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The Road from Coorain Paperback – August 11, 1990
"Warlight" by Michael Ondaatje
A dramatic coming-of-age story set in the decade after World War II, "Warlight" is the mesmerizing new novel from the best-selling author of "The English Patient." Pre-order today
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t age 11, Conway ( Women Reformers and American Culture ) left the arduous life on her family's sheep farm in the Australian outback for school in war-time Sydney, burdened by an emotionally dependent, recently widowed mother. A lively curiosity and penetrating intellect illuminate this unusually objective account of the author's progress from a solitary childhood--the most appealing part of the narrative--to public achievement as president of Smith College and now professor at MIT. Gifted with an ability to adapt to a wide range of cultures and people and despite ingrained Australian prejudice against intellectuals, Conway devoted herself to the study of history and literature, spurred on by excellent British-style schooling. Her further adventures could easily make a rewarding second volume.
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This one book is many books. It is a remarkable recollection of a young life in Australia. Then, in one of the nine chapters, it takes on a literary bent with brilliant and entertaining use of language. Often, it devolves into segments of self-pity as well as loathing toward others. Does that make it a psychological thriller, a mystery, or a narcissistic treatise? Discuss amongst yourselves and support your ideas, as the scholarly Jill Ker Conway probably charged her students and peers over the years.
Psychologically, the reader is presented a person who, through her twenties, couldn't be bothered to hold any work position for any length of time. Whether in law, political administration, fashion, education, or simpler tasks, some aspect of that work was beyond her tolerance. Such attitude is at least partly owed to the affluence that did not require her to work, but that is rarely raised as a factor.
The thrilling aspect of the psychological spaghetti in these pages is the roller coaster of angst poured out by the author, with the reader along for the ride. There is family, social, climate, political, historical, and enough other kinds of angst to fill a world's fair. That may be interesting (the angst or the fair), but one tires from a non-stop intake of it.
Mysteriously, we learn little depth about any characters surrounding the author other than her father during her astounding telling of early years on the Australian prairie, and of her mother as the anchor (with both good and bad meanings inferred) of her life. There are rarely more than brief mentions of others and name-dropping lists; nary a vignette to develop surrounding characters.
I relished the onsetting story set in the unfamiliar Antipodal pastoral land to which the first four chapters were devoted. I was thrilled by bits of artfully-crafted phrasing through that section, which then flourished in most of chapter five and made me feel I was on a journey through life that was discovering literary potential just as it might have evolved for the young lass as her life shifted toward education.
Yet by the end of chapter five to the final pages, the clarion call was that of the prototypical picture of the opera singer in preparation for a performance: "Me, me, me; Me, Me, Me!; Me, Me, ME!!" There was sound and fury but too little substance and story to mold a truly interesting tale despite the litany of subject matter that was mentioned.
Many readers will enjoy this exploration of soul by commentary. The author presents herself as an interesting character. I might have enjoyed the effort had there been more introspection and less outwardly-focused criticism. There were times when I was ready to recommend this work to a teenage relative in the United States, that she might appreciate another kind of life in another part of the world, presented by someone of intellect. Such desire was not there by the end of the book.
Detailing her life growing up in the Australian outback during the second third of the twentieth century, Conway is able to draw the reader into that era. The beauty of the landscape and the harsh reality of the elements, the economic cycles, and the psychological impact on both men and women of these influences are vividly described. The elitism and the class differences between landed individuals and those who managed or worked on the stations become evident as the Conway family’s fortunes roller coaster between wealth and economic hardship.
Societal attitudes toward women’s roles and acceptable occupations could have discouraged Conway from ever progressing. However, Jill Ker Conway’s intellectual strength, coupled with her work ethic, propelled her beyond those roles accepted and available to women in the mid-twentieth century to becoming a university professor and eventually president of Smith College.
Today’s young women may view much of “The Road From Coorain” as ancient history. Women who came of age in the ‘60’s and ‘70’s may remember or may have experienced situations similar to those Conway encountered. All will be inspired by and amazed at Jill Ker Conway’s life and accomplishments.
Most recent customer reviews
-I got to learn more about Australia and Australian culture, both in the bush and Sydney, in the 1940's-50's.
-It made me think sometimes.Read more