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The Potato Factory

(The Potato Factory #1)

4.12  ·  Rating details ·  9,231 ratings  ·  591 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, 739 pages
Published April 11th 1996 by Random House (UK) (first published 1995)
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Popular Answered Questions
Amanda Yes. It's a trilogy with the other books being, respectively: Tommo and Hawk, Solomon's Song…moreYes. It's a trilogy with the other books being, respectively: Tommo and Hawk, Solomon's Song(less)
Eric Maxfield I know its a 3 year old question, so by either reading the series or losing interest, the cliffhanger issue is likely long gone for you, but thought I…moreI know its a 3 year old question, so by either reading the series or losing interest, the cliffhanger issue is likely long gone for you, but thought I would answer anyway for others. If you ended up reading the others maybe you could add your own view.

For me, the usual pattern for most Bryce Courtenay books is I find it a slog for the first half and then it sucks me in and I get hooked about half way through and end up loving it by the conclusion. This one certainly followed that pattern, but has a conclusion that stands pretty well on its own. Each book stands alone, but the story is cumulative, so I could not imagine reading them out of order. The real cliffhanger is at the end of the 2nd novel Tommo & Hawk and is so compelling that I can't imagine anyone not jumping out immediately to get the final book, so the 2nd and 3rd novels may as well be Part I and Part II of the same book. But I still feel this one could be read separately.

Overall the trilogy became one of my favourites and made me go out and read everything else the author had published. My criticisms of the author in general is that it feels to me like he goes over the same story again and again, his books can be overly long, and as I mentioned, it takes a while to connect with the protagonist's point of view. But once connected, the ability of the author to make you identify with the characters and feel emotionally invested in the story is unparalleled.(less)

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Aug 22, 2007 rated it it was amazing
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
Apr 29, 2020 rated it it was amazing
Perhaps my favorite work of historical fiction. Courtenay spins a intriguing tale of crime and deceit in early 19th century England and the Hobart Town penal colony. Ikey Solomon (likely the character that Fagen of Oliver was based on) is easy to both love and hate. We find ourselves sympathizing with Solomon, and despising him at the same time.

A must-read for historical fiction fans. You will find yourself wanting to read the two other books in the series.
Richard Philbrick
Dec 27, 2011 rated it it was amazing
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. ...more
Sonja Arlow
Aug 19, 2020 rated it really liked it
3.5 stars

South African born (and later banished), this author has many well-known titles under his belt, yet this is my first book by him.

The beginning of the book reminded me a bit of The Five: The Untold Lives of the Women Killed by Jack the Ripper in so much as the descriptions of London were so vivid, the poverty and struggles so real.

I was not really a fan of Ikey’s character, even if he was based on a true historical figure. I did like his criminal activities in London but once he got ship
Dec 23, 2009 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
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
M.j. Croan
Oct 12, 2010 rated it it was amazing
‘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
Aug 16, 2018 rated it really liked it
This is Historical Fiction and I've had this in my audio library for quite some time. I'll first say that the narration was wonderfully done. When that happens, it adds to the enjoyment.

I liked this. I liked that it fully covered the same characters for decades. I felt like I really got to know them. Even when they weren't particularly likable, I felt I understood them and their actions. I liked the way the the author took opportunities to torture his characters. They really were so tortured, bu
Jan 16, 2009 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
Blaine DeSantis
Jun 04, 2017 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Loved this book! This is now the 3rd book I have read by the author and I plan to read more. The first I had read was "The Power of One" which is a truly marvelous book, after that I read "The Persimmon Tree" which was a slow and plodding disappointment to me. And so I came to this book on my Kindle and had no idea what to expect. What I got was a book that held my rapt attention, a book that was a super fast and interesting read, a book that includes two characters that also appear in Charles D ...more
Oct 31, 2012 rated it really liked it
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
Sue Gerhardt Griffiths
I picked up The Potato Factory by Bryce Courtenay, looked at it, flipped to the last page and groaned, a whopper of a book and one I’ve had on my shelf for many many years (possibly because of its size and it being the first volume in The Potato Factory Trilogy) so it was high time I moved it up to my TBR (coffee table) pile however, to peruse 800 pages plus seemed like a huge task at this time (so many challenges to complete), I grabbed my phone, checked the Borrowbox app and there it was, with ...more
Edwin Priest
Oct 11, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: audiobook
Big, brash and epic, The Potato Factory takes us back to early 19th century London and to the early years of England’s penal settlement in Tasmania, “Van Diemen’s Land”. This is the London of Charles Dickens, gritty with poverty, violence, brutality and crime, much of which we come to see, gets exported to Australia.

