I know I say this regularly, but I can’t do justice to this book in my response. The more I think about it (I finished reading it last Wednesday), the more I realize I don’t know how to talk about it.
My local book group decided to do this book and movie, and it was an excellent choice even if I did miss the discussion! It was particularly relevant as Garimara died in April 2014 and is there a better way to honor a writer’s passing than reading their works?
I’m not sure, but if I had to guess I would say there are quite a few books out there about the Stolen Generations, but I’m not sure how many are first hand accounts. And that is where this story truly hits home. Follow the Rabbit-Proof Fence is as much Garimara’s story as it is her mother and aunt’s. And to find out at the end that her mother made the journey a second time with one of her children and the incredible journey in the book and movie becomes that much more powerful.
“‘Long way’ sums up rather understatedly what was, without a doubt, one of the longest walks in the history of the Australian outback. While other parts of this vast country of ours have been crossed on horses or camels, these three girls did their exploring on their bare feet. An incredible achievement in anyone’s language. The vastness and the diversity of the Western Australian landscape would always be respected and appreciated by them–they trekked across it and conquered. This historic trek had taken almost nine weeks.” (108)
Garimara’s simple, yet effective and elegant writing, tells a beautiful story and truly opened up and expanded the beauty of the Australian landscape and Aboriginal culture. When you add in the awe-inspiring journey in the true sense of the word (seriously, think about it three pre-teenage girls walking hundreds of miles over nine weeks) and Garimara’s own experience (documented in a later novel, Under the Winamarra Tree) the book only becomes that much better.
I did “tag” this as pseudo-fiction, but I only did it as Garimara acknowledges faulty memories, as she wrote this when her mother and aunt were very old. And she often blurs her story and her research into the recollections, making it a hard book to box-in to one specific type of genre. I also chose not to include a closing line, as there was no definitive closing line. The book ended with a “where are they now” section.
Recommendation: Anyone could read this. It’s writing is simple and easy to understand, even if it touches on much larger themes than you’d expect. Plus it’s fewer than 200 pages so may as well give it a go if you get a chance.
Opening Line: “The trek back home to Jigalong in the north-west of Australia from the Moore River Native Settlement just north of Perth was not only a historical event, it was also one of the most incredible feats imaginable, undertaken by three aboriginal girls in the 1930s.”