My Place, Sally Morgan, 1987
- Australia, #17
- Paperback, $0.99, Alibris.com
- Read November 2014
- Rating 3/5
- Recommended for: People who value substance over style
OK, I finally got that Schindler’s Ark post out of the way, I can move on to the next thing. No more genocide or violence or systematized injustice or…oh, wait.
My Place is the first book on my Australia list that deals in any substantive way with Aboriginal issues,1 and it’s pretty heartbreaking.
It wasn’t until she was an adult that Sally Morgan discovered that she was in fact not Indian, as her mother had told her, but rather of Indigenous Australian descent. Her mother and grandmother, who raised her, were terrified that she and her siblings might discover their heritage, afraid that the children would be taken away by the government and institutionalized—as both women had been, and as up to a third of Aboriginal children were between 1909 and 1969. Their connection to their culture was deliberately severed, and what remained they took great pains to suppress—refusing to discuss the past or, in the case of Sally’s grandmother, to speak her native language in front of Sally and her siblings. The story is amazing (even if it is sadly and appallingly common)…but I couldn’t help wishing it had happened to someone with a little more facility for writing. I sincerely hope Sally Morgan never reads this because she seems like a very kind and lovely person and I wish her well, but for me her clunky style really detracted from a pretty incredible narrative. Some of this may be deliberate; history, in Aboriginal culture, is told through stories rather than textbooks, and Morgan made a conscious decision to place her memoir in that tradition. The language is simple and direct and the narrative unfolds as it occurred. But the transitions from one paragraph to the next are awkward and abrupt; random incidents of a few sentences or paragraphs are inserted with little regard for flow or relevance. The best, most readable parts of the work are the sections dictated by her great-uncle and her grandmother. Perhaps this is only further evidence of the cultural gap that Morgan has fallen through–her attempts to reclaim a tradition that should have been her birthright, but which she was never able to fully assimilate because she was denied the opportunity to grow up inside of it.
1There are incidental Aboriginal characters in Such is Life, Voss, and Picnic at Hanging Rock, but they tend to be little more than tropes–hostile natives or mystical trackers–and considered only in the ways that they help or obstruct white settlement