BOOK REVIEW: The Yield by Tara June Winch

The Blurb (from Goodreads):

Knowing that he will soon die, Albert ‘Poppy’ Gondiwindi takes pen to paper. His life has been spent on the banks of the Murrumby River at Prosperous House, on Massacre Plains. Albert is determined to pass on the language of his people and everything that was ever remembered. He finds the words on the wind.

August Gondiwindi has been living on the other side of the world for ten years when she learns of her grandfather’s death. She returns home for his burial, wracked with grief and burdened with all she tried to leave behind. Her homecoming is bittersweet as she confronts the love of her kin and news that Prosperous is to be repossessed by a mining company. Determined to make amends she endeavours to save their land – a quest that leads her to the voice of her grandfather and into the past, the stories of her people, the secrets of the river.

Profoundly moving and exquisitely written, Tara June Winch’s The Yield is the story of a people and a culture dispossessed. But it is as much a celebration of what was and what endures, and a powerful reclaiming of Indigenous language, storytelling and identity.

My Thoughts:

Tara June Winch is a Wiradjuri author whose first novel, Swallow the Air, was published in 2006, when she was only 23. I met her at a literary festival that year, and remember being captivated by her intensity and passion, as well as the beauty of her words. Two years later, she won a mentorship with Nobel Prize winner Wole Soyinka as part of the prestigious Rolex Mentor and Protégé Arts Initiative. The Yield is her third novel, and entwines three very different voices.

The first is that of an old man, Albert ‘Poppy’ Gondiwindi, who knows he is soon to die. He decides to record a dictionary of Wiradjuri words to save them from extinction: ‘The yield in English is the reaping, the things that man can take from the land. In the language of the Wiradjuri yield is the things you give to, the movement, the space between things: baayanha.’

Poppy Gondiwindi’s life has been spent on his traditional lands, in what was an old Lutheran mission on the banks of the Murrumby River, on Massacre Plains. The second voice is that of the pastor, Reverend Ferdinand Greenleaf, who founded the mission at the turn of the 19th century.

These two accounts are very different, and show that Tara June Winch is a skilled ventriloquist.

The third voice is that of a young woman, August Gondiwindi, who has been living overses for many years. Coming home for her grandfather’s funeral, she has to face the ghosts of her past. Discovering that her family’s home is to be repossessed by a mining company, she searches for her grandfather’s dictionary of Wiradjuri language in the hope she can prove a land title claim and so save her country. Along the way, August discovers some truths about herself and her past that help her to travel towards healing and forgiveness.

‘I was born on Ngurambang – can you hear it? – Ngu–ram–bang. If you say it right it hits the back of your mouth and you should taste blood in your words. Every person around should learn the word for country in the old language, the first language – because that is the way to all time, to time travel! You can go all the way back.’

Beautiful and powerful!

You might also like to read my review of Melmoth by Sarah Perry:

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Kate Forsyth
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