Bone Talk by Candy Gourlay
I’m diversifying my reading habits and have just read the classic Things Fall Apart, one of the first works of fiction published in the West to present African life from an African perspective. It’s a strong recommend. The author, Chinua Achebe is quoted saying, “There is danger in relying on someone else to speak for you. You can trust that your message will be communicated accurately only if you speak with your own voice”.
Around the same time I finished this book, I had a conversation with Aizza, one of our Year 7 students, when she returned a book she’d borrowed called Bone Talk by Candy Gourlay. She rated this book so highly that I decided to read it myself. Echoing the words of Achebe, Candy Gourlay wrote this story to record a little known period of her own country’s history.
The story begins in the Philippines in 1899, within the Bontok tribe. Samkad is pleased that the Ancients think he is ready for the Cut, a coming-of-age ritual, which will announce his transformation from boy to warrior. A bad omen at the pre-ritual reveals that Samkad’s soul is tied to Kinyo’s, the son of his mother’s best friend, who has been living outside the village. Samkad’s father seeks out Kinyo and brings him back with an American, called Mr Williams. Kinyo is much changed, speaking English fluently and wearing western clothes. More Americans appear, ostensibly to help the village defeat their blood enemy, the Mangili but Samkad and his village must decide who the true enemy is.
This is a beautifully written story. We are plunged into the traditions and magical culture of the Bontok people. The imagery is brutally vivid and suspense builds nicely. The inner conflict of the three young characters: Samkad determined to prove himself a man, Luki, a young girl who feels restricted by the role she must play in the village and the Americanised Kinyo was really well drawn.
As in Things Fall Apart, the village is threatened with violence by Westerners and the story looks at the devastating effects of colonisation. I learned a lot about another culture and a period of history I’d never read about. Aizza loved reading from the perspective of Samkad, a young Filipino boy, as it was point of view she had never heard before. She loved the weaving of fact into fiction and I think you will too.
Bone Talk by Candy Gourlay and Things Fall Apart by Chinua Achebe and are both available in the School Library and recommended for all year groups.