An award-winning documentary filmmaker, Shelby Apple is obsessed with reimagining the full story of the Learned Man—a prehistoric man whose remains are believed to be the link between Africa and ancient Australia. From Vietnam to northern Africa and the Australian Outback, Shelby searches for an understanding of this enigmatic man from the ancient past, unaware that the two men share a great deal in common.
... a book of philosophy, a novel that seeks significance in the most vital arena ... This is a story of how to die but also of how to live. If it reeks of death, it also bristles with what makes life worth living ... The style is deceptively facile. Keneally, curiously, remains an underrated writer. This may be because he is astonishingly prolific ... Keneally has remained consistently engaging, provocative and original down the years ... a book of wonder and regular brilliance ... Keneally’s art is to make the profound accessible. The important is rendered seamlessly ... invigorating.
... markedly Australian ... Taken together, the two themes reflect on family life, morality, values, community support, co-operation or violence and maintaining peace – the principles and the realities for both the indigenous Australian and one from a First World or Western culture – over many millennia.
... sometimes has the feel of a late-life stock-taking exercise in novel form ... a mixed bag. There is a sense of too many elements — both narrative and thematic — being shoehorned in. Some of Shelby’s reminiscences feel irrelevant, as if Keneally has included them mainly to fill space, or because they mirror the author’s own experiences ... And yet these flaws are redeemed, to a large extent, by the sheer enjoyableness of the Shade chapters. His adventures are consistently memorable, and it is well worth reading this novel for them alone ... Has Keneally captured anything important about human life 42,000 years ago? Probably not. But he has clearly had fun trying, and so will readers of this book.