Brother Fish

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Brother Fish
First edition
Author Bryce Courtenay
Cover artist Nikki Townsend
Country Australia
Language English
Publisher Penguin Group
Publication date
Media type Print (Hardcover & Paperback)
Pages 842 (first edition)
ISBN 0-670-04208-0
OCLC 224184876
823/.914 22
LC Class PR9619.3.C5964 B76 2004

Brother Fish is a novel written by Bryce Courtenay that was published in 2004.

Plot summary[edit]

Brother Fish is a story spanning four continents and eighty years though the story primarily takes place in Australia and Korea. The story deals with the friendship of Jacko McKenzie, a native of the (fictional) Queen's Island in the Bass Strait, and James ‘Jimmy’ Pentecost Oldcorn, an orphan American ex-soldier, who have been meeting at the Gallipoli Bar of the ANZAC Hotel, Launceston, Tasmania for 33 years, since their release from a prisoner of war camp in Korea.

In the bar, Jacko reminisces back to his youth on Queen's Island, of the poverty, being the son of a fisherman and a washerwoman, and the characters inhabiting his home town. One of the defining points of Jacko's life was his first encounter with Miss Nicole Lenoir-Jourdan, town librarian and indomitable justice of the peace. The librarian would go on to fundamentally influence Jacko's life, starting with additional English lessons during his formative years, as a friend, and ultimately as a business partner.

A key feature of the novel is Jacko's recounting of his army days, first as an infantryman who did not see service in World War II (on account of joining up too late), and most importantly, those spent in Korea. It was during this spell that Jacko met Jimmy, an American soldier, and care is taken to delve into the background of the latter.

Following their release, the lads return to Queen's Island, where, Jimmy is a big hit with the local girls. During the brief stopover in Launceston, Jacko meets Wendy, the daughter of a local doctor, and ex-finance of one of Jacko's comrades, sadly fallen in Korea and the two eventually marry. As Jacko and Jimmy set about rebuilding their lives, ideally based on starting their own fishing business, they turn to the domineering Miss Lenoir-Jourdan once more. Her own chequered past as a Russian émigré, first to Shanghai, and later on to Australia via Hong Kong, following a dramatic fallout with a Chinese Triad boss is described in detail, and ultimately rounds out the novel.

The story concludes with Jimmy and Jacko enjoying their pint in the ANZAC, before going to say their final goodbyes to an old and dear friend, who is dying.

Major themes[edit]

Aspects of the Korean War are major theme of the first third of the book - in particular its status as "the forgotten war", the poor performance of United States troops, the brutality of the South Korean regime of Syngman Rhee, and the crimes against POWs.

Another common theme throughout the novel, is music, specifically the mouth organ, at which Jacko and his entire family are rather adept at playing. Jimmy repeatedly reminds Jacko that it is this music that quite possibly saved both of them from almost certain death in Korea.

The novel explores the White Australia policy, by way of Jimmy's problems encountered whilst trying to secure permanent residency in Australia. In similar vein, repeated mention is made of Australia's own dark racist history, with the aboriginal population being regarded as very much second class.