From the Hands of Our Fathers…

Lisa, of ANZ LitLovers, has declared the first week of July Indigenous Literature Week, and when the Queen of Australian literary blogs says that, it must be so 😉  This week then, I’ve got a couple of reviews for you by indigenous writers, one from either side of the Tasman – and we’re starting today on our side of the ditch…

Larissa Behrendt’s Legacy is a novel centred on Simone Harlowe, an Aboriginal law student studying for her doctorate at Harvard.  We first meet her on her way to a regular catch-up with her supervisor, Professor Young, a man she greatly admires.  As an outsider looking in on their educated discussion, it looks as if they are two people without a care in the world – but appearances can be very deceptive.

Simone decides to pay a surprise visit home to Sydney to see her parents, housewife mum Beth Ann and famous Aboriginal rights campaigner Tony.  Far from being a happy homecoming, however, Simone’s extended stay reopens old wounds and unearths new problems.  Meanwhile, back in Boston, Simone’s Professor is about to make a decision that will affect his Australian student more than she could have imagined…

While Legacy, as you would expect, does have a political side, the main focus of the novel is on relationships, especially family ties.  The headstrong Simone, who idolised her father as a young girl, is unable to forgive him when she discovers his feet of clay, shocked to discover that the man who represents his people on the national stage is every bit as flawed as everyone else.  It takes some advice from her closest friends to make her realise that the real world works very differently to how she’d pieced it together from her law books.
Behrendt’s story is an entertaining one, a page-turner which I raced through in a matter of hours.  The multiple view-points allow the reader to experience events from two or three angles, revealing the contrast between the facts and what certain characters perceive.  In a story which could divide along the lines of fathers and daughters, it is perhaps appropriate that Simone has to learn that things aren’t always black and white.
Interesting as it is though, I did have several issues with Legacy.  For one thing, the history of the Aboriginal rights movement, an important part of the story, seemed shoe-horned in, great amounts of information dumped into the reader’s path, often obstructing the story’s progress.  I also had issues with some of the conversations, the dialogue seeming a little stilted and unrealistic at times.
Another drawback was the way in which there seemed to be a multitude of strong women and weak men.  This portrayal of the men as weak, betrayed by their instincts, was a little annoying.  When you set this next to the character of Simone, a character not a million miles away from that of the writer herself, it seems a little… self-indulgent?  Certainly, if I were to write a novel about a teacher and literary blogger and then had another character praise his intelligence, I’d expect to be laughed at a little…
I’m sure many readers will disagree with my assessment (most usually do…), but even with these issues, Legacy is an entertaining novel, and I’m definitely glad I gave it a go.  It’s just that if I’m being fair, Legacy has to compete on an equal basis with all the other novels I’ve read and reviewed on the blog.  Interesting?  Yes.  Entertaining?  Yes.  A great piece of literature?  No.  But then, that might be exactly what you’re after 😉

7 thoughts on “From the Hands of Our Fathers…

  1. Interesting review Tony. And you are right…sometimes, if we read a book for its general interest and entertainment, we don't care that it is not capital L Literature.
    I look forward to your next 'Indigenous Literature Week' review.


  2. I ve choosen a Patrica Grace (but don't tell Lisa I ve still to read it hope to start it tomorrow ) Like sound of this Tony I hope to learn some more about this area of fiction via lisa's week ,all the best stu


  3. Karenlee – Having said that, I do prefer books that are well written, so this wasn't a good example of Indigenous literature. My second entry though will be a very different story… 😉

    Stu – Get a move on Stu 😉

    I'm sure there'll be a lot of good books reviewed this week, so you won't have any worries there 🙂


  4. What exactly is meant with Indigenous Literature? Written by Indigenous people or about them?
    I'm sorry but from this review it wasn't clear whether the author is of indigenous decsent- maybe it's logical that she is, I'm just checking.
    The info dump is something that is done so often and it's a bit sad, it can spoil other wise great books.
    I liked what you wrote about this book but I'm looking forward to the more literary choices. 🙂


  5. Caroline – I'd say by, not necessarily about – and yes, Behrendt is Aboriginal (in fact, she pretty much is the main character Simone…).

    My second choice will be reviewed next Sunday, and it's a book I much preferred 🙂


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