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That Deadman Dance: A Novel Hardcover – February 28, 2012

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Editorial Reviews


Piquant and lyrical…The historical interaction between these two cultures in a changing 19th-century Australia is given full play in Scott's ambitious, elegiac storytelling. (Publishers Weekly)

Scott's exuberant third novel is both an evocative paean to his Aboriginal roots and a meticulously researched account of early nineteenth-century encounters between his Noongar people, living on Australia's southwest coast, and newly arrived European settlers. Scott writes lyrically of this lush land and its initially naive inhabitants in this elucidating chronicle of early Native confrontations. (Booklist)

The truth of all indigenous peoples is in this book. Never has a first contact story been so true and powerful with its happiness and heartbreak all wound up together in one insightful, potent novel. Kim Scott's words are like stones that strike together and create fire. Yet they remain graceful as they strike. So perfectly written, so deeply filled with real history, That Deadman Dance is the best new novel by a native writer I have seen in a long time. (Linda Hogan, author of Mean Spirit and People of the Whale)

An enchanting and authentic book, giving us an insider's view of Australia before it was Australia . Enormously readable, humane, proud, and subtle. (Thomas Keneally, winner of the Man Booker Prize, author of Schindler's List and A Commonwealth of Thieves)

A subtle portrayal of cross-cultural contact . . . Scott is an assiduous researcher and a deep thinker . . . But in That Deadman Dance, it is the author's imagination and his graceful prose that shine brightest . . . [A] compelling and beautifully constructed novel. (Australian Book Review)

An extraordinary work, both realist and visionary . . . Scott's scope is vast and his way of telling complex . . . That Deadman Dance is a novel to read, recite, and reread. (Sunday Morning Herald)

A writer of arresting talent . . . Scott's fiction is innovative but inspired by a passion for truth. (The Australian)

Extraordinary . . . Scott's prose shimmers. This is a book that demands to be savoured . . . Scott's flawlessly written tale adds both meaning and depth to this deeply Australian story. (Bookseller + Publisher (AU))

[That Deadman Dance] is a strong dramatisation of a consciousness poised at the intersection of magical and materialist cultures . . . It is a book of lyrical energies, held in check by a realistic sense of history, which balances the elegy for what we know was lost with possibilities of mutual understanding that have always been there. (from the citation for the regional Commonwealth Writers' Prize)

About the Author

Kim Scott was born in 1957 to a white mother and Aboriginal father. His first novel, True Country, was published in 1993. His second, Benang: From the Heart, won the 2000 Miles Franklin Award and the Western Australia Premier's Book Award. He has also published short stories and poetry. Scott currently lives in Western Australia with his wife and two children.


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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 368 pages
  • Publisher: Bloomsbury USA; Reprint edition (February 28, 2012)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1608197050
  • ISBN-13: 978-1608197057
  • Product Dimensions: 6 x 1.3 x 8.4 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 14.4 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (22 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,667,473 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover
Numerous authors, in recent years, have written about the settlement of Australia and the taking of aboriginal lands by white settlers, something the Australian government has recently tried to rectify through legislation and for which they have apologized. Kim Scott's That Deadman Dance is unique, however. The son of an aborigine (Noongar) father and white mother, Scott has written this novel from the Noongar point of view, bringing it to life through the stories surrounding Bobby Wabalanginy and his family, who are named for members of the author's own family.

From his earliest recollections, Bobby has been connected to whales, and he remembers Menak, the King of the Noongars (and his father), telling him about sliding inside a whale's blowhole, warming himself beside its heart, and joining his voice to the whale's roar, a story Bobby vividly imagines reliving himself. At one point, he even describes his mother acquiring him when his father cuts open a whale on the beach. Now, at age nine, Bobby travels between his own tribal group and that of the "horizon people" who have come to his land, learning to read and trusting in the people he has met. As more and more people come to King George Town, including British, Yankee whalers and the French, however, the "horizon people" begin to claim more property, and each time they do, they take it from the Noongars. Noongar women are stolen, and both blacks and whites begin to deceive each other, provoking vengeance.

Though it is divided into parts which have dates, the novel is not completely linear. Bobby is larger than life, a mythic figure, absorbing and relating many of the stories of his people, including one in which he "dies" and flies through the air.
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Format: Kindle Edition
This novel, winner of the 2011 Miles Franklin Award, is set in the early nineteenth century, when American whalers, British colonists and the Noongar people first made contact in the south of Western Australia. Much of the novel is set in a period of almost 20 years, and covers a stark change in the relationship between the indigenous and non-indigenous inhabitants. From their early reliance on the Noongar in the beginning, as the settlement becomes well established, the colonists come to see the Noongar as a problem.

Bobby Wabalanginy is the central character in this novel and, as the novel opens, he is a boy. Bobby grew up doing the Dead Man Dance, a symbol of first contact with the men from over the ocean's horizon:

`By the time he was a grown man everyone knew it had never been dead men dancing in the first place anyway, but real live men from over the ocean's horizon, with a different way about them.'

For Bobby, this was a dance which celebrated life and which all people could dance together. Unfortunately, the colonists with their newfound confidence in their established settlement had different views. Different peoples, different concepts of ownership, different views about sharing. Few people, from either group, saw things as flexibly as did the young Bobby.

`Understood that there were other people he must be with on his way to becoming a man.'

Dr Joseph Cross, who led the first contact group, was a wise leader. When he and Bobby work together, both sides learn from each other. When Dr Cross dies, he is buried (as he requested) beside his friend Wunyerun. A memorial is raised to Dr Cross, but there is no mention of the Noongar man beside him. This does not augur well for the future.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful By Evie Getchell TOP 500 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on May 23, 2012
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
That Deadman Dance: A Novel, a brilliantly conceived narrative in deeply affecting prose by Aboriginal author Kim Scott, sings, the incredibly moving yet deeply disturbing story of an indigenous peoples' first encounters with British settlers during the early 1800's in coastal southwestern Australia.

The Indigenous Australians subtly and authentically portrayed in this lyrical novel are the Noongar, a gentle and generous hunter-gatherer people with a beautiful mystical oral culture and an ancient spiritual tradition based on strong belief in their dream-life and a deep reverence for their land. The Noongar are represented by the central character of Bobby Wabalanginy, who at a very young age is discovered by his people to be a great tribal storyteller.

Bobby Wabalanginy has a special charisma which endears him to all - his tribe and the first white settlers of the Cygnet River. Bobby walks in both worlds. His people love him dearly and also respect him as the tribal storyteller while the whites embrace him for his precocious charm, his innate intelligence, his remarkable resourcefulness, and his genuine eagerness to please them. Bobby learns the white fellas' ways quickly and easily as they establish their colony on Noongar land around the Cygnet River. He learns to read and write, to speak their language and sing their songs, to shoot guns and sail boats, to till the earth and hunt the whales. He comes to trust and love the white fellas.

At first the Noongar welcomed the white newcomers amiably and generously, as was their natural way. They saw the arrival of the British as the returning of their deceased people.
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