All The Books I Can Read

1 girl….2 many books!

Review: Truganini by Cassandra Pybus

Truganini
Cassandra Pybus
Allen & Unwin
2020, 336
Read from my local library

Blurb {from the publisher/Goodreads.com}:

Cassandra Pybus’ ancestors told a story of an old Aboriginal woman who would wander across their farm on Bruny Island, just off the coast of south-east Tasmania, throughout the 1850s and 1860s. As a child, Cassandra didn’t know this woman was Truganini, and that she was walking over the country of her clan, the Nuenonne, of whom she was the last.

The name of Truganini is vaguely familiar to most Australians as ‘the last of her race’. She has become an international icon for a monumental tragedy: the extinction of the original people of Tasmania within her lifetime. For nearly seven decades she lived through a psychological and cultural shift more extreme than most human imaginations could conjure. She is a hugely significant figure in Australian history and we should know about how she lived, not simply that she died. Her life was much more than a regrettable tragedy. Now Cassandra has examined the original eyewitness accounts to write Truganini’s extraordinary story.

A lively, intelligent, sensual young woman, Truganini managed to survive the devastating decade of the 1820s when the clans of south-eastern Tasmania were all but extinguished. Taken away from Bruny Island in 1830, she spent five years on a journey around Tasmania, across rugged highland and through barely penetrable forests, with the self-styled missionary George Augustus Robinson, who was collecting all the surviving people to send them into exile on Flinders Island. She managed to avoid a long incarceration on Flinders Island when Robinson took her to Victoria where she was implicated in the murder of two white men. Acquitted of murder, she was returned to Tasmania where she lived for another thirty-five years. Her story is both inspiring and heart-wrenching, and it is told in full in this book for the first time.

I can’t remember when I first read about Truganini, but it was definitely not as early in life as it should have been. I definitely did not learn about her at school, and it seems like she is someone I should have learned about. I knew that after “colonisation” by the British, when they pushed through to Tasmania (and named it Van Dieman’s Land) that the indigenous population was eventually exterminated. This book, focusing on Truganini’s life journey specifically, also deals with the methods and plans used by colonisers to round up the local Indigenous population and herd them to a point where they would be easily captured. There were plans to remove them to remote islands off the coast of Tasmania, some were also taken to the mainland (including Truganini).

Cassandra Pybus is a descendant of a coloniser who was given a large patch of land on Bruny Island, on Tasmania’s east coast. Abutting that ancestor’s land was another patch of land given to. a man named George Augustus Robinson, who later became some sort of self appointed (and then officially appointed) protector of the Indigenous population and was responsible for basically tracking them down and making sure that it was possible to implement the plans to remove them from the island, where they had upset those given farming patches of land by travelling around and occasionally stealing a sheep. Pybus was determined to only use primary sources to tell this story, mostly Robinson’s diaries as it seems he was a prolific diarist, who often detailed his many interactions and dealings in the guise of “protecting” these people. He’s seen as pompous and self-important.

I knew that this would contain some pretty brutal acts and I was right. There’s plenty in here of the callous disregard for the Tasmanian Indigenous population, the systematic attempts to round them up and drive them from the land they had occupied for thousands of years. There are children taken to be raised as slaves for wealthy (or probably even non-wealthy) colonisers, there are plenty of them engaged and then shot, the women and young female children stolen and the men beaten in midnight raids, the bribing of women for sexual favours with rations like sugar. The sealer men not only take the women, beat them, rape them, keep them as slaves but then they also relentlessly hunted the seal population of Tasmania almost to extinction, which is shown in stark contrast of the Aboriginal way of harvesting the bounty of the seas. Truganini witnesses her mother and sister taken and is not long after dependent on Robinson, who uses her and her father to help him round up other tribes, seemingly under the guise of ‘helping them’. They are often left stranded on rocky barren islands with little in the way of food. Disease and illness becomes rife amount the tribes, especially when they are removed from their local lands. The connection between Indigenous people and the land is something I don’t think we can understand and it’s commented on often about how they sicken and die very soon after being removed to somewhere else. The white people also introduced fun things like syphilis to the local population, shared with the women when they are raped or taken as slaves and if they escape, then they bring it back to the local menfolk. Robinson is also advised to do things like bribe them with alcohol.

