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Bryce Courtenay - The Potato Factory

The Potato Factory is the story of Ikey Solomon, the true character on whom Charles Dickens patterned his notorious villain Fagin. Though Fagin, it transpires, is in fiction a pale imitation of the Ikey Solomon of fact.

Ikey, 'The Prince of Fences', is a nocturnal creature, brilliant, ruthless, unctuous and quick-witted. Hannah, his brothel mistress wife, is rapacious, sharp-tongued, amoral and filled with a burning hate for her husband and a fierce love for her children. Mary Abacus, Ikey's sometime mistress, born in St Giles, London's vilest rookery, survives a young life of distress and misadventure but is gifted with a knowledge of numbers and possessed of a spirit that somehow never loses the power to love and the determination that she will some day succeed.

All three are transported as criminals to Van Diemen's Land where the two strong and determined women raise separate families, each with the name Solomon, the one legitimate, the other not. The destinies of both family groups are irrevocably locked into Ikey's greed, Hannah's hate and Mary's soaring ambition - a potent combination that, when love is added, becomes a vengeful and explosive mixture as each woman sets out to destroy the other.

The Potato Factory is the first book in a trilogy that spans the short and brilliant history of Australia and tells of our painful journey into freedom. No nation ever made a less propitious beginning, nor chose a more alien landscape on which to start its human journey. Yet few peoples have stumbled to nationhood as free, nor welcomed through its gates a greater mix of colour, creed and race.

Bryce Courtenay digs beneath the myths in a cutting and powerful narrative that gets closer to the bone and sinew of truth than perhaps any other fictional account of our history. He tells us who we are and where we came from in a richly peopled and complelling story that touches the heart.


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