Combining magical realism and fable, this lyrical tale is the story of a landscape and community destroyed by Western greediness.
In our village we had two treasures: the River, which was our road and our god; and the Book, which was our history, our oracle and our soul. Simbala is a Keeper of the Book, the latest in a long line of women who can read the Book to find answers to the villagers' questions. As developers begin to poison the river on which the villagers rely, the Book predicts change.
But this does not come in the form that they expect; it is the sympathetic Westerner who comes to the village who inflicts the greatest damage of all.
The River and the Book are the core foundations on which Sim’s tiny village have built their society: the life-giving River provides their crops with water, and the Book offers advice and solace.
But when the River begins to die and the Book is stolen Sim must make a journey to try and save her village.
Alison Croggan is an Australian writer and poet and her lyric style is shown to beautiful effect in The River and the Book. The novel is written in the first person, and though Sim – even from the first paragraph – protests that she is no storyteller her sparse prose perfectly illustrates her journey from the tiny undeveloped village that she grew up in to the life that she makes in the concrete environs of a city.
At the heart of novel is the uncomfortable balance between the traditional ways of life and progress; the way that corporate development can lead to the destruction of small communities and cultures; and the understanding that there is no black and white – only shades of grey.
The River and the Book is an ideal book to stimulate discussions about human rights, modernity vs tradition, and the way that developed societies view and treat older indigenous cultures.
Best suited to younger secondary readers.
Reviewed by Lian