Song of the crocodile by Nardi Simpson
Hachette, 2020. ISBN: 9780733643743.
(Age: Adult/Senior secondary) Highly recommended. An interweaving of spiritual stories of ancestors and totems, and the down-to-earth daily experiences of an Aboriginal family confined to the outskirts of Darnmoor, a hard country town representative of so many towns in Australia where racism is an undercurrent unrecognised by the townspeople but with an ongoing impact on the lives of the Indigenous people, this story brings alive three generations of the Billymil family.
For me the portrayal of the bright curious and cheerful little girl Mili was so magical - you could see her happy face, her thoughtful questions, and her love for her elders and her cousins, a really bright little spark. All of which makes so devastating the casual violence that is inflicted upon her. Reading about her you understand how spirits get broken, how life just becomes too hard, and uncaring sets in. The other amazing character is Wil, full of energy and optimism, hardworking and determined, and so full of love and kindness towards a wife who is broken and a son that is not his. There are many more characters who will capture your heart; probably most poignant of all is Paddy, lost between two worlds, heading towards danger.
Simpson's talent is in making her characters come to life, with language so authentic, you can hear their voices, and their conversations, and join in their humour. This deftness with conversational language is combined with an ability to describe not only the workplaces, the town and the physical environment, but the magical spiritual world that flows beneath and around it all.
It is a hard story, of hard work, endurance, and suffering. The spotlight is shone squarely on the degeneration of a culture with alcoholism and depression, alongside the ugliness of racism and the whitewashing of history. But the hearts of the people are true, and the spirit of the country may have its revenge in the end.
This is a very moving story, harshly realistic and magical at the same time. The writing is beautiful, incorporating Yuwaalaraay language naturally throughout. The author is clearly a talent to look out for; this debut novel was winner of the 2018 black&write! writing fellowship.
Themes: Aboriginal culture, Country, Racism, Identity, Marginalistion, Violence, Rape.