The Empire

Lost in Tasmania

In Wanting, a new book about Tasmania, Richard Flanagan treads the fine line between fact and fiction—what emerges is a fictionalized historical account. Wanting is the story of Mathinna, an aborigine girl who is adopted by Sir John Franklin, governor of Van Diemen’s Land (modern-day Tasmania), and later abandoned. We see the social fallout of imperialism; Lady Franklin chooses Mathinna because she wants to civilize a “savage.” Compared to his 2002 masterpiece, Gould’s Book of Fish, Michiko Kakutani writes that Flanagan’s latest is “an uneven chamber piece, compared with a glorious, full-blown symphony.” And it “plays fast and lose” with the lives of historical characters like Franklin and Charles Dickens—and even goes so far as to suggest that Franklin sexually assaulted Mathinna, of which there is no factual evidence.