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In this powerful novel of masculinity, Tony Birch evokes the central role of the Yarra River in the lives of society’s outcasts, as well as in the lives of two young boys, Ren and Sonny. The river is many things to many of Melbourne’s people: a refuge, an adventure playground, a place of sanctuary from family violence and, for some, a place to be wilfully disregarded and destroyed in the plunge toward development. Much more than simply a terrific novel of place, however, Ghost River weaves with tremendous skill a pacey narrative about how human courage and the river are intertwined. Aboriginal culture is in the background, yet is critically important to the novel. For Birch, one of the world’s leading Indigenous writers, the Yarra is never passive; it demands devotion and attention from Ren and Sonny and from the washed-up homeless men who live rough but meaningful lives on its banks. Ultimately, it is through the homeless Uncles’ stories of the Yarra that Ren learns how to fight the battles he faces on the cusp of manhood. Birch is a unique black Australian voice speaking from the Koori world, but influenced also by writing from the American deep south. He demonstrates here, yet again, that his work is a force of penetrating insight to be reckoned with and listened to.