As Indigenous author Ambelin Kwaymullina wrote in a recent guest post, ‘The stories that people read about us matter, especially because, for many non-Indigenous people, stories are all they know of us.’ It’s important that we read the stories of Indigenous women not only to gain an understanding of their lives, but also because readers’ consumption of such stories finances the production of many more, in turn creating even greater awareness of and respect for Indigenous culture. Ambelin also offered five reviews of books by Indigenous women writers, and her post and these books are a fantastic read.
Over August and September, participants in the AWW challenge continued to read and think about the characters, themes, structure and politics of books by Indigenous women writers. Jane of GoodReads reviewed Ambelin’s speculative fiction novel, The Interrogation of Ashala Wolf, and loved it. She was ‘particularly impressed by the structure, which allowed the story to completely turn on its axis about one-third of the way in. It was clever, and it worked logistically and emotionally. The reader is left to figure things out for themself, but never left hanging, unsure of what happened.’ In the very best recommendation for a book, Jane writes, ‘When I finished it I wanted to rush to the library for book two (the library was shut).’ Oops!
Maree of GoodReads picked up Marie Munkara’s novella A Most Peculiar Act, which is set in Darwin in WWII and uses a short extract from the Aboriginal Ordinances Act of 1918 to introduce each chapter. Maree described this structure as ‘an ingenious way to weave the harsh facts, and point out the peculiarities (or rather injustices) that ruled the lives of Aboriginal people forced to live under the Act, and ones like it, throughout most of Australia in the twentieth century.’ While she felt the writing was uneven at times, she also found the book had many positives, including ‘an original voice, great structure, some laugh out loud moments and some strong passages.’
Anita Heiss’ latest novel Tiddas was reviewed by Faith of Beyond the Dreamlines. Faith was delighted that ‘Tiddas is speckled with affectionate references only a Brisbanite would really get, giving it a very strong sense of place. It’s also wonderful to read a book in which Aboriginal culture, and Aboriginal characters, are given such prominence.’
Nalini of DarkMatterZine posted on an interview with Anita about her novel at the Melbourne Writers Festival, revealing Anita’s motivations for and crafting of her work. Nalini also posted on queer author Hannah Kent’s interview with Bethany Blanchard at the Melbourne Writers Festival, describing Kent’s fascinating research process and search for a voice: ‘There was no room for Agnes to tell her story. Agnes needed her own language to tell her story as an outsider. Agnes employs body-centric, lyrical, deep-seated language, telling her story outside the dominant language-form.’ It’s a recovery project akin to Clare Wright’s The Forgotten Rebels of Eureka (which tells the story of the women at the Eureka stockade), but uses fiction rather than history.
A good number of reviews featured books by Australian women writers of diverse heritage. Marilyn of Me, You and Books reviewed Filipino-Australian author Merlinda Bobis’ Banana Heart Summer, a work about a girl growing up in the Philippines in poverty. ‘As in her other books,’ Marilyn writes, ‘Bobis blends the imaginary and symbolic with concrete bits of reality. Perpetually hungry, Nenita fills her story with recipes and descriptions of food.’ These act as a vehicle for commenting on the characters, including the protagonist and, ‘underneath the banana hearts and coconut milk, we see her own need not just for food, but for love.’
Maree of GoodReads reviewed Lily Brett’s Lola Bensky. Brett is the daughter of Holocaust survivors, and Maree found that the power of her writing lies in ‘the juxtaposition of the ordinary, even banal, with the horror of inhumanity. I imagine that this is what it must be like to grow up in the shadow of such overwhelming grief, and it adds a poignancy to Brett’s writing that pulls me in time and again.’
Rochelle of Inside My World enjoyed Su Dharmapala’s The Wedding Season, about happily single Shani whose mother is desperate for her to wed. Like an Indian version of Tiddas, this book focuses on female friendship, and Rochelle ‘felt as though I was part of [the friends'] inner circle, sharing their lives with them.’ She was also impressed that she didn’t see the plot twist coming, and thought it was ‘so great to see the representation of an Australian group that you don’t see much of in fiction.’ I think so too!
And if you’d like to read up on books by Australian women writers with disability, you can find a swag of them in last month’s focus, summarised in my post. I was so happy with the reviews and guest posts written for this focus that I bounced into October with a spring in my step. At this rate, you’ll have me skipping to the end of the year!
I’m Jessica White, a novelist and researcher, and I’ve been deaf since age 4 when I lost most of my hearing from meningitis. I have a PhD from the University of London and have published two novels with Penguin, A Curious Intimacy (2007) and Entitlement (2012). I’ve recently received funding from the Australia Council’s new Artists With Disability program to write my third novel, The Sea Creatures. You can find more information about me at my website. I’m also on Twitter@ladyredjess.