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The Potato Factory (The Potato Factory #1)

4.04  ·  Rating Details  ·  6,129 Ratings  ·  405 Reviews
Ikey Solomon is very successful indeed, in the art of thieving. 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 19th century London to Van Diemens Land. In the backstreets and dives of Hobart Town, Mary learns the art of brewing and builds The Potato Factory, where ...more
Paperback, 666 pages
Published 1996 by Mandarin (first published 1995)
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Amanda Yes. It's a trilogy with the other books being, respectively: Tommo and Hawk, Solomon's Song
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Oct 05, 2007 Marissa rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Holy hell! This is one damn good book. Bryce Courtenay still amazes me in his level of research comparable to only authors such as Diana Gabaldon and Jack Whyte. It deals with the populating of the British colonies in Australia, Tasmaina, and New Zealand. While the accuracy of detail is impeccable, his skill as a storyteller is what keeps me hooked on ordering his books from Australia. Good God, I hope this man lives forever and keeps writing! Thank goodness that it is one book in a series of 3. ...more
Richard Philbrick
I "read" this as a download from Humphrey Bower is an exceptional narrator effortlessly giving each character their own distinct voice. I was enthralled with Courtenay's writing and Bower's narration. I don't know if I'd give it five stars as a print book or not, but I recommend it as an audible book to anyone.
** donated to CCU 30/10/2014

review finally!.

Ikey Solomon and his partner in crime, Mary Abacus, 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 builds The Potato Factory - a brewery, where she plans a new future. But her ambitions are threatened by Ikey's wife, Hannah, her old enemy. As each woman sets out to destroy the other, the families are brought to the edge of disaster.

The chara
M.j. Croan
Oct 12, 2010 M.j. Croan rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
‘The Potato Factory’ by Bryce Courtnay.

This excellent novel sat on my bookshelf for some months before I finally got around to reading it. I am not sure why, perhaps it was the title that did not strike the right cords. I even picked it up a couple of times, but dismissed it. What an oversight that was.
'The Potato Factory' is a journey back in time to Dickensian London and all the filth and squalor that inspired Charles Dickens to pen his many novels, and in particular ‘Oliver Twist’.
Although wr
Jan 16, 2009 Erika rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
First - I loved this book. After starting it on vacation (it was the only book at the rental home on the beach where we were) I had to find the others in this series.
The storyline was so fascinating to me as a look into the lives of the poor and downtrodden - prisoners sent from Britain to Australia. Because of the people involved the language is very course and I wouldn't recommend it to people who are offended by such. I don't believe it is filthy for the sake of filth, but if this were a mov
Jan 10, 2010 Teresa rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: fans of Bryce Courtenay, Australian history
I'm a bit undecided with The Potato Factory by Bryce Courtenay.

Yes, there's no doubt that Bryce Courtenay is a great writer. He has the ability to make you believe that you are experiencing the same things with the characters whether its in the streets of 19th century London or the colonial outpost that was Van Damien Island and even projecting sympathy towards the lowest scums of English society. Also, the way he sets up the background of the story is nothing short of perfect, you know each de
Nov 20, 2009 Charles rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This book has the quality of a folk legend re-imagined. The characters loom larger than life and protagonists endure years of the worst kinds of suffering before triumphing over their oppressors. The first half of this novel, set in nineteenth century London, is slowly-paced, but packed with eccentric, Dickensian characters, complete with dialect. The very eventful second half takes place mostly in Australia during its penal colony days, as the feud that boils for over 700 pages comes to a head. ...more
Oct 31, 2012 Alena rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
It took me a few months to get through this audiobook and every now and again I had to stop listening because it was just too much: the violence, the poverty, the lack of compassion. Yet I would always pick it up again, keen to find out what happens next, because throughout the story there is a glimmer of hope in its characters' grit, their will to survive and find peace, however short lived. Bryce Courtenay is an impressive storyteller who is sometimes ruthless to his readers while describing t ...more
Nadine May
May 06, 2012 Nadine May rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
What an altogether roller coaster journey about London during the early and mid 18 hundreds. I knew that 'life' during those times was rather terrible for the lower class of the population, but how vividly 'poverty' is described - in a Charles Dickens style - leave little to the imagination of the reader. The Potato Factory was a very good read and again my admiration for Bryce's detail in describing human misery to its fullest. I never knew that Tasmania was a destination for convicts, I knew a ...more
Mar 28, 2010 David rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Listened to on my IPod. Amazing Narration with Humphrey Bower doing many dialects with great skill. The story is about Fagan, the "villain" from Oliver, who is a real life character who Dickens used to tell the story of the young thieves. Much of the story takes place in Australia after his deportment for his crimes.
This is the first in the Australian trilogy:
1.The Potato Factory
2.Tommo & Hawk
3.Solomon's Song

I was hooked after the first chapter!

