Winner of the Miles Franklin Award 2011. Big-hearted, moving and richly rewarding, That Deadman Dance is set in the first decades of the 19th century in the area around what is now Albany, Western Australia. In playful, musical prose, the book explores the early contact between the Aboriginal Noongar people and the first European settlers.The novel's hero is a young Noongar man named Bobby Wabalanginy. Clever, resourceful and eager to please, Bobby befriends the new arrivals, joining them hunting whales, tilling the land, exploring the hinterland and establishing the fledgling colony. He is even welcomed into a prosperous local white family where he falls for the daughter, Christine, a beautiful young woman who sees no harm in a liaison with a native.
But slowly by design and by accident things begin to change. Not everyone is happy with how the colony is developing. Stock mysteriously start to disappear; crops are destroyed; there are "accidents" and injuries on both sides. As the Europeans impose ever stricter rules and regulations in order to keep the peace, Bobby's Elders decide they must respond in kind. A friend to everyone, Bobby is forced to take sides: He must choose between the old world and the new, his ancestors and his new friends. Inexorably, he is drawn into a series of events that will forever change not just the colony but the future of Australia...
Winner of the Commonwealth Writers' Prize for the South East Asia and Pacific Region.
"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, author of Schindler's Ark, The Great Shame, and A Commonwealth of Thieves
"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
"The novel's closing anti-rhetoric is honorable but familiar." - Kirkus Reviews
"Short, titled chapters group into four parts demarcated by sweeps of nonlinear time, from two years to four. Always piquant and lyrical, with some Aboriginal dialect words translated and some not, Scott is at his most picturesque when Bobby assists the whalers, bringing boom times to 'blackfellas' and 'whitefellas' alike." - Publishers Weekly
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Rated of 5
Lorna M. (Ukiah, CA)
That Deadman Dance
I enjoyed this book and probably will recommend it for my local book club. The characters really came alive, and the story was believable (and heart-wrenching). I had some trouble following the time line - couldn't seem to match the dates at the beginning of the sections with what was happening in the story. I also had difficulties following some of the prose (that may have been intentional on the author's part, and it may make more sense on a second reading, which I plan to do).
Kim Scott is an accomplished writer and does a fine job of describing two incompatible cultures. The characterization of several of the people was especially vivid - Bobby, Chaine, and Jack Tar stand out particularly.
Rated of 5
Alice W. (Sacramento, CA)
That Deadman Dance
I was quite disappointed in the rhythm of this book. I have read many novels from and about Australia and always have been fascinated. Perhaps there is an affectation that I don't relate to...I am not sure, but I found myself sighing as the book went on and was never very interested in the plot. Finishing it became a struggle as the characters never seemed to take on a persona that called to me.
Rated of 5
Soosi D. (Shelton, Washington)
Something New to Think About
This book was an adventure into something completely new for me. Like others, I have read much about the great American expansion and the experiences with the colonists and the native Americans, but I knew nothing about the early exchanges between the indigenous peoples of Australia and the western colonists. I found the writing initially quite engaging, particularly the descriptions but found the plot disjointed and meandering, which was sometimes frustrating. I could not help but think about Caleb's Crossing as a comparison, when I read this. My only other exposure to the Down Under conflicts with indigenous people was Mr. Pip. I am now enticed to read more about these the Aboriginal people of Australia.
Rated of 5
Paul R. (Albuquerque, NM)
I was looking forward to reading the book because of its interesting topic, but I just could not get into it, and quit after a hundred pages. The book seemed oddly unfocused, with no clear direction. As soon as I'd guess that someone was a main character, he would disappear. The same stories were told at different points in the novel, leaving the reader with no definite idea what had happened. All in all, rather disappointing.
Rated of 5
Kathrin C. (Corona, CA)
After reading the prologue and being quite taken by the both language and the images, I could almost touch the rugged Australian coast, so close and so vivid in Scott’s words. I was expecting to like this novel very much. And parts of the book brought nineteenth century Western Australia with the first contact between the Aboriginal Noongar and European settlers terrifically to life. But Bobby Wabalanginy’s ongoing story simply did not grab hold of my attention, not enough to carry me through the whole book. But I definitely felt the power and the beauty of Scott's writing and I think that will tempt me to reread this novel at a later time. And perhaps as a reader I must take some of the blame for missed connections with this novel.
Rated of 5
Kris H. (Grayslake, IL)
Struggled to get through this
I was interested in reading this book as I love historical fiction and was looking forward to learning about Australia. Unfortunately, I really struggled to get thru the book and didn't end up finishing it. I couldn't get past the writing style, and had trouble following the characters. If you have a strong interest in the topic, you may be fine with it, but it lost me along the way.
Kim Scott was born in 1957 to a white mother and Aboriginal father. His first novel, True Country, was published in 1993. His second, Benang: From the Heart, won the 2000 Miles Franklin Award and the Western Australia Premier's Book Award. He has also published short stories and poetry. Scott currently lives in Western Australia with his wife and two children.
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