That Deadman Dance Paperback – 11 Oct 2012
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A haunting, lyrical novel based on the first contact between Europeans and the Noongar people of Western Australia . Scott pays meticulous attention to landscape and nature, and his descriptions are frequently wonderful (Financial Times)
An exercise in lush impressionism ... This is such a moving subject, Scott's research is impeccable, and his story skills are obvious ... Where it truly succeeds is in its glorious descriptions of landscape and wildlife, and the evocation of an ancient and mysterious place that seems to exist outside of time ... Scott, son of a white mother and Aboriginal father, clearly has a message to convey. Through Bobby he speaks of an ideal fellowship and mutual co-operation. In the deadman dance we witness a performance of what might have been, a forlorn hope that is clung to long after the true outcome has become inevitable. Until the final paragraph, which is powerful and quietly devastating, this hope is paramount (Carol Birch, Guardian)
An enchanting and authentic book, giving us an insider's view of Australia before it was Australia ... Enormously readable, humane, proud and subtle (Thomas Keneally)
Kim Scott's lyrical prose is a pleasure to read, and the classic culture clash story is subtly handled. There's a sense of what could have been between Europeans and Aborigines which gives the novel a tragic feel, but it's the language that makes the story so powerful. That Deadman Dance is an outstanding historical novel by a master writer (We Love This Book)
An extraordinary work, both realist and visionary ... Scott's scope is vast and his way of telling complex. Think Melville - never a straight line toward conclusions and perhaps few conclusions. That Deadman Dance is a novel to read, recite, and reread, to linger over as Scott peels back layer after layer of meaning ... Exhilarating (Sydney Morning Herald)
In That Deadman Dance, it is the author's imagination and his graceful prose that shine brightest ... Politically charged and historically astute, [the novel] possesses a furious poise and yet is generous in spirit (Australian Book Review)
Winner of the Commonwealth Writers' Prize for the South East Asia and Pacific Region. Acclaimed Australian writer Kim Scott draws on his Aboriginal heritage in a sweeping novel that reimagines the story of colonizer and colonized with fresh lyrical power and hopeful visionSee all Product description
Top customer reviews
From his earliest recollections, Bobby has been connected to whales, and he remembers Menak, the King of the Noongars (and his father), telling him about sliding inside a whale's blowhole, warming himself beside its heart, and joining his voice to the whale's roar, a story Bobby vividly imagines reliving himself. At one point, he even describes his mother acquiring him when his father cuts open a whale on the beach. Now, at age nine, Bobby travels between his own tribal group and that of the "horizon people" who have come to his land, learning to read and trusting in the people he has met. As more and more people come to King George Town, including British, Yankee whalers and the French, however, the "horizon people" begin to claim more property, and each time they do, they take it from the Noongars. Noongar women are stolen, and both blacks and whites begin to deceive each other, provoking vengeance.
Though it is divided into parts which have dates, the novel is not completely linear. Bobby is larger than life, a mythic figure, absorbing and relating many of the stories of his people, including one in which he "dies" and flies through the air. At several points, he is speaking as a very old man, amusing tourists with his lore and throwing flaming boomerangs for their entertainment. Eventually, "there were no more of his people and no more kangaroo and emu and no more vegetable. After the white man's big fires and guns and greed, there was nothing."
Many exciting subplots evolve in the course of this hypnotic and important novel, told as an old-fashioned, "once upon a time" narrative, with incredible scenes of the slaughter and rendering of whales bracketing much of the action, the whale symbolism clear. Bobby and his people follow the seasons, wet and dry, warm and cold, and as the action unfolds, much of their lives as wanderers becomes real - their values, their feelings, and their intense love of nature and the land. As events and the growing population take their course, however, one culture is obviously poised to win from the outset, and one to lose. The ending, though completely expected from the glimpses one gets of Bobby's old age throughout the novel, is nevertheless devastating emotionally. Bobby, like his ancestors, deserved better. The novel is breathtaking and important, and I suspect that few readers will finish it without feeling exhausted by its intensity. Mary Whipple
Kim Scott is a writer from Albany, Western Australia, with Aboriginal heritage. He can therefore claim some authenticity as he evokes the early years of Albany principally through the eyes of Bobby Wabalanginy, a young Aborigine of the Noongar people. Unlike some parts of the new territories, the early settlers to Albany - or King George Town as it was known - developed good relations with the indigenous people. Dr Cross, the first governor, was buried alongside Wunyeran, the Aboriginal leader. But as memory of Dr Cross faded, and as new settlers came, relations break down. This is brought to a head as the whales in the bay are overfished (if you can fish for whales) and food becomes scarce. This leads to a clash of cultures as concepts such as ownership and sharing mean different things to different people.
That Deadman Dance is hard to criticize. The subject matter is worthy and Kim Scott is a credible writer to take it on - even if he is inevitably looking back through the lens of the coloniser. But it does sometimes feel a little repetitive and a little overlong. One of the big problems is that the early settlement was little more than a few tents pitched between the trees and the sea. There are people and there is nature, but there isn't much stuff. There are some strong characters but little opportunity for them to interact in substantially new ways with one another. This can make things feel bleak; can make it feel as though the struggle for survival and struggle for supremacy is just a little pointless. The early settlers may have won riches for their ancestors, but they had little opportunity to enjoy the fruits of their labours at the time. And after a couple of hundred pages, the reader feels that he or she has got the point. There is then a fair bit that feels like padding before the ending is played out over the last fifty or so pages.
The non-linear narration is also worth mentioning. This can make reading a slightly frustrating experience. In particular, characters tend to be mentioned when the action first warrants it - and then they will be introduced some pages later. The novel is chunked into four time periods and they are not presented sequentially which, given the already non-linear narrative - can be confusing. Perhaps this is to indicate an Aboriginal perspective (perhaps echoing Chinua Achebe's technique in Things Fall Apart), but perhaps it covers for the fact that not much is really happening. There are also multiple points of view at play, some from the settlers and some from the Noongar - although the Noongar perspective does tend to dominate.
That Deadman Dance is certainly worth reading; it is very poetic and evocative. It has something genuine to say. But one can't help but wish Kim Scott had used a hundred fewer pages to say it.
It is a fascinating insight to a period of history I know little about. It is interesting to see the change in attitudes towards the aboriginal people from necessary to survival to tolerated to excluded from society when no longer needed.
I've been to this area in Western Australia and it is an . Amazing place
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