Over the last four months, 80 books featuring diversity were entered into our database. A big shout-out is in order to blogger Nalini Hayes of Dark Matter Zine, who penned more than a third of these!
Given Melissa Lucashenko’s fantastic & well-deserved win of the Miles Franklin award this year for Too Much Lip, it was great to see some reviews of this excellent work about the Salter family, who live on Bundjalung country. Denise describes the characters as ‘complex, not always especially likeable, but compelling. I cared a great deal about this family’, and she ‘enjoyed the way the author wove in words from the Bundjalung language through the dialogue’.
Calzean on GoodReads describes it as a ‘gutsy book’ in which people ‘live on the edge of the law and rely on their traditions and beliefs to keep the family somehow functioning. Small town Australia means their experiences all revolve around persecution, stigmatism and corrupt officials either stealing their lands or their people’.
I too thought it was a great read, & encourage AWW participants to pick up & review a copy before 2019 is out (and it’s rushing by at great speed!).
Other reviews of books by Aboriginal authors include Elizabeth Fitzgerald’s thoughts on Ambelin and Ezekiel Kwaymullina’s Catching Teller Crow. This brother and sister duo are Palyku people of the Pilbara region of Western Australia, and their YA novel features a ghost as a protagonist and features a number of perspectives on race in Australia. As Elizabeth writes, the story:
weaves together the stories of a number of Aboriginal girls, allowing for different portrayals. Isobel is described as having pale skin, but her maternal line is Aboriginal. As the story progresses, she draws strength from the tales of those ancestors. These are stories of hardship that illustrate the impact that the Stolen Generations — where members were forcibly taken away to be assimilated into white settler culture — and white settlement had on her family. These were unquestionably horrific events, and the story doesn’t gloss it over. However, it also shows that these events ultimately didn’t quash the sense of self Isobel’s ancestors possessed. In turn, Isobel remembers their stories and draws strength from them when her own sense of self is under attack.
Although, as Elizabeth notes, the work presents difficult topics, the strong relationships between the characters ‘leaven the darkness’.
AWW stalwart Cass Moriaty wrote a considered review of Lynette Russell (historian and Director of the Monash Indigenous Studies Centre) & Penny Olsen’s Australia’s First Naturalists: Indigenous Peoples’ Contribution to early Zoology, which goes some way to redressing the lack of acknowledgement of the ‘well-deserved recognition of the role of Australia’s Indigenous people in collecting, naming, cataloguing and sharing their understanding of this country’s native fauna’.
Nancy Elin also reviewed Leslie and Tammy Williams’ Not Just Black and White, winner of the David Unaipon award in 2014, and the Queensland Premier’s Award for a Work of State Significance in 2016. This works is a collaboration between mother and daughter which details Leslie’s life in the Queensland’s Cherbourg settlement, and Tammy’s journey to becoming a lawyer and, Nancy writes, it shows ‘the strength of family’.
The most reviewed work tagged ‘diversity’ over the last four months was Tabitha Bird’s A Lifetime of Impossible Days, with 13 reviews. Through an interesting literary device of containing a lifetime’s three selves in one person, the novel charts the ongoing impact of childhood trauma. Nalini of Dark Matter Zine references its ‘incredible insight into trauma while ameliorating the darker side of society with hope and healing. You may laugh, you may cry, and you may learn something.’
Several books by our guest bloggers were reviewed by readers. Lee Kofman, who migrated to Australia from Russia (via Israel), has published Imperfect, a nonfiction work about the ways in which bodies are perceived (and often stigmatized) as abnormal rather than simply diverse. Her leaping-off point for this book were the scars on her own body, acquired while she was living in Russia. Theresa Smith, who thoroughly enjoyed the work, wrote in her review: ‘A scar is not just a scar. It is a part of its bearer, something their identity might become shaped around.’
There is a gentle tenderness to this story; a subtle and poetic exploration of love and friendship, of family and belonging. The difficult histories of each of the four characters are gradually unfurled, and we begin to realise why they harbour their fears and anxieties, and also why and how they are each seeking love and connection.
Also on the issue of disability, I was very relieved, after some 15 years of research, writing, and re-writing, to see my hybrid memoir about deafness, Hearing Maud, released. I was also delighted to have it reviewed by some of AWW’s readers: Bill of The Australian Legend and Kali Napier of GoodReads.
This is my penultimate round-up of books featuring diversity for the Australian Women Writers Challenge, as next year I’ll be handing my baton over. If you, or someone you know, might be interested in taking on this role, please drop us a line! In the meantime, I look forward to reading your reviews of diverse books in December.
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). My memoir, Hearing Maud: A Journey for a Voice has been released by UWA Press. I’m currently writing an ecobiography of 19th century botanist Georgiana Molloy. You can find more information about me at my website. I’m also on Twitter and Facebook.