The Secret Son by Jenny Ackland


I'm sad to read a book knowing it will be one of my favorites for the year that no one I know is likely to read. I saw a review of it on ANZ LitLovers and was happy to find that it is available for Kindle readers. The only other way I could find to get it is from an online seller called Fishpond based in Australia that claims to have free shipping anywhere in the world at a reasonable price (around $20). Can that be true? 


I don't think I can write about this book without revealing plot turns, and after all, a key idea is revealed in the prologue when an Australian interested in the history of Ned Kelly traveling in Turkey in 1990 bumps into another Australian, a young man named Cem. (Ned Kelly is a hugely important Australian figure; some regard him as a brutal, police-murdering thief, others view him as more noble, one of the oppressed Irish, fighting for dignity.) This book links Ned Kelly and another key historical moment for Australia, the sacrifice of Australian soldiers of World War I in Gallipoli by the plot point that Ned Kelly's son fought there, was left behind when troops stole away, and lived there the rest of his life. What an amazing fictional conceit.

The plot connects two men born a century apart; James Kelly, born in 1881, whose mother would never tell him who his father was (hint: his last name was Kelly). The other was Cem, a young Turkish man who grew up in Melbourne. Feeling rootless after finishing college, he traveled to the village of his parents in Turkey. On the way, he meets Harry, the Australian interested in Ned Kelly and it turns out they are headed for the same village. Perhaps you can guess that James Kelly was the soldier left behind in Turkey and that Cem who grew up in Australia was his descendent. The journey that takes you to this connection is magical.

First comes the story of James Kelly's solitary young life in Australia where he learns beekeeping, then his time in Melbourne where he finds his way to EW Cole's Book Arcade and eventually meets EW himself (an actual historical figure) and goes to work for him. He enrolls in the army and is sent to the Dardanelles where he is left behind when the army evacuates. He had spared the life of a young Turkish man and this man took him to his village in the mountains; there we follow the dramatic twists and turns of his life there. Meanwhile we have met the restless young Cem who lives in Melbourne with his Turkish parents and difficult grandfather Ahmet. His plan to visit the village his family immigrated from is met with opposition, especially from Ahmet, and the reason for that becomes clear later. 

I loved that the author hit those important moments in Australian history, tells tales of life in a remote Turkish village, and linked the two characters. What a great read this was. 

I came across a blogger who asked Jenny Ackland about writing the book and I found her response to be outstanding.

Jenny Ackland, The Secret Son, Allen and Unwin, 2015, 256 pages (I read the Kindle version). Available from Amazon for Kindle, and from 

Previous Post:
Next Post:



  • Thank you for writing about such great books. I wonder if you could weigh in on my description of Ned Kelly’s place in Australian history. I don’t know if what I’ve read gets the Australian viewpoint accurately.

  • Lovely to read your review Charlotte – and I’m so glad you thought it was a great read too. It was one of those books that was always a joy to come back too I found. I think your summary of the two main views of Ned Kelly is great and all that’s needed for a general reader’s introduction.
    I must say though that it’s easy to tell you are not Australian – “rootless” has quite a different connotation to the one you mean here (though that connotation is also correct, as it turns out!!)
    I remember now that I’ve come to your blog before, but you don’t seem to have a subscribe by email option. I’m afraid I’m a hopeless user of blog/website readers, so it’s really only blogs I can subscribe to by email that I remember to visit. I know there are a few others like me (though I also know there are those who hate email subscription.)

  • As I mentioned in your comments section about this book you can subscribe by email to this website. I’m so glad to see that my description of the views of Ned Kelly is reasonable. As an outsider it’s all too easy to be way off the mark. And I’d be interested to hear the usual connotation of “rootless.”


Recent Posts


Blogs I Like