"True History of the Kelly Gang" by Peter Carey. Alfred Knopf, 2000.
Is he a folk hero or a murderer? Ned Kelly, who lived in Australia in the latter half of the nineteenth century, has polarized the country. Imprisoned and sentenced to death for his crimes after eluding police for 20 years, he tells his story in a "letter" to his as-yet unborn daughter. He describes in eloquent detail the living conditions, the corruption, and the desperation of the people around himself, hoping to prove to his daughter that his intentions were honorable, but circumstances beyond his control made judicious choices impossible.
Carey chose to tell the story from Kelly's point of view, mimicking the style of Kelly's own writings, as preserved in the Jerilderie Letter, for example. Once you get past the unusual and colloquial language, the images he draws of life in those times are riveting and appalling. Considered from today's vantage of civil rights and social welfare programs, Kelly's life was hard and hopeless. Was his death karma or martyrdom? That's still being debated in Australia. He won't, however, be forgotten.