Book Review: A Fortunate Life
The chances are if you are from Australia you've heard of "A Fortunate Life" even if you haven't read it. Beyond the Australian shores it hasn't had the attention it deserves. That's most probably because the book was not written by a 'great' or famous man. This is the story of Albert Facey, an itinerate worker, who was illterate before the age of nineteen. It's also a slice of Western Australian history, as seen through the eyes of a common man.
Albert Facey wrote this autobiography at the end of his life, at the urging of his children and grandchildren. They had listened to his stories of life at the turn of the 20th Century for years and asked him to write them down. So Albert sat at the kitchen table and poured his life story into a series of notebooks, which was eventually sent off to the local historical society for editing before being bound into enough books for his family. The members of the historical society who read it realised that they what they had in their hands was something very special, and they cleaned up the grammar and sent it to a publisher. The book was published the year before Facey died.
When I first read this book, especially the formative years of Albert Facey's life, I thought that the title was ironic. To me, it appeared that Facey had just the opposite to a fortunate life. He was abandoned by his mother at the age of two after his father had died in the Goldfields of Western Australia. He was raised by his grandmother, and eventually they moved from Victoria to Western Australia to be with his mother. She had remarried and disowned her younger children.
Facey was not educated because of lack of money, and went to work at the age of ten. In a dramatic twist, the people he was sent to work for were cattle rustlers! He escaped from them and returned to his grandmother on foot. This was where we first see Facey's determination to go on no matter what.
One of the most chilling parts of the book is his descriptions of the landings at Gallipoli on 25th April, 1915. What gives it even greater impact, at least for me, is his earlier description of the night in Lemnos Harbour, while they were awaiting their orders. The juxtaposition of the beauty of that night followed by the destruction and terror of the next was powerful.
Facey lived through the war, got married, and then lived through the depression. Somehow he always survived. He knew when to walk away, I think. A skill not many people have.
The book itself is written in very simple language, and has the style of someone telling you a story. His voice comes out very strongly through his words on the page, and it's easy to see him telling the tale to his children and grandchildren. It's an easy read, and an unpretentious one. Although you may not agree with his point of view of many subjects, he states his reason for them plainly and simply.
I highly recommend this book if you like autobiographies. Facey knew how to tell a tale, and the story of his life - that of a common man - is compelling. It still amazes me that he didn't learn how to read and write until he came back from World War 1. Stories of ordinary life have their place and by the end of the book, I think you'll agree with Facey that he did, indeed, have a fortunate life.