Books in Print

independent Australian bookselling since 1988

28 Jun 2011

2011 Miles Franklin Award winner

That Deadman Dance by Kim Scott
Picador
9780330404235

That Deadman Dance is a story about the early contact between Europeans and Indigenous Australians, set in and around Albany. In October 2010, reviewer Toni Whitmont spoke to Scott in about his novel.

Many readers will be unfamiliar with the history of early contact between the Noongar and the Europeans. Is this a work of fiction, or are the events and characters based on known facts?
That Deadman Dance is a work of fiction, but one that is inspired by, and that draws on, specifics of the early history of a region—in this instance, the area in and around the town today known as Albany, Western Australia. I see the novel as a sort of ‘analogue’, drawing upon a reasonably specific history in order to tease out the possibilities in the interaction between Noongar people and Europeans, and—perhaps—to suggest possibilities still latent today. Crucial to that inspiration is the Noongars’ confidence, innovation and inclusiveness, as well as their willingness and ability to appropriate and use European cultural forms and transform them within their own traditions.

Does the ‘Dead Man Dance’ exist?
Not as described here. It has its origins in a military drill performed by Marines on a beach along the south coast prior to colonisation that was transformed into a Noongar dance. There’s an ambivalence in the name: on the one hand, Noongar people may initially have thought the new arrivals were not fully alive or human—djanaks: devils or ghosts, perhaps—thus, ‘dead men’. On the other hand, the adaption of that dance may have been the ‘beginning of the end’ of a way of life, and thus for the novel’s central character Bobby, and his community, an ending. Bobby may be a ‘dead man’. However, since he does not die, is it only a dance learned from ‘dead men’, and one among other examples—like perhaps this novel—of forms explored and played with as ways of expressing place and identity. New cultural forms always have consequences, sometimes good and sometimes bad.

This book seems to be about forging an identity and finding your place in a changing world. Given your Aboriginal ancestry, does this reflect your own journey?
Given my Aboriginal identity, the novel explores how we can connect an ancient heritage, its strengths and weaknesses, to contemporary existence. I’m interested in finding empowering ways of carrying that past into the present, in ways that are not only reactive and reductionist. I’m not sure that the story is a reflection of a journey, as such, rather it’s about finding possibilities and potential in history—in positing alternatives. I am interested in story rather than polemics, in agency and resilience, and in ways that literature might function politically, but also subtly.

In recent years some exceptional books have been written about early contact between Aboriginal and English people, such as Kate Grenville’s The Secret River and Richard Flanagan’s Wanting. That Deadman Dance is rooted in the soil and sand of coastal south-west Western Australia. How important is the notion of place to our understanding of these stories?
I can’t speak for the others, but I believe and hope it is [important] in the instance of That Deadman Dance.

You have spoken publicly about the Australian neurosis concerning identity, race and history. Are we any closer to laying these ghosts to rest? 
Listening to diverse voices and other stories, having courageous conversations and respectful dialogues will help us all heal. I’m not sure we need to ‘lay those ghosts to rest’. Sometime they may need to be listened to also.

This interview first appeared in the October 2010 issue of Bookseller+Publisher magazine. Read Toni Whitmont's book review here.

3 Jun 2011

Two Greeks by John Charalambous

University of Queensland Press

Harry Stylianou is an angry man, driven by a conviction that the world is not a safe place and that no one and nothing can be trusted. Since his arrival as an immigrant from Cyprus he has married an Australian woman, Carol, and has fathered two children, Angela and Andy. He has moved his family to Hampton, away from Melbourne’s Greek community. His anger encompasses work, life in general, family, neighbours and ‘Greekness’. Carol waits for the implementation of no-fault divorce legislation so that she can escape from her domineering husband. It is left to Andy to form a bond with their new Greek neighbour, Mr. Voreadis, who becomes an important figure for the ten-year-old boy as he provides worldly – and particularly Greek – wisdom for the youngster to digest. Concern over the attempted anti-government coup in Cyprus in 1974 finally brings about a meeting between Harry and their neighbour, and it is through Mr. Voreadis and his love of dancing that a temporary peace breaks out. However, in time the Stylianou family is destroyed from within by Harry’s limitless fury. John Charalambous has written an intimate story of the destruction of a family, played out against the suburban and migrant cultures of the 1970s. An overwhelming sense of missed opportunities leaves the reader wondering what might have been…


BiP staff review by Chris

The Moment by Douglas Kennedy

Hutchinson

There is always a moment when you choose whether to place your trust in the one you love. I have been a fan of Douglas Kennedy for a few years now; The Moment is definitely his most accomplished book yet.

Thomas Nesbitt is a recently divorced writer of travel books living a solitary life in Maine. When a parcel arrives for him from Berlin, he is transported back to his first visit there 25 years prior when he was young and ambitious. Hoping to immerse himself in the life of the divided city, he funds his stay by writing scripts for a free radio station which broadcasts to East Germany. There is introduced to a young political refugee who is working as a translator. Thomas and Petra fall head over heels in love, which sounds really cheesy, however the succinct, gritty writing makes it anything but.

BiP staff review by Leonie