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The Paperbark Shoe Paperback – March 29, 2011

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Editorial Reviews


“I have never read anything quite like this, nor has anyone else. . . . The voice is acid, funny, at first commonsensical and un-self-pitying, later lyrical, later madly deluded. . . . Brilliant.” ―Andrea Barrett, author of The Air We Breathe

“What an astonishing book this is! It's hard to believe The Paperbark Shoe is Goldie Goldbloom's first novel--because she has the audaciousness, the wildly inventive language, and the historical mastery of--well, it would be hard to think of any one writer she resembles.” ―Rosellen Brown, author of Before and After

The Paperbark Shoe is a strange, mesmerizing tale about characters uncomfortably defined by superficial eccentricities. It is also a wrenching love story.” ―Joanna Scott, author of Follow Me

“Extraordinary . . . one of the most original Australian novels I've read in a long time.” ―The Sydney Morning Herald

“An assured debut written in beautifully precise language.” ―The Age (Australia)

About the Author

GOLDIE GOLDBLOOM's fiction has appeared in StoryQuarterly, Narrative, and Prairie Schooner. Her stories have been translated into more than ten languages. She lives in Chicago with her eight children.


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Product Details

  • Paperback: 384 pages
  • Publisher: Picador; Reprint edition (March 29, 2011)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0312674503
  • ISBN-13: 978-0312674502
  • Product Dimensions: 6 x 0.8 x 9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 12 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (35 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #239,326 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

17 of 18 people found the following review helpful By Jacques Talbot VINE VOICE on April 14, 2011
Format: Paperback Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
At one point in this very worthwhile debut novel, one of the book's delightfully three-dimensional characters observes that "the shoemaker's family goes barefoot," and this is as close as I have been able to come to a a unifying principle for the book.

I won't go into details about the "plot" of the book, both because other reviewers have already covered that territory and because in my view the plot is perhaps the least important of the many things that make this book so good.

One of those things is that Goldbloom succeeds in putting us inside the head of her main character. I'm not really sure how she has managed to do this, but I think it has something to do with...honesty? Vulnerability? Self-revelation? The tale's narrator is not an entirely sympathetic character (to be diplomatic about it), though she comes by her foibles honestly. An upbringing juxtaposing material comfort with a scarcity of love and acceptance has left Gin Boyle jaded, perhaps somewhat bitter, and certainly possessed of a caustically acerbic wit. This too makes for delightful reading and no doubt exerts some of the seemingly magnetic pull of the book. I found myself progressively drawn into the small world of Wyalketcham, Australia, until by the last 20 or 30 pages of the book I could not wait to get back to it each time I had put it down.

Goldbloom is a talented writer, and although I wouldn't quite characterize her writing as lyrical--there's really very little lyricism in this gritty tale--she certainly understands rhythm and cadence and weaves a marvelous spell. The book is also broken up into chapters, and longer chapters are broken into sections, making this an especially user-friendly book for busy readers on the go.
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful By TChris TOP 500 REVIEWER on March 10, 2011
Format: Paperback Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
I knew Gin Toad was a character I would like when, newly arrived in Wyalkatchem, she meets a woman who pats her shoulder, telling her that it's good luck to touch an albino, and Gin responds by tapping the woman and saying "Maybe it's good luck to touch an idiot." Gin doesn't often give voice to her sharp humor but she's nobody's fool, despite being committed to an institution before Toad married her. Toad can barely look at Gin and rarely touches her. Although they feel no passion for each other, she bears his children (losing one to diphtheria) while wondering whether Toad views her as just one more sheep to be bred.

Gin and Toad live on a remote farm in Western Australia. Their hard lives are made more difficult by the shortages created by World War II. Toad is ugly, coarse, uncommunicative, lacking education and refinement, yet he is fundamentally decent, possessed of a hidden depth and secrets that, like Gin's, are deeply buried. Both characters are isolated not just in their location but in their personalities. Both yearn for something they cannot have and dare not dream about.

Gin's stultifying life is transformed by two Italian prisoners of war, placed in Toad's custody as farmhands. The boisterous nature of the Italians is in sharp contrast to the withdrawn silence and studied indifference that defined Toad before their arrival, and it is inevitable that one of them awakens urges in Gin that have long been buried. At one point in the novel the Italian Antonio has to remind Gin that he is a prisoner, but he seems less a prisoner than Gin, who is imprisoned by her appearance and her past, caged by the expectations and perceptions of others. Gin's albino eyes are nearly blind in bright sunlight, but her emotional blindness is a greater disability.
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10 of 12 people found the following review helpful By Amazon Customer VINE VOICE on April 25, 2011
Format: Paperback Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
Why would a mother of eight children from Chicago write a novel abut Australia in the 1940's? I have no idea, but I am glad she did.

In her debut novel Goldbloom tells the story of Mr Toad, an odd looking misfit, who marries Gin Boyle, an albino classical pianist. Lonely for companionship on the remote Western Australian farm Mr. Toad sought out Gin after he heard her playing the piano. Tragedy besets the couple at every turn while townspeople and neighbors bully them with merciless taunting. Gin gives birth to 4 children, one of whom has died at age 4.

During WWII Italian POWs, Antonio and John are sent to the Toad farm to help with farm chores. Supposedly the prisoners are to be isolated and locked up but instead they slowly become integrated into the family. The relationships between the Australian couple and the Italian prisoners are labyrinthine and perplexing as their lives become intertwined and lurch toward disaster.

In spare and delicate prose Goldbloom mesmerizes the reader with the sights and smells of the farm and the disgusting (to me) details of the Toad's lives. Events are described in brief, evocative vignettes that could each stand alone but instead fit together like pieces of an intricate puzzle. Gin and Toad live in separate worlds which bang and crash together in loathsome misunderstandings and harsh words that shock the reader to the core. Their discontent seems to be alleviated with various special events and a few, rare, words of kindness. The arrival of the Italian men provoke different and wildly varying emotional issues to come to the forefront for the couple.

The interesting title refers to the paperbark gum tree that has bark which peels off in sturdy pieces that can be used for a number of different purposes.
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