Written By Guest Contributor “This Korean Woman Reads” – Anna Song
“This Korean Woman Reads” is a book review series by Anna Song, who will be writing for the site reviewing books written by BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, People of Colour) writers in Australia and from other parts of the world.
Headlines: Reading this book is an experience that makes me feel more Australian. Tara June Winch is a compatriot whose sharing of the songlines of the Wiradjuri people is an act of both generosity and survival. She is a masterful writer, telling us her family’s story with tenacity and tenderness in equal measures.
Mood: Dreaming – reading through the past, present and future of Australia.
Pair with: A spirit of reconciliation.
For my first review of 2021, the book had to be by an Aboriginal Australian author. Because the first marks the beginning and for Australia it starts with our First Nations people.
But I picked Tara June Winch’s third book The Yield off the shelf (passing other titles by Tony Birch and Bruce Pascoe) specifically because reading such a story is an education and I felt most at ease to seek in Winch – a female writer of my age – as my ‘writer-teacher’.
To start, I noticed the (genius) structure in The Yield. There are three strains that twist and bend but carry through to the end and come together. First is the voice of Albert ‘Poppy’ Gondiwindi – the grandfather, the elder, the linguist – whose chapters serve as an annotated dictionary of the Wiradjuri language, flowing water-like as the plot thickens. Then there is the protagonist August (short for Augustine). Poppy’s granddaughter who returns home from England at the time of his death and finds herself continuing what he began. The third voice is that of a (misguided) missionary who came to build a ‘place that is good’ but laid the foundation for the destruction of Poppy and August’s people instead.
The three strains create movement and rhythm in the story that allowed me to travel through time, perspectives and trauma. The dialogue between August and her family was lean; if I didn’t pay attention, I would lose the plot of a significant but subtle point in the story (like any good teacher, it is almost like Winch is checking if the pupil is appropriately alert through her lesson).
There was also a moment of ‘hurray’ in chapter twenty nine where Winch gives life to many women’s experiences of intimacy when quick moments are mixed with romance, lust, trust, pleasure yet fear, trauma, guilt and uncertainty all at the same time. Within ten short pages, I read what I had been missing in literature for so long – an honest and natural depiction of a woman during sex as an act of expression for that character. A difficult feat, yet Winch captured that on paper with elegant simplicity and guts.
Coming to the end of this book, the author’s note showed the rigorous historical research undertaken in her creative process. The richness in this narrative is layered with the work by a community of academics, artists and elders who outlived a genocide. As a member of the ‘recent migrants’ whose relationship with these lands span mere decades compared to the multiple millenia of the Aboriginal Australians, I am left with a sense of endowment in having been told the songlines of the Wiradjuri people.
A good education can open one’s eyes to what was always there but unseen. For having read The Yield, my view of the magpie has added a new meaning. That black and white bird was one I always felt happy to see in the landscapes of Australia, because across the seas in the land of my ancestors, the Korean magpie promises to bring welcomed guests in the new year. I have now learned that garru is a messenger bird that loves to talk if you’re willing to listen, bringing spiritual messages, calm and gentle (p.127). The next time the garru calls, I will be listening. And I will ask the black and white bird to guide the ‘recent ones’ to be worthy of welcome on their lands.
Buy this book as a gift to: a) citizens contemplating the meaning of Australia; b) any philosopher, poet or survivor seeking to rise above hate; and c) all followers of faith – may the legacy of Christian institutions not blind us to the decimation of civilisations committed in God’s name.
Here’s to happy reading,
This Korean woman reads
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Header image via Times of India and other images provided.