Literary Review

Emotional journey

Too Afraid to Cry; Ali Cobby Eckermann, Navayana, Rs.295.

Too Afraid to Cry; Ali Cobby Eckermann, Navayana, Rs.295.  

A coming-of-age tale told in haunting poetry and prose.

Writer and poet Ali Cobby Eckermann hates squares. Her thoughts and writing are circular; the circles of her Aboriginal culture, which is in contrast to the ‘squareness’ of the white culture she was adopted into. Her book is as much about growing up as it is about confronting her emotions from the moment she was sexually abused by a relative to the time she was reunited with her real mother and her community.

“When I was born, I was not allowed to live with my family/I grew up in the white man’s world/We lived in a square house we picked fruit and vegetables from a neat fenced square plot/We kept animals in square paddocks we ate at a square table we sat on square chairs I slept in a square bed/One day I look at myself in a square mirror and did not know who I was.”

Part of the ‘Stolen Generation of aboriginal children’, who were forcibly removed from their families, Ali was adopted by a white family and found her mother when she was in her thirties. In school, she was humiliated for her origins. The stifling predictability of life with her foster parents, her own insecurities and restless spirit led her to elope. She was forced to give her child up in adoption. Her adoptive family was ashamed of her and did not support her. Full of guilt and regret, she turned to alcohol and drugs to get away from her painful reality till one day she signed up for rehab.

In this book, she retraces her deep ties with her land and people, how she comes to terms with her identity and culture with the help of older women from her community. “I have learnt two different ways/now I am thankful for this is part of my Life Circle/My heart is Round ready to echo the music of my family but the Square within me remains.” She has an adventurous and nomadic life on the surface — hunting camels in the bush, working at a resort, living in caravans or squatter’s settlements — but she gets into an abusive relationship. It’s a journey of emotions, which play out both in poetry and prose in the book in a ‘circular’ and not linear way.

As Meena Kandasamy writes in her eloquent introduction, “Entering the world of Ali Cobby Eckermann’s Too Afraid to Cry is like embarking on a journey of distilled pain where I had to constantly pause to salute Ali’s spirit of resilience.” Eckermann has a deceptively spare style and sometimes you read through too quickly. This is a book you feel like returning to, especially for the stark, and sometimes, brutal verse. Her story ends happily as she secures a traineeship with an art gallery owned and run by Aborigines and she has, in her own words, turned the past into healing.

Too Afraid to Cry ; Ali Cobby Eckermann, Navayana, Rs.295.

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Printable version | Apr 4, 2020 1:52:35 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/books/literary-review/emotional-journey/article6940990.ece

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