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Carpentaria: A Novel Hardcover – April 7, 2009

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Starred Review. This 2007 Miles Franklin award–winning novel is the latest masterpiece from Wright, an indigenous Australian author and land rights activist. In the town of Desperance, in northern Queensland, Australia, the question of land ownership is complicated, and every family stakes a claim. There's Normal Phantom's family, Mozzie Fishman's gang and the white settlers who control the region, but can't quite figure out how to get the native Pricklebush people to assimilate to the white man's ways. The drama unfolds with all the poetry and eclecticism of a Bob Dylan song: a drunken white mayor dismisses a murder case, a lying deaf policeman named Truthful has his way with Aboriginal women, and a brave young activist sabotages the town's mining industry. When the mythical Elias Smith, who appears in Desperance one day after walking out of the sea, is found murdered, a series of tragedies follows, awakening latent feuds and underlining the injustice of colonialism. Rarely does an author have such control of her words and her story: Wright's prose soars between the mythical and the colloquial. (Apr.)
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Review

"* 'Wright's gift to Australian literature is Desperance... it's her uncanny ear for the particularities of local language and eye for striking symbolism that could carry Carpentaria into the classics sections of bookshelves in years to come.' - Michael Fitzgerald, Time Magazine * 'Wright's is the authentic aboriginal voice. With humour and occasional farce, but always with an underlying truthfulness, she delivers a brutal portrait of the physical and psychological violence between the white newcomers and the original inhabitants.' - The Economist * 'So comprehensive is Wright's vision that reading it is like looking at her world from the inside. It's an unashamedly big book - big in scope, ambition and physical size - and well-suited to the Gulf country it sings. It is also an important book.' - Liam Davison, Sydney Morning Herald * 'This is the kind of writing in which a reader can put their entire trust in the narrator, put the weight of their doubt in the narrator's hands. It is like being spoken to by someone with a voice you can trust, someone standing close by. It is as if you could hear their intake of breath, the compassion in their voice, their amusement at the foolishness of mortals.' - Alison Ravescroft, The Age" --This text refers to an alternate Hardcover edition.
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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 528 pages
  • Publisher: Atria Books; First Edition edition (April 7, 2009)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1416593101
  • ISBN-13: 978-1416593102
  • Product Dimensions: 6 x 1.7 x 9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.5 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (27 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #772,119 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

13 of 14 people found the following review helpful By Roger Brunyate TOP 500 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on April 12, 2009
Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
How to rate this book? Five stars for the unusual quality of the writing and its unique voice? Or three, to reflect the difficulty I had getting into it? I am going with five, because the quality is indisputable while my reading problems may well be my own; a compromise would neither do justice to this extraordinary book, nor be an adequate warning to the unsuspecting reader.

The setting is the fictional town of Desperance, by the Gulf of Carpentaria on the North coast of Australia. A small citizenry of self-satisfied whites live Uptown, surrounded on three sides by shanty communities of aborigines, who refer to themselves as Pricklebush people. These are their stories: families and splinters of families, living together, splitting, fighting, and coming together again. They are a people living on the outskirts, among the debris of the modern world, yet tied in often-inexplicable ways to the land or the sea. They are a religious people who look for marvels in the most unlikely places: Normal Phantom's oil-matted cockatoo who "went with the pilgrimage to Alice Springs in the 1980s to be blessed by the Pope"; golden-skinned Elias Smith who had simply walked out of the sea one day like the coming of a prophet; or Mozzie Fishman, a second Moses, leading convoys of battered cars from one end of the country to another, following the ancient Dreamways.

And the writing! Here are Mozzie's followers starting out on another morning of their journey: "The men would rise from the face of the world where they slept like lizards, dreaming the essence of a spiritual renewal rotating around the earth, perhaps in clouds of stars like the Milky Way, or fog hugging the ground as it moved across every watercourse in the continent before sunrise.
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10 of 11 people found the following review helpful By S. Rogers on May 6, 2009
Format: Hardcover
Knowing how much I love to read (and blog!), the good people at Atria Books/Simon & Schuster sent me an advance copy of Alexis Wright's second novel, Carpentaria.

Wright is one of Australia's most celebrated writers, and an Aboriginal activist. Her book depicts life of these indigenous Australians via the story of a community of people in the coastal town of Desperance in the Gulf of Carpentaria.

Specifically, she introduces us to Norm Phantom & family of the Westend, his rival Joseph Midnight of the Eastend, and the vague "white men" from the neighboring Uptown who threaten the land, traditions, and heritage of the Aboriginal people.

It's a lengthy tome - clocking in a 516 pages - and although I received my copy in mid-March, I just finished it last week after taking it with my on our trip to Puerto Rico.

Carpentaria book Truth be told, I had trouble getting into the story. It's a mystical narrative, starting with the creation of the rivers and flow of the tides explained by an ancient serpent that slithered over the land, creating the serpent-shaped water flows and taking huge breaths that cause the tides.

The writing is beautiful, with rich descriptors, like this passage about one of the main characters:

"He possessed such an enormous voice, the pitch of it could reverberate up and down the spinal cord, damage the central nervous system, and afterwards vibrate straight up the road to the town and hit the bell so hard, it would start ringing its ear piercing peal." (p. 97)

But I found the early pages confusing, with odd characters whose stories seemed truncated and disconnected.
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12 of 14 people found the following review helpful By A* VINE VOICE on March 26, 2009
Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
Carpentaria is a book that is barely able to contain itself. The pacing is off, the narration at times veers into the absurd and the characters seem to wander in and out, but just like some of the best books, it all culminates in a beautiful way. This is one of those books where the pieces are only minor but when placed together - there is a sprawling work of art laid out in front of you that encapsulates all of your senses through the sheer will, and brilliance, of Wright's mastery.

The plot revolves around a town, Desperance, and the lives of its inhabitants that are being destroyed by a mining company and the white people it brings with them to the Aboriginal lands. Of course, I'm over simplifying, this book is 500 pages. It is near impossible to say how entrancing this book truly is.

Wright's Carpentaria is truly a work of art and deserves to be read. It carries its own life and mood. There is a depth of beauty and pain to it that sets it apart from what comes along as fiction these days. Interwoven into the pages is an honest truth that we can all understand.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful By Kindle Customer VINE VOICE on May 3, 2009
Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
I honestly do not know how to go about reviewing this book.

On the one hand, I was enthralled by the use of language by the author. I kept wanting to read the book out loud due to the rhythms and cadences of the words. I was also enthralled by the bits of mythology of the Aborigines, who have an obviously deep and rich spiritual tie to the Earth and the Sea and all of the creatures to be found in both.

On the other hand, the story itself was filled with virulent and violent racism that quite frankly, made me sick (though I believe that might have been the author's intension). The poverty and violence faced by the Aborigines over the course of the story was quite disturbing. While their spiritual life was of enormous depth, their physical lives were so desperate that they would fight with each other over scavenging rights at the garbage dump, and when one mother found a beat up but still working clock, she was overjoyed at finding White Man's time magic - so her children would know when to go to school.

I cannot even speak of how much the racist violence bothered me - and it seemed to get worse and worse as the story went on.

I had to force myself to sit down and read the book - even while I would be caught up in the magic of the prose, I would shudder at some of the events I was reading about.

I was not sure as to what star rating to give the book, but I finally decided to go with four stars. While the content took me WAY out of my comfort zone, the author's use of language was superb. I think that my failure to completely connect with the novel was more my fault as a reader than the author's fault as a writer.
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