This book made me profoundly sad, dealing with an atrocious period in Australian history where native children were stolen from their parents to be forcibly assimilated. The first and last time we see the high spirited Snake-woman-child in her natural self ended with her kidnapping in the first scene.
They named her Margaret, erased her past and tried to transplant her into a world that did not accept her. They stripped her identity, maligned her parents, and replaced her affections to their ways. They told her she was not Koori (or Aborigine), but Southern European.
You'll love Margaret, and root for her, and cheer her on, hoping and praying she'd be rescued, or reunited with her parents, or later on, that she'd succeed in school, or even have a husband and a family to love. You'll fear for her safety, wary always that she be molested by the men around her, then wish she could find a place, any place to fit in. But alas, the author never allows you to relax, and sadly, the story lurches on through cycles of disappointment and rejection to its mysterious ending.
As strong-willed as Margaret was, there came a day when she no longer knew who she was. How many times could she metamorphosize? How many skins could she shed? The author's descriptions of Margaret's surroundings, the natural beauty and harshness of the Australian landscape, evokes your deepest emotions, using sight, sounds, smell, taste and intuition. Haunting and mesmerizing, this is a story you won't forget.
If you read no other book this year, make sure to read Secrets From the Dust. It will change you and make you conscious against suppressing the spirit of life and to be in touch with your true self.
"Will they accept me if I just let them out and be me, whatever that is, because I'm not sure I even know anymore?" -Margaret/Ningali