Finding Jasper by Lynne Leonhardt


What a wonderful treat this book was for me, a book set in Australia from 1945 to the mid-60s. My era, if not my location.  In the section about the 1960s, the author mentions shorty pajamas which brought back my memories of the pajama parties of my youth.

The book is the story of Valerie, a British war widow who was briefly married to an Australian fighter pilot named Jasper who died at the end of the war; their daughter Virginia, called Gin; Jasper's mother and sister; and Noel, the second husband of Valerie. It moves about in time from 1957 when Valerie marries Noel and Gin stays on Jasper's family farm with his sister, back to 1945 when Valerie arrives in Australia with the baby Gin as they wait for Jasper's return from war on that farm and then forward to 1963 and the life of Valerie and Noel and the 19 year old Gin in Perth. This makes it sound hard to follow, but it's not; different characters dominate each time period.

Valerie has unpleasant aspects to her character throughout, but in the section when she has just arrived in Australia, we come to understand the horror she went through during the blitz in London. And we get to know Jasper's mother, who seems the quintessential Australian of the time, cheerful and outgoing as an antidote to her considerable troubles. Attie, Jasper's sister is happy living on the isolated farm life and from her we hear of the joys and beauty of the countryside. Then it's Gin's turn in the 1960s as the family copes, or fails to cope with its latest tragedy. 

One thread is the effect of three far-away wars of this century on Australians:  Jasper's father never recovered after his service in the Great War, Jasper was killed as a young man in the Second World War, and the Vietnam War intrudes in the life of Gin's boyfriend Theo. And of course the suffering of the women connected to them is well told.

The great strength of Finding Jasper is its evocation of a specific time and place, the countryside well outside Perth and the city of Perth itself during those years. Some historic events were mentioned along the way, for example, Kennedy's assassination. It was surprising to me that the Nedlands Monster was not mentioned, as his trial was during that time. His 5-year killing spree had a huge impact on the city of Perth.

Lynne Leonhardt, Finding Jasper, Margaret River Press, 2012, 316 pages, then published digitally by Desert Island Publishing (I read the Kindle version).

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