Why we love it: Sanctuary is a book about the human spirit. Like all Judy Nunn’s books it dazzles, painting a world that is simultaneously mystical and familiar. It describes the experiences of those able to survive the most horrendous circumstances, and the spirit of those who put themselves on the line to help them.
It’s a story of human extremity: we see the best and worse of people – their compassion, intolerance, and ultimately hope.
The story opens with a flimsy wooden dinghy running aground on a barren island off the Western Australia coast. The inhabitants are barely alive, with no idea where they are, thrown together in their will to survive. We meet Rassen the doctor, and his wife Hala the nurse. Massoud, a student. Karim and Azra, and their child Kamid, clinging to life. Hany and Sanaa, a couple who only have each other. And Jalila, the beautiful, young, and mysterious Yazidi woman.
Nine people, from different countries, cultures, religions and languages, but all with a dream of a new life.
Two worlds collide when the dinghy is noticed by Lou, a retired fisherman and resident of Shoalhaven, a tiny fishing port. There aren’t many surprises in this small town, and nothing can prepare them for the winds of change that come sweeping through.
The story of how this book came out is an interesting one. A group of authors was invited to spend the night out on the Abrolhos islands off the coast of WA, as part Big Sky Writer’s Festival (that also appears as an event in the book). Judy Nunn was one of those invited authors.
She describes the islands as bleak, barren, and desolate. The night she spent there was eerie. Afterwards, her husband came up with the idea of a boatload of refugees happening upon it; deserted, but with everything they need to sustain life – and thus the idea for Sanctuary was born.
Judy Nunn has written about immigrants in her previous books, mostly from European countries following World War II. This time she is writing about those who seek refuge from the horrors of war, but these people are very much in today’s world. They are a new generation: different people from different places with different backgrounds.
At its core, this is a book about stories. Some heartbreaking, some almost beyond our comprehension and some perhaps quite familiar to us. Stories that show how each of the characters came to be, and what they’ve gone through to get there. The book is at times hard-hitting and heartbreaking, at times funny and life affirming, and one that will make you think about other people’s stories.
As Judy says, if this book is to be summed up in one word? It’s about humanity.
About the author
Judy Nunn’s career has been long, illustrious and multi-faceted. After combining her internationally successful acting career with scriptwriting for television and radio, Judy decided in the ’90s to turn her hand to prose. Her first three novels, The Glitter Game, Centre Stage, and Araluen, set respectively in the worlds of television, theatre, and film, became instant bestsellers, and the rest is history, quite literally in fact. She has since developed a love of writing Australian historically based fiction and her fame as a novelist has spread rapidly throughout Europe, where she is published in English, German, French, Dutch, Czech and Spanish.
Her subsequent bestsellers, Kal, Beneath the Southern Cross, Territory, Pacific, Heritage, Floodtide, Maralinga, Tiger Men, Elianne and Spirits of the Ghan confirmed Judy’s position as one of Australia’s leading fiction writers. In 2015 Judy was made a Member of the Order of Australia for her ‘significant service to the performing arts as a scriptwriter and actor of stage and screen, and to literature as an author.’