The Potato Factory is Courtenays’ fictionalized history of Ikey Solomon, his wife Anna and his erstwhile mistress and business partner, Mary. Ikey is a London Jew, a master “fence”,
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 crim
Nov 20, 2009 rated it it was amazing
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
Nov 07, 2014 rated it really liked it
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
Mar 08, 2020 rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
My second attempt at a Courtenay, and will be my last. I just don’t like his writing style or the way he goes about telling a story. Initially I was intrigued enough to see where the story went, but as with ‘Power of One’ the long-winded writing got the better of me. This felt like some sort of ribald dark comedy, with falling on bosoms and getting tangled in skirts, amongst gang rapes and beatings; a smattering of Dickensian darkness with the antics of Richardson’s Pamela. Skipped ahead after 1 ...more
Mar 09, 2017 rated it did not like it
Because of my passing interest in the antipodes, after I read its description I thought maybe this book would give me some insight into life in Australia during the country's early years, specifically the first half of the nineteenth century.
Unfortunately, I never got to the part where the main characters actually moved to Australia from England. They were so crass and disgusting, it became impossible for me to continue reading about them and their dissolute antics. So I gave it up, after abou
Jul 22, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: classics-read
This is a historical fiction about the most notorious criminal in England in the early 1800's and his exile to Australia. It reads to me like a Dickens novel, set in the same time period. I've never actually read any other books that tell the story of how Australia was settled and how the convicts were brought here and treated once they arrived. The first half of the book is wordy, slow and hard to read. And only at the halfway point it gradually accelerates. So I doubt very much whether I’ll pi ...more
Feb 22, 2020 rated it it was amazing
It took me some time to get into this one. Everything about this book is so descriptive. About a quarter in it finally hit, I couldn’t stop reading this soap opera drama. My Australian husband recommended I read this series. He read it when he was much younger and thought it would be a good history lesson of sorts about Australia through this historical fiction series. If you’ve started and can’t get into it, hang on!! I can’t wait to read the next book in this series.
Mar 28, 2010 rated it it was amazing
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. ...more
Sep 05, 2012 rated it really liked it
Shelves: hf, 1990s, australia
Could I read it again? Maybe. Liked Courtenay's presentation of the then world ... but the books began to out-page me ... the pace as the series continued plod, packing too many pages. Tired of living in Courtenay's created world.
Still, a solid four-star the first time.
2016 vreading challenge: a historical fiction novel.

In many ways, The Potato Factory could be described as a manifesto of the underdog wrapped in a scathing indictment of early 19th British culture: it features many characters from traditionally downtrodden classes who succeed through hard work, wits, and pure gumption despite the verdict of “society” that they were born to be trash, are inherently trash, will always be trash, and shouldn't even bother to dream of a better life because they are
Jeanene Palmer
Mar 09, 2017 rated it it was amazing
I listened to the audiobook of 23 hours. Fabulous! This book took the author 20 years to write due to research and accuracy. The story is based on true individuals of Ikey Solomon and Mary Sparrow who were convicts and sent to Australia to serve their sentences. MR. Cannon did a wonderful job telling their stories of street debauchery and Ikey's life of crime and Mary's good nature and tenacity to overcome society's views of criminals and women. The actor who read was superb! This is the first b ...more
Gillian Murrell
Jul 08, 2017 rated it it was amazing
This was my first Bryce Courtenay book and if the others are anything like this it will not be my last. The amount of research that must have went into this story is amazing. The story follows the journey of one Ikey Solomon. Ikey's journey starts in England and eventually ends in Tasmania. Along the way we meet many loveable character and some we love to hate mainly Ikey's wife Hannah. Mary Abacus as she is come to be know, due to her use of the abacus is a stand out character throughout the en ...more
A real page-turner, I couldn't put it down! ...more
Jun 05, 2016 rated it it was amazing
Recommended to Deyanne by: Lisa and Liza
Lately I have been on a Bryce Courtenay reading marathon. After just finishing April Fool's Day I wanted to read more from this author that has touched my life, particularly with his first novel The Power of One. That is definitely "absolutal" on my favorite list.

In the preface to this novel Courtney writes:
"These were dark times, bleak times, hard times, times where a poor man's life was regarded as less valuable than that of a pig, a poor Jew's far less valuable even than that. That Ikey Sol
Jul 30, 2020 rated it really liked it
I really enjoyed this sweeping epos. Courtenay has a gift for guiding the reader through his epic stories that are packed full of colourful characters, history and interesting facts about the working of the a wide variety of topics, including fencing, surviving in a prison colony, brewing beer and weather systems.
Jul 20, 2015 rated it liked it
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
Mar 10, 2011 rated it it was amazing
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.
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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

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The Potato Factory (3 books)
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  • Solomon's Song (The Potato Factory, #3)

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167 likes · 43 comments
“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.” 5 likes
“my only desire is to teach the word o' man and leave the word o' Gawd to the pulpit men” 3 likes
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