Monday, 14 June 2021

How Icasia Bloom Touched Happiness by Jessica Bell


Reviewer: JJ Marsh

What we thought of it:

A exceptional story of female friendship and a speculative take on what today’s (in)actions might mean for the future. Icasia Bloom and her fellow Globe-dwellers are controlled by the State, where decisions are taken out of one’s hands. Trying to keep herself and her son fed, Icasia is a Tatter, offering services for food. Then she meets Selma, who is struggling to set up a bakery. The two women’s lives become intertwined and redefine the term ‘family’.

Bloom’s world is fully rounded, the characters likeable, damaged and resourceful, while the technique of storytelling as treasured heirloom is beautifully done. This tale appears a critique of government control, disguising philosophical questions about mental health, long-term sickness, lack of agency and how the little people pay for the mistakes of the wealthy.

One thing that struck me about the story is that the state is represented by The Book, and all its intrusive ways into people’s lives. There is nowhere to hide but all is done out of care for its citizens. The forced pregnancies, the accelerated deaths and changing laws imposed upon a meek population who accepted a philanthropic rescuer until they had no choice.

A touching, deceptively deep novel for anyone who ever loved.

You’ll enjoy this if you liked: The Handmaid’s Tale, Brave New World, Only Ever Yours

Avoid if you don’t like: Dystopian fiction, female leads, emotional wringers

Ideal accompaniments: Warm milk, From the Flagstones by Cocteau Twins and an apricot Danish.

Genre: Speculative fiction

Thursday, 3 June 2021

The Yield by Tara June Winch

Catriona Troth

What We thought of It:

After a long absence, August is returning to her home in Massacre Plains, a remote part of central Australia, to attend the funeral of her grandfather, Poppy Albert. But when she gets there, she finds that even her families last fragile hold on what used to be their ancestral land is threatened by the development of a tin mine.

The Yield weaves together three narratives. There is August’s story, of reconnecting with her family, of coming to terms with the loss of Poppy Albert, and of her growing conviction that they could fight the incursion of the mine.

The second is an extended letter, written by the white pastor who set up the original mission on Massacre Plains to protect the local Aboriginal people. His letter both documents the extent and brutality of the atrocities committed by white settlers and reveals the some of the damage caused through his own good intentions.

Finally, there are Poppy Albert’s own writings – his attempt to create a dictionary of his people’s original language. Each word that he captures has a story to go with it – and those stories tell something of the traditions of the original inhabitants of Massacre Plains, of their custodianship of the land and of the environmental degradation brought about through ignoring that deep knowledge.  But fragment by fragment they also reveal the devastating truth behind the family tragedy that led to August leaving Massacre Plains.

Poppy’s dictionary underlines the importance of reclaiming language, because a language reveals a whole different way of thinking. As Poppy says, it sings mountains into existence.

Like this year’s Jhalak Prize winner The First Woman, The Yield explores the intergenerational impact of colonialism – but this time through the lens of an Indigenous people who were all but wiped out by white settlers in the course of their insatiable land grab. It also reflects on how ignorance and the wilful rejection of traditional knowledge and practice has led to the destruction of a delicate ecological balance.

Achingly beautiful. A devastating tally of the cost paid by the relentless drive to expand European ‘civilisation,’ yet containing within it a small flame of hope that some of what has been lost can still reclaimed.

You’ll Enjoy This If You Loved: The First Woman by Jennifer Nansubuga Makumbi, The Break by Katherena Vermette

Avoid If You Dislike: Confronting the devastating impact of colonialism on a land and its people.

Perfect Accompaniment: Freshwater fish, grilled and flavoured with herbs.

Genre: Historical Fiction, Contemporary, Indigenous Writing, Literary Fiction

Buy This Book Here