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Publisher's Summary

Always leave a little salt on the bread...

Ikey Solomon's favorite saying is also his way of doing business, and in the business of thieving he's very successful indeed. Ikey's partner in crime is his mistress, the forthright Mary Abacus, until misfortune befalls them. They are parted and each must make the harsh journey from thriving nineteenth century London to the convict settlement of Van Diemen's Land.

In the backstreets and dives of Hobart Town, Mary learns the art of brewing and builds The Potato Factory, where she plans a new future. But her ambitions are threatened by Ikey's wife, Hannah, her old enemy. The two women raise their separate families, one legitimate and the other bastard. As each woman sets out to destroy the other, the families are brought to the edge of disaster.

©1995 Bryce Courtenay; (P)2000 Bolinda Publishing Pyt Ltd by arrangement with Penguin Group (Australia)

Critic Reviews

"In the tradition of Charles Dickens, Courtenay creates a unique cast of characters from the outset of this epic novel....Humphrey Bower's performance is a marvel...making this one of those rare books with a sweep of characters the readers come to care about deeply." (AudioFile)

What members say

Average Customer Ratings

Overall

  • 4.4 out of 5.0
  • 5 Stars
    2,912
  • 4 Stars
    1,282
  • 3 Stars
    397
  • 2 Stars
    142
  • 1 Stars
    138

Performance

  • 4.6 out of 5.0
  • 5 Stars
    2,844
  • 4 Stars
    645
  • 3 Stars
    166
  • 2 Stars
    49
  • 1 Stars
    57

Story

  • 4.4 out of 5.0
  • 5 Stars
    2,354
  • 4 Stars
    912
  • 3 Stars
    288
  • 2 Stars
    113
  • 1 Stars
    96
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  • Overall
  • Performance
  • Story

Amazing Historical Fiction

Would you consider the audio edition of The Potato Factory to be better than the print version?

Only listened

What other book might you compare The Potato Factory to and why?

Hawaii and Papillion - the excitement of a new beginning in Hawaii with the misery of prison as described in Papillion.

Which character – as performed by Humphrey Bower – was your favorite?

Mary - her perseverance was amazing; hard to think of another character similar.

If you could rename The Potato Factory, what would you call it?

I could suggest any number of clichés, but "Misery" needs to be included in any other title.

Any additional comments?

This was a great book. I found it very interesting that the author, Bryce Courtenay, has created much of the on-line related documentation tied to the English prison ships. He did a great job of researching the facts surrounding this topic.

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  • Robert
  • Orlando, FL, United States
  • 12-05-13

5 Stars despite being slow to get started

I gave this book 5 stars but really based on this volume alone, it may be more like 4 stars but taken as the foundation of a fantastic (so far... 3/4 through the 3rd book now) series, it's bumped up a bit.

The story does start out slow. I'm not gonna lie that I had to ask my buddy who had read it already if it was going to pick up and he said yep, and he was right. The biggest problem is not really the pace but how little I liked or cared for a couple of the main characters. It wasn't until the end of this book and some way into the next that the reasons for what seemed like a very drawn out character development became clear.

Just know that the author is using his characters not only to advance a great plot but also to tell some facts/history about the times and place they lived so we're seemingly not meant to love them all.

Also, the one real criticism I have of the series as a whole and somewhat of this book is that at times the author chooses to "wrap up" certain parts of the plot without really letting the story play out. We hear about "the rest of the story" through a conversation between characters or a letter read aloud. Sometimes I found myself really wanting to have stuck with a certain character or part of the story because it was interesting only to be taken into the future (this is an EPIC story spanning generations so it does skip forward from time to time) and left hanging about what actually happened.

That said, I HIGHLY recommend this book and this series. This genre is not in my usual wheelhouse either so it was surprising to have loved it as much as I did/do.

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  • Danzer
  • Indianapolis
  • 11-02-13

Brilliant but almost too cruel

What made the experience of listening to The Potato Factory the most enjoyable?