Bryce Courtenay is noted for his ability to weave dramatic, graphic, human stories with historic fact. He did not disappoint with this book. I could not put it down. We meet Ikey, Hannah and Mary in 1820's England.. "dark times, bleak times, hard times". They survive in the under belly of English society. Their lives and their stories are woven together..Deemed c
Nov 15, 2014 Natalie rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Set in the early 19th century, THE POTATO FACTORY explores the lives of London's thieves, con men, prostitutes, street urchins and lowlife who, suffering from England's social and political inequalities, are sent to the penal colony of Van Diemen's Land (now Tasmania). This Dickensian tale with larger-than-life characters and plenty of pulp is not for the fainthearted as master storyteller Bryce Courtenay spares no sordid or salacious detail. I loved the book but at 852 pages found it to be over ...more
Apr 02, 2011 Mirjana rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: australian
I enjoyed every word of this book,and who ever likes historical novels, will love it.
Australian's are lately so proud of their convict heritage(you can't become Australian now if you have a criminal record!), and most have romantic idea of settlers drinking Billy Tea and singing Waltzing Matilda, sitting around the fire in the bush, but reality of the times 200 years ago is much closer to this book.
Bryce Courtney likes to bring out "dirty laundry" and he does it with such elegance.
Jul 17, 2013 Kris rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I love historical fiction. Before I read The Potato Factory I had never heard or Bryce Courtney. He has a way of writing that makes you feel transported back in time. The story of Ikey Solomon and Mary Abacus is brutal, and heartbreaking, however you have to admire the determination and success against all odds. The events of their lives, apart and together, lay a foundation for an unparalleled story you will not be able to put down. I have just started the second of the trilogy (which I did not ...more
Aug 18, 2015 Trisha rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
My Goodreads friend from Australia recommended this author to me when I told her I was looking for something by a writer from her country. Another reviewer raved about the audio version narrated by Humphrey Bower,one of those talented actors who makes characters come alive through the different voices and accents he gives them. A good thing too because this novel, the first in a trilogy, is filled with colorful characters which made it a lot of fun to listen to them speak, rather than simply rea ...more
Jul 01, 2014 LemonLinda rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This book is a good one to read if interested in the historical perspective of Australia (or rather Van Diemen's/Tasmania) as a destination for prisoners from Great Britain in the early decades of the 19th century. It covers the prison ships as they transport those banished from their home countries and then life as they live out their terms and afterwards.

It is also the fictionaliized story of an infamous criminal, Ikey Solomon and his life of crime. Ikey is believed by many to have been the mo
Kathleen Hagen
The Potato Factory, by Bryce Courtenay, Narrated by Humphrey Bower, Produced by Bolinda Publishing, downloaded from

This book is the first in a series of three. Bryce Courtenay, in an introduction which he read personally in the audio version, states that it is his tribute to Australia, a country which has given him much. (He was born in South Africa.)

This book is about Ikey Solomon, apparently a real person. He was raised in the poorest streets of London, became a thief, and traine
Jill Polsby
Sep 09, 2012 Jill Polsby rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Many years ago I read "The Power of One" - Bryce Courtenay's book on South Africa......I never did read the sequal for some reason and I don't think I realized how many historical fiction books he had written. This summer I picked up Power of One again, and just so, so enjoyed it again. Courtenay's style of writing is gentle, informative, involving.....The people seem to be real people, with real histories and they tell the stories of the countries. Went on to read "Tandia", the second book in t ...more
May 01, 2008 Jacula rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This book was given to me by the lady in the next apartment to ours whilst we were holidaying on Crete. We'd struck up a 'Lovely weather again/how's your day been?' relationship whilst sitting on our ground floor balconies reading.

"You won't be able to put it down," she told me.

She was right.

The book is based on Ikey Solomon, the so-called "Prince of Fences" and the basis of the Fagin character in the Charles Dickens novel Oliver Twist. It is the first in a three-part series, followed by Tommo &
Memorable Quotes
“ only desire is to teach the word o' man and leave the word o' Gawd to the pulpit men”

“The rapacious white tribe who were arriving in increasing numbers, not only as convicts but also as settlers, wanted to own everything they touched. They slashed and burned the wilderness so that they might graze their sheep and grow their corn. They erected fences around the land they now called their own and which henceforth they were prepared to defend with muskets and sometimes even
Apr 30, 2011 Betty410 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
My Christmas book is finally finished--all 666 pages of very small print. My 5 star books all hit my heart and emotions but this one earned 4 for many reasons. Taking place in early 1800's starting in England with a actual character from history, the author weaves a story involving people in the lower levels of humanity; Ikey Solomon (he was the real man), the fence, his street urchins, the whore houses--the scenes that had I lived then I hopefully would not have known. Ikey schemes got him ship ...more
Of course it was the mention of Dicken's "Fagan" that hooked me into reading this monster. I went back and forth in my opinion while reading it - feeling more than a little weary of the whole underworld aspect(there is only so much pick-pocketing, fencing, bawdy-house, filthy rathole-type content I can take before I start feeling jaded). However! The characters really held me, and I stayed with them, hoping they would somehow (however unlikely) get to a better place. Ikey and Mary are both vivid ...more
Dec 30, 2015 Teagan rated it really liked it
I'm even more excited to go to Tassie next year after reading my first ever Byrce Courtenay book. I enjoyed the work of fiction very much so and I felt the story was clever and interlinked beautifully with past events.

