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7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Gripping, fascinating and achingly well written, 16 Jan 2000
By A Customer
This review is from: The Road From Coorain (Paperback)
"The Road from Coorain" was something I picked up in a vague to read something about Australia. I wasn't expecting what I got, which was an immensely readable story of a lonely outback girl growing up within the confines of pre and post war Australia. The story follows tragdy and success, and her own confusion about her bacground and her identity. Not only did this book paint a picture of a life, but it created a clear image of a vast and unforgiving Australia. An excellent autobiography, I could hardly put it down... read it!
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Fantastic Memoir, 23 Aug 2009
By 
Mr. S. D. Halliday "Assistant Professor of Ec... (Northampton, MA, USA) - See all my reviews
(REAL NAME)   
This review is from: The Road From Coorain (Paperback)
Jill Ker Conway details her childhood and youth in this book, the first of her memoirs. From her childhood growing up on a struggling farm in Australia, to her father's death, to the transformation of her mother from a sylph-like, charming wife and mother to a strange, manipulative woman, to attending university in Sydney to study history, to first love, to traveling to Europe, Ker Conway captures each period with warmth, honesty, and empathy.

Ker Conway first draws you into the nature of her life by detailing the Australian landscape, which must be seen as the mise en scène for what she lives and believes, for how she studies history, and for the ways in which she engages with feminism, femininity, and love. We view the landscape of her family farm invigorated with rainfall, later ravaged by drought, and yet later anchoring Ker Conway to her past, to Australia, to her 'soul', and to her work.

I find this a strange book to review. I so thoroughly enjoyed it, as did my wife. Ker Conway details the perceptions, beliefs, and actions towards women in Australia from the 1950s onwards that I found her narrative far more convincing as a life lived than I have certain feminist tracts. I count myself a feminist, so this was an odd experience. Ker Conway made me see particular characteristics about patriarchal society and Australian, or maybe Anglo-centric, patriarchy particularly that enlivened my feminist sensibilities. Do not let my discussion put you off the book, Ker Conway does not hate men, nor does she manically rant against oppression, but as a social historian she characterizes the society she lives in so well that I could not help but be engaged by the feminist brio underlying the narrative of her life, a brio which evidently energizes and motivates Ker Conway.

Moreover, as you are told in the blurb, Ker Conway is an extraordinary woman. She became the first female vice-president of a University in all of Canada, she went on to become the first female president of Smith College in Massachusetts, USA. She documents these triumphs in her later memoirs. But, this background of her life lived on an Australian farm, with the stresses of a mother whose potency languished unchannelled, and the strangeness of a society that so easily excludes - or remonstrates - bright and driven women, gives us access to the travails she overcame, and her unique take on attachment, history, and feminism. I strongly recommend The Road from Coorain.

A point of clarity: do not confuse my discussion of Ker Conway's father's death and her mother's harshness for the anguish and distress recounted in 'pity lit' style memoirs (like, some would say, Frank McCourt's Angela's Ashes). Ker Conway describes how imaginative and challenging her mother was when Ker Conway was a child, how, through her mother, Ker Conway was educated and given a critical faculty allowing her to engage with the world as an academic historian. Moreover, Ker Conway also accounts for her own complicity in her mother's devolution, and she describes the revelatory moments well, honestly and empathetically. What remains important are Ker Conway's engagement with landscape, family history (embedded in the history of Australia), and the role of women. I found it to be a truly fantastic memoir, better than many others I have read.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A very personal slice of Australian history., 3 Aug 2012
This review is from: The Road From Coorain (Paperback)
As a compulsive 'armchair traveller', I take great delight in reading autobiographies that take me not just to another place but to another time. In this respect, 'The Road from Coorain' is outstanding.

Jill Ker Conway was born on a sheep station 500 miles from Sydney in the early 1930s. Her parents were pioneers, in that they were first to settle the station known as 'Coorain', as part of the distribution of Australian land that followed the first world war. It was a challenging existence and JKC was working on horseback alongside her father before she was 8 years old. It did, however, become too tough, and her descriptions of the drought years that finally sent the family to Sydney, are harrowing.

Born to the huge Australian skies and desolate landscape, this book is the vehicle through which JKC pays homage to the place that she loves, but it is also one through which, as an extremely intelligent young woman in a very patriarchal society, she puzzles on the inconsistency between 'do your studies' and 'don't become a bluestocking'. It turns out, eventually, that there is no place for her in Australia's male-centric society. If she wants to use her brain, she has to leave.

I found this to be a fascinating, intelligent and very readable narrative. It is simultaneously a history of what it was like to run a sheep station between 1930 and the mid 1950s and a reflection on what it is to be an intelligent woman in a society that subtly discourages female intelligence and independence. The result is a very personal slice of Australian history that is a highly recommended read.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars The Road to Coorain and to Smith, 10 Sep 2011
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Jill Ker Conway came from Australia and grew up on a sheep station in the outback. She eventually became the President of Smith College in Massachusetts and this is not her only foray into writing. An engaging and literate story (an autobiography I suppose) of a strong-minded woman who at a time when it was unusual for women in Australia to do much else than get married and keep the home fires burning, sought to better herself and gain a place in higher education, so she departed via Britain to the United States in the 50's and never looked or went back. As poignant as 19th century families who left Europe to make their fortunes in the US and Canada or even Australia, and never saw their families again. Gives you pause. Worth a read.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A Window on Another Life, 8 Jun 2010
This autobiographical account of the experiences of a girl growing up in New South Wales, Australia, is a must-read if you like unusual human stories, perceptive observations on human experience, and excellent writing.

The author's clairvoyant insights into the psychological effects on her family, as farmers suffering a long term struggle with the elements, are exceptional. They extend too, to the biases of the evolving Australian society, the true nature of the land and how it was used, and Australia's relationship with England and the countries surrounding the Australian continent.

The intricately interwoven view of life, the human struggle, and society found in "The Road From Coorain" is unique and quite extraordinary.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Four Stars, 25 Aug 2014
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This review is from: The Road From Coorain (Paperback)
A well written and very interesting book, which I found hard to put down.
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The Road From Coorain
The Road From Coorain by Jill Ker Conway (Paperback - 3 Sep 1992)
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