Brilliant, but too cruel: The book is a wonderful piece of literature worthy of the sweep and wildness of Oz and the griminess of Dickens' London. The narration of the audiobook is the best I've heard. The genius of Humphrey Bower's voice even exceeds Bryce Courtenay's as a writer. Bower does innumerable voices outstandingly well, from little snot-nosed urchins to aging whores and pompous magistrates. <br/><br/>Courtney has created a wonderful tale from the skeleton of history known about the 19th Century rascal Ikey Soloman (deemed to be Charles Dickens inspiration for Fagin in "Oliver Twist"). The fictional character of Mary Abacus is just as interesting, if not quite as endearing. And the secondary characters are wonderful in their scruffiness, pomposity, and winsomeness.<br/><br/>The book has one minor, and one major flaw, in my view. The minor is that conclusory statements about Ikey and Mary are made several times, which turn out not to be true. The one most common is that "Ikey is a broken man" or "has lost his will". But then he lives on to commit another scam or mentor another little scamp. But again, it's a minor quibble. More troubling is Courtenay's horrifying tortures of Mary. He goes much further than is necessary to win our sympathy and show Mary to be indomitable The brutality inflicted upon her in at least three instances is at The Walking Dead level, over the top and gratuitous. Bear the pain, the book is otherwise a delightful experience.

  • Overall
  • Performance
  • Story

Outstanding performance

Any additional comments?

Very good and solid story that will keep you hook till the end. And most of all OUTSTANDING performance from Humphrey Bower. He gives so much lives to the different characters<br/>I am going for book #2!!

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  • Nancy
  • Sparks, NV, United States
  • 10-23-13

Fascinating!

If you could sum up The Potato Factory in three words, what would they be?

Engaging, well narrated.

What about Humphrey Bower’s performance did you like?

The narration of this audiobook is outstanding. Mr Bower's portrayal of the characters, especially Ikey Soloman, made the story feel real.

Did you have an extreme reaction to this book? Did it make you laugh or cry?

I was fascinated by this tale of clever and ingenious people who, by default of their birth into the lower classes of English society, are destined to make their living by devious and criminal means. You can't help but admire their industriousness and ability to make the system work for them, in spite of the danger of being caught at their game.

Any additional comments?

This is in my top handful of most enjoyed audio books.

  • Overall
  • Performance
  • Story

Difficult Start...Don't Give Up

The beginning of this book was so dark and violent that I nearly gave up on it, but at the urging of other reviewers I kept going and am glad I did. The history of the exportation of persons judged to be criminals in London and banished to settle Australia came to life as Courtenay wove his tale, and the book culminates as a wonderful story of determination and survival.

During the tale, I was a little put off by what I thought was unnecessary antisemitism, but in his preface Courtenay had addressed that as factual so I looked upon it as a fact of life as it was at the time.

The narrator does an admirable job of using accents and a heavy brogue but speaks too quickly at times. At other times, the audio sounds as though it was artificially engineered to speed the narration, which also challenged comprehension. Nevertheless, the narration added greatly to the effectiveness of the story, and overall the book was a great listen.

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  • Janet
  • Allen, TX, United States
  • 10-16-13

Exciting characters - great listen!

The history of Australia is fascinating anyway, but this book really portrays a unique view of the early English settlers going to the continent. Everyone has an angle and everyone has instinctive qualities that allow them to succeed, despite the terrible conditions under which many of them arrived. I can't wait to hear the 2nd installment of this trilogy. The narrator creates nuanced individuals of each of the MANY characters. Numerous accents, pitches and vocal mannerisms are skillfully played.

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  • Linda
  • United States
  • 10-14-13

Terrific character development

What made the experience of listening to The Potato Factory the most enjoyable?

Skillful story telling and expertly crafted character development make for a terrific read. This first of the trilogy sets up the next two in the series which were equally wonderful. Best written book I've read in quite some time.

  • Overall
  • Performance
  • Story

Amazing historical novel of early Australia

Where does The Potato Factory rank among all the audiobooks you’ve listened to so far?

Best yet

Who was your favorite character and why?

Ike Solomon is a despicable thief, yet becomes endearing

Which character – as performed by Humphrey Bower – was your favorite?

He does so well with all of the voices to make them believably different people.

If you were to make a film of this book, what would the tag line be?

This may be a bit too gruesome for the movies - it turns your stomach with the brutality of the times, I don't think I would want to see all that.

Any additional comments?

Can't wait for book 2!

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  • Jackie
  • Phoenix, AZ, United States
  • 10-10-13

Good - worth the read

What made the experience of listening to The Potato Factory the most enjoyable?

I enjoyed the author's style of writing, character development, setting, and historical background. The historical background really helped give context to the characters.

What was the most interesting aspect of this story? The least interesting?

The historical background of the story, of both Australia and London.

What does Humphrey Bower bring to the story that you wouldn’t experience if you just read the book?

He has an understandable accent, and does a good job with different character voices, and emotions.

Did you have an extreme reaction to this book? Did it make you laugh or cry?

I was rather horrified at the treatment of children, and animals but that is part of history.

Any additional comments?

I'm starting Tommo and Hawk next.