It reminded me of Mary Byrant and her plight, just when something goes right disaster strikes!

Recommended for lovers of Australian literature and historical fiction.
Mar 16, 2013 Judy rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition

I loved this because of the stories. It is not a plot-driven book. Read it for the enjoyment of the times, but know that those times we're not politically or humanly correct and there are prejudices and slurs expressed by several characters. The only one that seems to be updated is about our main character, Mary Abacus, who encounters gender prejudice but overcomes it.
I listened to this on Audible and enjoyed the voice of Humphrey Bower. Great talent and variety! My only negative is the way it
Jul 13, 2013 Belinda rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Wow... at first I wasn't sure I really felt like reading a story set in this era, but once I got started Bryce's characters just came alive and drew me into their story. As the plot developed I grew to really love these characters and couldn't wait to find out more about them.
The whole setting of convict Australia was not without its gruesome aspects, but Bryce wove these in as part of the whole atmosphere rather than focusing on them for the sake of effect.
Loved it! Now I see it's part of a tri
Oct 10, 2013 Janiece rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I had a hard time deciding about this book -- do I like it, do I finish or now? -- and I gather others did too. It is definitely gritty and not the romantic side of the story that the history books like to tell. But, I do think the plot is very clever for the double and triple cross that takes place right before they leave England and head to Australia. The thing that makes it hard to follow is the switching of characters and story lines back and forth. I recommend this from the view point of hi ...more
Sep 23, 2013 April rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Supposedly the story of the artful dodger from Oliver. About the life and loves of Ikey Solomon, a swindler. Several times during this book I questioned why I was still reading it as I didn't care for any of the characters. It did finally take an interesting spin at the end, with the story of a mother fighting for her 2 children. (Which gets wrapped up a little too neatly for my taste at the last second.) Also we finally get the answer to what becomes of the safe. Took way too long to get there ...more
Kelly ...
Where does The Potato Factory rank among all the audiobooks you’ve listened to so far?
This is the perfect book to choose when looking for your next audio book. The narration is rich and complex and full of nuance. Mr. Bower deftly handles multiple characters and accents. Through his voice we come to know the less than perfect characters Mr. Courtenay illustrates. And we forgive them for those faults and flaws because we fall in love with them.

Which scene was your favorite?
I cannot pick a favorit
Aug 23, 2015 Julie rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I loved this book from start to finish. I rate it at 4.75 stars. If you're looking for epic historical fiction, in a similar style as Ken Follett's Pillars of the Earth series, then this is the book for you. I really enjoyed learning about Australia's history (at least the first part of it -- later parts are to come in the next books in this series), and I thought the author did an excellent job of incorporating the characters into that history. I was really drawn into the lives and emotions of ...more
Marietjie Steyn
Jul 17, 2015 Marietjie Steyn rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Die Old English is moeilik om te lees!
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  • All The Rivers Run
  • The Touch
  • Girt: The Unauthorised History of Australia
  • Burden of Desire
  • Territory
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  • Haussmann, or the Distinction
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  • A Fortunate Life
  • The Lieutenant
  • Journey from Venice
  • The Far Country
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I was born illegitimately in 1933 in South Africa and spent my early childhood years in a small town deep in the heart of the Lebombo mountains.

It was a somewhat isolated community and I grew up among farm folk and the African people. At the age of five I was sent to a boarding school which might be better described as a combination orphanage and reform school, where I learned to box - though less
More about Bryce Courtenay...

Other Books in the Series

The Potato Factory (3 books)
  • Tommo and Hawk (The Potato Factory, #2)
  • Solomon's Song (The Potato Factory, #3)

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“my only desire is to teach the word o' man and leave the word o' Gawd to the pulpit men” 2 likes
“The rapacious white tribe who were arriving in increasing numbers, not only as convicts but also as settlers, wanted to own everything they touched. They slashed and burned the wilderness so that they might graze their sheep and grow their corn. They erected fences around the land they now called their own and which henceforth they were prepared to defend with muskets and sometimes even their lives. They built church steeples and prison walls and homes of granite hewn from the virgin rock and timber cut from the umbrageous mountain forests. They possessed everything upon the island, the wild beasts that grazed upon its surface, the birds that flew over it, the fish that swam in its rushing river torrents and the barking seals resting in the quiet bays and secluded inlets. Everything they thought worthwhile was attached to the notion of ownership.” 2 likes
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