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Oh Happy Day Reviews

Oh Happy Day by Carmen Callil

Oh Happy Day: Those Times and These Times

Carmen Callil

3.71 out of 5

4 reviews

Imprint: Yellow Jersey Press
Publisher: Vintage Publishing
Publication date: 5 Nov 2020
ISBN: 9780224090308
4 stars out of 5
12 Dec 2020

"pensive and lyrical"

Callil provides a fascinating and emotive case study of just what those villainies were, both at home and abroad. Past historians have argued that as we know so little about history’s disenfranchised people it is an impossible task to reconstruct their narratives. With this triumphant family memoir, not only has Callil proved this to be untrue, but she has shown how these voices might be restored to the record, and why, for the integrity of our national story, we must do it.


4 stars out of 5
Lucy Scholes
6 Dec 2020

"Callil certainly knows her stuff"

Oh Happy Day is a personal story, but it is not an intimate one. Callil doesn’t try to get inside her ancestors’ heads, confining herself to facts rather than flights of fancy. (Similarly, she’s an eloquent but not an especially poetic writer.) We slip in and out of her subjects’ lives in the same way that they slip in and out of the historical record, something that Callil gets around by means of what’s clearly been indefatigable research. She weaves Sary and George’s story – along with that of another ancestor, Mary Ann Brooks, and her silversmith father, John, who escape the Lincolnshire workhouse for a new life in the Antipodes – into the much broader narrative of social injustice, poverty, and the darker side of the British Empire.

4 stars out of 5
Peter Conrad
8 Nov 2020

"In its often tearful compassion, its eloquent rage and its vengeful delight in proletarian snook-cocking, Oh Happy Day deserves to be called Dickensian"

By contrast with Callil’s angry political salvos, her evocations of Australian nature ache with homesickness. She likens the birds to “flying jewellery”, smiles at their babbling coloratura and gazes in rapture at the high blue dome that replaces the dank, discoloured English sky. She also admires the succinct cartography of the indigenous people, whose maps were wiped clean by the colonial invaders. Yackandandah, she remarks, is “a wonderfully short word for ‘one boulder on top of another at the junction of two creeks’.” Looking back, Callil perhaps regrets her early choice of expatriation.

3 stars out of 5
Ysenda Maxtone Graham
24 Oct 2020

"The story of how Carmen Callil’s ancestors ended up down under is powerfully told,"

The book’s title, Oh Happy Day, has seemed sarcastic up till now, as there hasn’t been a single happy day in anyone’s life. There is, however, one at last: the day on which George, on arrival in New South Wales, is not chained and put to public road-building works, but sent directly to help to build new settlements north of Sydney. Callil beautifully describes the birdsong and plumage that would have been all around him in the bush, along with the mosquitoes, fleas, spiders and poisonous snakes.