That Deadman Dance

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Set in Western Australia in the first decades of the nineteenth century, That Deadman Dance is a vast, gorgeous novel about the first contact between the Aboriginal Noongar people and the new European settlers.

Bobby Wabalanginy is a young Noongar man, smart, resourceful, and eager to please. He befriends the European arrivals, joining them as they hunt whales, till the land, and establish their new colony. He is welcomed into a prosperous white family, and eventually finds ...

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That Deadman Dance

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Set in Western Australia in the first decades of the nineteenth century, That Deadman Dance is a vast, gorgeous novel about the first contact between the Aboriginal Noongar people and the new European settlers.

Bobby Wabalanginy is a young Noongar man, smart, resourceful, and eager to please. He befriends the European arrivals, joining them as they hunt whales, till the land, and establish their new colony. He is welcomed into a prosperous white family, and eventually finds himself falling in love with the daughter, Christine. But slowly-by design and by hazard-things begin to change. Not everyone is happy with how the colony is progressing. Livestock mysteriously start to disappear, crops are destroyed, there are "accidents" and injuries on both sides. As the Europeans impose ever-stricter rules and regulations in order to keep the peace, Bobby's Elders decide they must respond in kind, and Bobby is forced to take sides, inexorably drawn into a series of events that will forever change the future of his country.

That Deadman Dance is inevitably tragic, as most stories of European and native contact are. But through Bobby's life, Kim Scott exuberantly explores a moment in time when things could have been different, when black and white lived together in amazement rather than fear of the other, and when the world seemed suddenly twice as large and twice as promising. At once celebratory and heartbreaking, this novel is a unique and important contribution to the literature of native experience.

Winner of the 2011 Miles Franklin Literary Award

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
Australian novelist Scott’s (Benang) complex Commonwealth-winning (South East Asia/Pacific Region) third novel begins in 1833 with Bobby Wabalanginy, part of the Aboriginal Noongar people, befriending early white English settlers who’ve arrived in southern Australia to establish the port of King George Town. Among his white associates are the military surgeon Dr. Joseph Cross, the merchant Geordie Chaine, and Chaine’s young daughter, Christine, who Bobby perhaps likes too much. Characterized by Dr. Cross as “animated and theatrical,” Bobby maintains an upbeat attitude that will serve him well once race relations sour. Until he dies, Cross is a mentor to Bobby, and then the Chaines fill the position. Short, titled chapters group into four parts demarcated by sweeps of nonlinear time, from two years to four. Always piquant and lyrical, with some Aboriginal dialect words translated and some not, Scott is at his most picturesque when Bobby assists the whalers, bringing boom times to “blackfellas” and “whitefellas” alike. The historical interaction between these two cultures in a changing 19th-century Australia is given full play in Scott’s ambitious, elegiac storytelling (the author’s mother is white and his father Aboriginal). Agent: Kathleen Anderson, Anderson Literary Management. (Mar.)
From the Publisher
WINNER: Miles Franklin Award,Victorian Prize for Literature, Commonwealth Writers’ Prize for the South East Asia and Pacific Region, Australian Literary Society Gold Medal, Adelaide Festival Award for Fiction, Adelaide Festival Premier’s Award for Best Book

"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

Library Journal
When Europeans arrive in Australia, Bobby Wabalanginy cheerfully hunts and farms with them and eventually enters a wealthy white household. But the colony isn't thriving, odd accidents are plaguing both whites and Aborigines, and soon Bobby will have to take sides. The son of a white mother and Aboriginal father, Scott should invest this story with great understanding, and the book won the Commonwealth Writers' Prize for the South East Asia and Pacific Region. Watch closely.
Library Journal
This is a novel from a different time in which relationships between colonists and indigenous people were friendly and each was curious about the other's culture. Set in early 19th-century Western Australia, the novel is based roughly on historical accounts, some of which involve Scott's own ancestors. It depicts contact among Aboriginal people, the Noongar, and British colonists and American whalers. The central character is a Noongar youth, Bobby Wabalanginy, who warmly embraces the settlers and their ways but ultimately has to choose between them and his own people as the coastal colony grows. The nuanced characterization and intriguing style of writing are pleasures. VERDICT Scott, who won both Australia's Victorian Prize for Literature and his second Miles Franklin Literary Award for this work, deserves notice from a broader international audience. This well-written, insightful novel will be enjoyed by readers interested in Australian historical fiction, indigenous literature, and postcolonial fiction in general. [See Prepub Alert, 8/15/11.]—Gwen Vredevoogd, Marymount Univ. Lib., Marshall, VA
Kirkus Reviews
British settlers and native Aborigines tussle over whales, disease and each other's rights in mid-19th-century Australia. The hero of the third novel by the Australian Scott (True Country, 1993, etc.) is Bobby Wabalanginy, a young Aborigine. His intelligence and youthful pliability make him an attractive ally to the increasing numbers of British settlers in the 1830s who are looking to establish whaling ports on Australia's southwest coast. But the alliance is uneasy: Each group suffers from a lack of immunity to the other's illnesses, and racism is strong, particularly on the British side. Bobby bridges a few gaps by learning English, helping settlers out of scrapes and serving as a sort of right-hand-man to Dr. Cross, one of the colony's first leaders. Inevitably, though, the detente doesn't last: Once the kindly Dr. Cross dies, power struggles ensue among a new governor and the Aborigine tribal elders. Grimly enough, Scott's writing is at it best when there's bloodshed: He crafts deft, exciting scenes about the visceral chaos of whaling, and a set piece in which Bobby witnesses the murder of black slaves shows how readily casual racism shifts into violence. But the book feels ungainly overall, suffering from a scruffy, episodic style that often sets particular plot changes in motion but gives them little dramatic weight. The point of view shifts often, and when the focus is Bobby, the chapters gain an even more distancing mythological sheen, making him more a symbol for the unsteadiness of British-Aborigine relations than a character in his own right. (Some scenes that place Bobby with the young daughter of the settlement's governor set up a provocative flirtation, but little is done with it.) The novel's closing anti-rhetoric is honorable but familiar. A few powerful scenes, but despite its research a mostly uninspiring trip to what promised to be a more dramatic era.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781608197057
  • Publisher: Bloomsbury USA
  • Publication date: 2/28/2012
  • Edition number: 1
  • Pages: 368
  • Product dimensions: 5.82 (w) x 8.56 (h) x 1.16 (d)

Meet 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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Customer Reviews

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  • Anonymous

    Posted August 4, 2012

    Undertakers ward

    For the Undertakers

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