From 1941 to 1947, eighteen thousand Italian prisoners of war were sent to Australia. The Italian surrender that followed the downfall of Mussolini had created a novel circumstance: prisoners who theoretically were no longer enemies. Many of these exiles were sent to work on isolated farms, unguarded.
The Paperbark Shoe is the unforgettable story of Gin Boyle - an albino, a classically trained pianist, and a woman with a painful past. Disavowed by her wealthy stepfather, her unlikely savior is the farmer Mr. Toad - a little man with a taste for women's corsets. Together with their two children, they weather the hardship of rural life and the mockery of their neighbors. But with the arrival of two Italian prisoners of war, their lives are turned upside down. Thousands of miles from home, Antonio and John find themselves on Mr. and Mrs. Toad's farm, exiles in the company of exiles. The Paperbark Shoe is a remarkable novel about the far-reaching repercussions of war, the subtle violence of displacement, and what it means to live as a captive - in enemy country, and in one's own skin.
Winner of the 2008 AWP Award for the Novel (The Association of Writers and Writing Programs)
First published in hardcover as Toads' Museum Of Freaks And Wonders
The Paperbark Shoe is a miracle of a book - so perfect, it's astonishing that it is Goldie Goldbloom's first. Along with the characters, we experience sweat and toil, success and defeat on unforgiving land, and we mull over the pain of the injustices we all wreak on each other. The relief we may feel because we aren't physically like Gin and Toad is made moot when we remember that what binds us all is a shared human nature. (Reviewed by Lisa Guidarini).
This debut novel... marries unmistakable writing talent, a rare narrator and a garishly vivid story...
[T]his heartfelt tale succeeds in every way. Goldbloom has a real gift for persuasively conveying people and events that are strange, disgusting, and beautiful.
The Sydney Morning Herald (Australia)
Extraordinary... one of the most original Australian novels I've read in a long time.
The Age (Australia)
An assured debut written in beautifully precise language.
Rosellen Brown, author of Before and After
What an astonishing book this is! It's hard to believe The Paperbark Shoe is Goldie Goldbloom's first novel because she has the audaciousness, the wildly inventive language, and the historical mastery of - well, it would be hard to think of any one writer she resembles.
Joanna Scott, author of Follow Me The Paperbark Shoe is a strange, mesmerizing tale about characters uncomfortably defined by superficial eccentricities. It is also a wrenching love story.
Australian author Goldie Goldbloom discusses her debut novel, The Paperbark Shoe, with Lisa Guidarini. The following are selected excerpts from the full interview.
You chose to set the book in your native Australia. Do you believe it would have been as effective if the setting had been, say, the 1930s Dust Bowl in the United States, or was the Australian setting essential?
I'm always excited when someone asks me a question that I haven't been asked before, especially one that makes me think deeply. I don't know enough about rural America to write well about it. The red dirt of Australia is still underneath my fingernails. Themes of isolation and xenophobia and heartbreak and loss are universal, but in a squeaky little corner of my soul, I still want to believe that The Paperbark Shoehad to be set in Western Australia, in Wyalkatchem, in 1943.
Set in the haunting landscape of eastern Australia, this is a stunningly accomplished debut novel about the inescapable past: the ineffable ties of family, the wars fought by fathers and sons, and what goes unsaid.
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