stars (three and a half, to be fair) for this book before I read the other reviews, and now that I have, I'm a bit perplexed as to why I'm so out of step with the apparent consensus of the other reviewers. Kate Grenville is clearly an accomplished writer, and the book's subject is intriguing, with great potential to develop into a powerful story. But The Lieutenant never really escapes the detachment of the title character, Daniel Rooke, who despite his appointment as a British officer, is a man of science more than war. Only fairly late in the narrative does he begin to wrestle with the fundamental issues of culture, conscience, identity and chauvinism that underpin the whole adventure and that could have made for an extraordinary read had they been developed more fully. As a consequence, it remains an arm's-length story and never packs the emotional wallop it could, or should, have.

Most of the story centers around Rooke's transplantation to New South Wales as part of Britain's grand plan to empty its overcrowded jails by dumping its convicts onto another continent (which, inconveniently, happens already to be inhabited). While he's excited about the exotic nature of his new surroundings, his main interest is in making a name for himself by mapping the heavens in the Southern Hemisphere. Instead, he finds himself befriending a handful of Aborigines and in particular, a young girl, who begins to teach him their language, which, being a scientist and linguist, he dutifully records.

Grenville does a fine job of describing Rooke's early life as a prodigy who never fits in with his peers, as well as the hardships everyone endures once they land in Sydney Harbor.
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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful By Smith's Rock on October 15, 2009
Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
For many American readers, the most pleasurable part of reading The Lieutenant will be exposure to Australian author Kate Grenville, rather than the unfolding of the plot. Very popular (beloved is not too far a stretch) in Australia, the quality of Grenville's work, including her previous novel Secret River, is easily high enough to make the trans-Pacific journey to American shores.

Grenville's considerable skill as a writer, and her uncommon ability to achieve cross-cultural perspective, is no accident: she teaches creative writing, and she has lived in Europe, the United States, and Australia.

The Lieutenant is fiction, but based on the life of William Dawes, a lieutenant in the First Fleet that brought convicts to Australian shores in 1788. The main character, Daniel Rooke, is a bit odd, scientifically and mathematically gifted, with extraordinary linguistic talent. This constellation of characteristics, when encountered today, is often categorized as in the higher functioning autistic spectrum. Rooke, often painfully aware of his own limitations, works hard to establish a relationship with, and learn the language of, the Cadigal, natives that inhabit New South Wales. His growing respect for, and love of, the natives is transformative for Rooke. The conflict between the values that Rooke brings to Australia, and his deep attraction to the Cadigal, brings the story to a climax in which he has to choose between loyalty to his nation and allegiance to his own moral principles.

Kate Grenville's strength is in the details, and in her refusal to descend into literary soap opera.
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