Review: Searching for Charlotte by Kate Forsyth and Belinda Murrell

Title: Searching for Charlotte

Author: Kate Forsyth and Belinda Murrell

Published: 1st November 2020, National Library of Australia

Status: Read November 2020 courtesy Quikmark Media

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My Thoughts:

“We come from a family of marvellous storytellers….Our lives were enriched by their stories…”

In 1841, the first Australian children’s book titled ‘A Mother’s Offering To Her Children’ was published, its author, ‘A Lady Long Resident in NSW’. It wasn’t until 1980 that the book was correctly attributed to Charlotte Waring Atkinson (Barton), the great-great-great-great grandmother of bestselling authors Kate Forsyth, and her sister, Belinda Murrell.

For Kate and Belinda, who grew up listening to the stories of their ancestors adventures, both before and after their arrival in Australia, Charlotte was already a figure of fascination. To discover she was Australia’s first children’s author only increased their admiration for her, and inspired the sisters two year search for the truth of the life she lived.

Searching for Charlotte is a hybrid narrative, a historical biography but one that is inextricably blended with the folklore of the sisters family history, and their own journey of discovery. Only so many questions can be answered definitively with what remains of the past…records, letters, diary entries, all of which Kate and Belinda draw on, but to fill in the gaps the sisters take some liberties, some of which comes from the stories passed down through generations, some from the informed speculation of the two women.

I enjoyed the process of learning of Charlotte’s life, and her legacy, which includes a daughter who earned the distinction of being the first Australian born woman to have a novel published. It’s unsurprising then that Kate and Belinda take such pride in their relationship to Charlotte, who seems to have been an intelligent, spirited, and courageous woman who faced many challenges, particularly in the latter half of her life as the wife, and then widow, of James Atkinson in the NSW colony.

A narrative that reveals adventure, tragedy and triumph, country and culture, folklore and family, I found Searching For Charlotte to be an engaging and enlightening read.

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Also by Kate Forsyth reviewed at Book’d Out