Wednesday, June 10, 2015
Too Afraid to Cry
It is a narrative of good and evil, terror and happiness, despair and courage. It is the story of a people profoundly wronged, told through the frank eyes of a child, and the troubled mind of that child as an adult, whose life was irretrievably changed by being tricked away from her family and adopted into a German Lutheran family.
What makes this book sing is not only Ali Cobby-Eckermann’s strong and unique narrative voice and her ability to cut to the essence of things in her poetry, but also the astounding courage with which she leads the reader through the complex account of a life in free-fall and a journey to wholeness through reconnection with her birth family and its ageless culture and wisdom.
This is a brave book, written by a woman who has faced her demons, transformed her suffering into a work of art, and found her true sitting place in the world.
Ali Cobby Eckermann was too afraid to cry, and I was too afraid to put down her memoir till I had come to the end and knew that she was going to be okay. This is the extraordinary true story of Eckermann’s upbringing as a child of the stolen generation—taken from her Indigenous family at birth and raised by a white family. Frightened and confused, she endures racism and sexual abuse at the hands of adults and other kids, growing silent and withdrawn.
Uncle started to kiss me. His chin was all scratchy from not shaving. It felt funny, and I felt like laughing. But when he pushed his tongue down into my throat I screamed. No noise could come out, and I couldn’t breathe. He had put his body on top of mine, and I couldn’t move.
* * *
My foster brother had a friend who sometimes stayed overnight on the farm. He was a prefect at our school. I don’t know why Mum let him stay because he didn’t play games with us. He was much older than me, and when Mum and Dad were busy working on the farm he did things to me he wasn’t supposed to do. I knew it was bad what he did to me.
* * *
He told me not to say anything. And I couldn’t tell Mum because I was scared she would yell at me and smack me. I though Mum and Dad would stop loving me if I told them.
* * *
Someone held me while other hands pulled my underpants down. There was a strange noise in my ears, like a faraway scream, but I could still hear the sounds of those doing the laughing and teasing. They said they wanted to know if I was the same as other girls.
* * *
Grandma always said that we must never talk about ‘down there’ in our underpants. So I said nothing…
One of the most interesting aspects of the book is the way that it alternates between prose and poetry. The chapters are short episodes told in a straightforward, unsentimental voice. There is a poem between most chapters, which opens up space for the reader to pause and contemplate wider themes and relate the narrator’s experiences to other Indigenous people’s across the country and the years. The poems are all in the present tense and have a quality of timelessness to them.
a lavender bush has died
in her eyes
the bitterness of lime
flavours her tears
It burns to blink