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Cicada by Moira McKinnon
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Recently added bySynove, Lori_Eshleman



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In her novel Cicada, Moira McKinnon takes us on a nonstop adventure in the Australian outback of the early 20th century. Emily Lidscombe, an upper-class Englishwoman, is forced to flee for her life from the ranch where she lives with her husband William, accompanied only by her Aboriginal maid Wirritjil. The fact that the two are able to survive this challenging landscape is due only to Wirritjil’s skills at hunting and gathering, and her knowledge of the Dreamtime stories and mythic beings of her people. The novel is lush with descriptions of the plants, birds, animals, rocks and rivers of Australia. Wirritjil and Emily, at first uneasy as mistress and servant, develop an intimate bond, as Emily learns to listen to the birds, find hidden water, and even paint herself in traditional body-paint. They often struggle to communicate, as Wirritjil speaks in a broken dialect, a blend of English and Aboriginal; and the two hold vastly different perspectives on place, time, race, and class. The reader, too, shares this sense of struggle, faced with not only difficult dialect, but many Aboriginal words.

Along with a vivid picture of the rugged and wonderful outback, Cicada also evokes the racism and injustice perpetrated on the Aboriginal people by English colonists. The latter half of the novel takes the reader to rough cattle towns, prisons, and a court of law where justice is arbitrarily meted out. Here Emily finds herself as much of an outcast as Wirritjil, no longer fitting her accustomed position and status. By the novel’s end her English perspective on place and time has shifted, as she comes to realize that there is “No yesterday or tomorrow. There was only this moment” (344). While I might have liked more development of the characters’ back-story--particularly of Emily’s forbidden relationship with a half-Aboriginal ranchman, which is told in flashbacks--by the end I found myself moved and amazed. This is a novel to remember. ( )
  Lori_Eshleman | Jun 12, 2016 |
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