Pybus’ decision to only use primary sources (those who saw and spoke to Truganini and then recorded it) is admirable but it also removes her from her own story and also removes her people. All of the views that Pybus is forced to use, are by white people, early settlers who saw the local population a certain way. Even people like Robinson, who believe themselves to be magnanimous and helpful, who don’t believe they are hurting them, are still trying to buttonhole them into a new way of being. Turning them into ‘good, Christian people’, forcing them to dress conservatively, to adhere to strict Christian values around sex and renounce their beliefs to worship a God in the sky and fear a Devil underground. At best they would’ve been possibly well treated servants, in this new settlement, but even that was unlikely in many cases. Pybus tries to insert some of Truganini’s character into the story, such as when she leads Robinson and his crew in circles when she’s supposed to be tracking someone down but it’s difficult to really get a picture of her, as she’s always seen through Robinson’s eyes, or those of someone like him. And Robinson loses interest in his role of protector at some stage anyway, and can’t wait to be rid of them be it marooning them on Flinders Island or taking them to the mainland and basically pushing them into a community there, overseen by someone else, so that he may wipe his hands of the whole affair.

I feel the story of Truganini and those like her, her tribe, the tribes she knew and had relationships with, is an important story and it’s one that everyone should know. But at the same time, I’m still very much aware that even this story of her, is told from a perspective that is not her own or even that of one of her kin. That their stories were not recorded and that so much of our history is taught from the words of those that oppressed them, removed them from their lands, even murdered them, is an undeniable truth.

8/10

Book #126 of 2020

This book qualifies for all 3 of the challenges I am undertaking this year!

It is book #42 of The Australian Women Writers Challenge for 2020

Truganini is the 7th book completed for my participation in the 2020 NonFiction Reader Challenge. I’m using it to check off the History category.

1. Memoir

2. Disaster Event

3. Social Science

4. Related to an Occupation

5. History

6. Feminism

7. Psychology

8. Medical Issue

9. Nature

10. True Crime

11. Science

12. Published in 2020

I’m also counting it towards my participation in the Reading Women Challenge, hosted by the Reading Women Podcast. I am using it for prompt #15 – A Biography. It’s the 13th book completed for the challenge. Halfway there!

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Review: With The Fire On High by Elizabeth Acevedo

With The Fire On High 
Elizabeth Acevedo
Hardie Grant Egmont
2019, 388p
Read from my local library

Blurb {from the publisher/Goodreads.com}:

Ever since she got pregnant during freshman year, Emoni Santiago’s life has been about making the tough decisions, doing what has to be done for her daughter and her abuela.

The one place she can let all that go is in the kitchen. There, she lets her hands tell her what to cook, listening to her intuition and adding a little something magical every time, turning her food into straight-up goodness.  Even though she’s always dreamed of working in a kitchen after she graduates, Emoni knows that it’s not worth her time to pursue the impossible.

But then an opportunity presents itself to not only enrol in a culinary arts class in her high school, but also to travel abroad to Spain for an immersion program. Emoni knows that her decisions post high school have to be practical ones, but despite the rules she’s made for her life — and everyone else’s rules that she refuses to play by — once Emoni starts cooking, her only choice is to let her talent break free.

I heard a lot of wonderful things about this book last year when it was published and it was always on my radar to read. Then I realised that it would fit neatly into at least one category for my Reading Women Podcast Challenge, which bumped it up my priority list a bit. I hadn’t read anything for that challenge yet and I’d like to make steady progress in each of my challenges throughout the year, rather than trying to scramble to find reads to finish them when it’s coming to the end of the year. So I requested this from my local library.

Emoni had a baby about two years ago when she was around fifteen. She’s now seventeen and her “baby girl” is old enough to go to daycare. Emoni fought hard to stay in her regular school, rather than going to a school specifically for young teenage mothers and she finds her plate full up with not only parenting her child and finishing school but also working part time at a burger place in order to earn some extra money. She lives with her grandmother, who also raised her after Emoni’s mother died during her birth and her father wasn’t able to cope with the idea of single fatherhood, heading back to Puerto Rico. He visits every year, appearing and vanishing at will, leaving Emoni with some very complicated feelings about him. She’s no longer in a relationship with her daughter’s father although the two do have a relatively amicable coparenting agreement, albeit one that favours Tyrone in that he only has every other weekend now that she’s getting old enough to have sleepovers away from Emoni. The day to day parenting load is all on Emoni and her abuela, who has helped Emoni from day one.

Emoni’s passion is food and she’d love to work within this industry, but she’s not sure how to map out her future. School can be a struggle for her and university is just more years between her and earning enough money to support her daughter (and grandmother). Plus she’ll graduate with debt. Then her school introduces a culinary arts class, which could help Emoni realise the future she wants for herself.

