Too Afraid to Cry; A memoir in prose and verse
by Ali Cobby Eckermann
978 192132524 3 Paperback
Recently announced as a winner of the Australian 2017 Windham Campbell prize for poetry.
Each year two prize winners in each category of poetry, drama, fiction and non-fiction; in its fifth year each winner receives US$165,000.
A memoir but listed as poetry.
She has five other collections of poetry in print.
the book is series of prose sketches from the early childhood of Ali Cobby Eckermann interspersed with almost haunted verse and through teenage to adulthood and closing with a celebration of family. As an aboriginal baby she was among the many forcibly taken from her mother soon after birth as part of Australian social policy of the time. She was adopted into a German Lutheran farming family with children, where she was loved, as was another adopted child.
However with growing awareness of being different in a family of differing skin tones, and being subjected to various levels of abuses outside the family situation she developed assorted emotional problems and addictions as she grew to adulthood. Her writing is beautifully simple, descriptive and at times lyrical yet often fearsomely matter-of-fact. By jumping from scene to scene we watch the events through her eyes and begin to be informed of the abuses she suffers and the complications they set in train. Time and tensions move on. Throughout she does maintain some friendships and family albeit tenuously at times.
The poem ‘Black‘ offers a step-change affirming her ‘Self’. Returning to the brief ‘chapters’ of prose, where life goes on and bullying is amplified, she finds a form of relief in friendships with other adopted and non-adopted indigenous people and families but with an evermore self-destructive life style. Her writing style throughout continues as simple and matter-of-fact in telling her tale.
Maybe at her lowest point in the story, halfway-ish through the book, there is a subtle change in outlook. She reports, still concisely, of feeling connections with ‘the earth’, elements of scenery around her and of a bigger emotion as the landscape expands into the wilderness she travels through. Perhaps a degree of comfort from the expanse and lifestyle. Reading this section, of her growing awareness, created a surprising feeling of empathy on that connection. From here the style of blunt and non-critical writing continues while her life improves and collapses episodically.
The writer begins to describe scenery as it infiltrates into her. She is, almost unknowingly, absorbing her heritage of ageless culture and wisdom. A smooth and subtle change while her language is still beautifully simple. (I say simple. I suppose I really mean excised of all unnecessary words. If only I could write like that!!)
Blame is never considered by Ali but the reader surely can. The story may read as a philosophy of: ‘life happens’ but the reasons why need to be addressed, especially the ‘happenings’ of now. They may have been but Social Engineering for good or ill does have serious consequences in countless forms, mostly, it seems against women and children. There, I’ve gone off-track and have only the direct result of reading this book to thank. Yes, it is of a specific person but many aspects of her story are not only of the indigenous Australian but should resonate around the world in support of all who are nudged or beaten to the peripheries of society.
Ultimately this is a personal story of a baby, a child growing into adulthood and surviving a system of abuse and almost self-destruction to discover herself, her blood family, heritage and her own landscape. A woman who has finally become whole. Ali Cobby Eckermann’s book deserves international recognition.
This is one to recommend to all your friends and everyone else.