"Amnesia" by Peter Carey

Who Should Read This: Those interested in Australian politics and history.

When a young Australian woman unleashes a worm into the computerized control systems of the Australian prisons, she sets off an international incident.  Not only are the locks of hundreds of prisons throughout Australia thrown open, but so are the locks of 117 US federal correctional facilities, 1700 prisons, and 3000 country jails.  All because Australian prison security systems were designed by American corporations.  

But could the young hacker have known that this was going to happen?  Was she protesting Australian immigration policies or was she declaring a cyber war on America?  The only person who can get to the truth seems to be disgraced Australian journalist Felix Moore.  He has been hired to write the biography of Gaby, the hacker.  But the people who have hired him may not be who they seem.

Amnesia is the latest release from two-time Booker Prize winner Peter Carey.  Set in Australia, it takes readers inside a world of cyber terrorism, politics, and social activism.  

The first thing I have to say about this book is that it is nothing like the blurb on the cover.  I thought this was going to be about the actual incident, taking readers inside the world of cyber terrorism, about what happens in the world after the inmates are set free.  I thought it would be about the politics that led to this and about relations between Australia and the US.  Instead, I got a book about a disgraced journalist who is forced back into his past when he realizes he knows the parents of the hacker.  The story is about everything that leads up to book blurb.  And it’s not as intriguing as it is made it out to be.

So much of my disappointment with the book is based on the fact that it was not what I was expecting based on the way it was described.  But that doesn’t mean that there aren’t good points to the book.  There is a lot of Australian history that I knew absolutely nothing about.  From the relationship between the US and Australia during WW2 to the 1975 Constitutional Crisis and US military bases in the country, I was amazed at how much there was to know.  At times I did feel as though I should have read an Australian history book before I read this one, though how much of the real story do we get from history books?

I wish the two threads had been two different books.  I found the book to be strong in the beginning, dragging through the middle, but finishing up strong.  The book starts out with a very promising story that gets muddled up throughout.  There is such a strong statement within this book, so much commentary on the world we live in now, that didn’t need to be mixed up with the rest.  

The reaction to this book by readers is all over the map.  Check out the book on GoodReads and you’ll see people who absolutely loved it and people who absolutely hated it.  I think what it comes down to me for this book is it wasn’t what I expected and I just couldn’t get past that.  It’s a 3 star read for me - the writing is good, there are a few intriguing threads, and I definitely learned from the book.  But nothing jumped out as remarkable.  I think people familiar with Australia and its politics will really like this book.  Everyone else, I think it’s hit or miss.

I received a copy of this book courtesy of Random House of Canada. The opinions expressed above are my own.


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