I adored this book. From the very beginning I was hooked on the story and really became invested in Emoni’s life, her attempts to balance everything and make the best life she could for herself and her daughter. She’s dedicated and determined and works so hard. She is pretty honest about her abilities as a student – plenty of work doesn’t come easy for her and she knows a lot of colleges will be out of her grasp. She’s a natural at cooking though, instinctively knowing what ingredients complement each other and how to really give a meal something extra. Her food evokes memory and she just has that true connection with food. She’s not a recipe or rules person however, which causes her some conflict with the chef in charge of the culinary arts class she enrols in at school. He knows she’s incredibly gifted but in order to do the job, you have to learn the theory and have that background knowledge. I really enjoyed the way the two of them clashed a bit at first but I think deep down you could tell how supportive he was of her and how he thought she had a place in the future in that industry. The ideas and motivations that Emoni has to raise money for a trip to Spain is really impressive – she thinks outside the box, practical ideas that not only help them in their goal but give them experience.

I appreciated the balance in this story – there’s equal parts devoted to Emoni’s struggles with her ‘load’ – school, work, her daughter, her grandmother as well as her complicated feelings for and relationship with her father, as well as her precarious co-parenting agreement with her ex-boyfriend and the difficulties faced in sharing that as well as the complications of his family not approving of her. There’s also a new boy at school who wants to be friends with Emoni but she definitely wants to make sure that he’s not just looking for one thing. Seeing as she got pregnant very young, she saw how that changed the way people looked at her, and how they continue to still look at her that way. She didn’t get pregnant alone but her ex doesn’t face the same sort of judgement that Emoni does and he also has very little in the way of responsibility. He also wants to tell Emoni what she can and can’t do in regards to other boys and who she can and cannot bring around her home and have around their daughter. I liked the way Emoni stood up for herself calmly but firmly. It’s the same when she feels looked down upon by his mother, or judged for not doing the right thing. I admired her restraint at times, the way she managed to keep herself collected even when she was being unfairly treated.

I should also mention the food, and Emoni’s love of and devotion to preparing the food of her culture. Her grandmother is from Puerto Rico and her father has gone back there to live. I love reading books about food, where food makes up an important part of the narrative and this book has some mouthwatering descriptions and Emoni’s passion for cooking leaps off the page. I especially like the way her cooking played back into her relationship with her father and his complicated feelings about eating her food. It was such a small part of the book but it was very powerful. Also Emoni emails her aunt, her late mother’s sister a lot and they swap recipes back and forth, Emoni often altering them or adding her own flair and then sending it back. It was a way for her to be able to stay connected to her mother’s family. So many subtle ways in which the author explores relationships and connections.

I really enjoyed this. I know Elizabeth Acevedo’s Poet X is also well lauded but I generally do not do well with poetry. However I might just be tempted to try it…and I’m definitely looking forward to future offerings.

9/10

Book #19 of 2020

I’m going to count this one for prompt #1 – author from the Caribbean or India (with the diaspora counting for this prompt). Elizabeth Acevedo was born in the US to Dominican parents. This is the first book completed in the challenge!

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Looking Forward To 2020: Reading Challenges Part 1

Well we are at that time of year already! The first of December is just a couple of days away and it’s time to be thinking about winding down and wrapping up 2019 challenges and looking ahead to challenges I want to do in 2020. I only did two challenges this year and I shall be doing both next year as well. This is the first one I’ve seen updated for next year, so the first challenge I’ll be signing up for is…..

The Reading Women Podcast Challenge

This challenge is hosted by the Reading Women podcast and you can find more information on it here. Basically you can complete as few or as many prompts as you like and you can use books for multiple prompts. I try to complete one book per prompt and although I would like to finish all of them, it might not be possible so I’m going to aim to finish at least 20 of them.

This is a challenge that appeals to the natural way that I read (lots of female authors) but also challenges me to look outside of my comfort zones. A lot of the prompts are in areas that I am unfamiliar with. Fortunately the challenge also comes with a Goodreads group (which is already up and running, if you like to plan ahead) where participants can ask for and make recommendations for each category which really helps as there are plenty of really knowledgable readers who specialise in a lot of these more niche prompts. I made huge use of the group during my participation in this year’s challenge and if not for it, I definitely would not have been able to complete some of the categories. I found a lot of really interesting reads through this challenge and I’ve also listened to quite a few episodes of the podcast too. They quite often focus an episode on a prompt and will talk about a handful of books that are good options and interview authors of those books. As you can see they also have quite an interest in the Stella Prize from Australia and this year, it’s part of a category.

I’m looking forward to taking part in this one again. I enjoyed researching the topics, checking out recommendations and choosing one from each category to read. I like making lists so this also fits into that perfectly.

If you think you have a recommendation for me that works for one or more of the categories, please do let me know!

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