Book Review : THE YIELD by Tara June Winch

“Ngu-ram-bang. If you say it right it hits the back of your mouth and you should taste blood in your words.

This isn’t an easy or light-hearted novel to read. The writing is brilliant, but the subject matter weighty.

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After reading an interview with Tara June Winch in ‘The Guardian‘, I picked up her latest book – The Yield.

Right from the first sentence, it grips and doesn’t let go.

‘The Yield’ is a story about the collective identity of an aboriginal Native Australian tribe with a rich, long heritage. A tale narrated through the medium of a dictionary which lists the words of a forgotten tongue – and that’s woven into the storytelling in a memorable, admirable way.

August Gondiwindi returns to bury her grandpa. And through her account we learn about customs and language of an ancient tribe. What ancestors went through while establishing their tribe. How elements and entrenched power centers interfered with the process.

Parable and fantasy mix into the telling of how early settlers to Prosperous built a community along the fictional Murrumby River.

A settlement that was later on usurped by immigrants, leaving the original landowners bereft. In flashback we learn about the mysterious disappearance of her sister Jedda and other disturbing or memorable incidents from a faraway childhood that, in a roundabout way, have a bearing on what she will do today.

After almost a decade in England, she is informed about her grandfather’s demise – and decides to come and say goodbye.

For August, it’s a bittersweet homecoming.

“August wandered the property, pausing only to listen more closely to the familiar soundtrack playing, encasing the world, in cicada friction and bird whip… Here, she remembered, summer wasn’t a season, it was an Eternity.”

She integrates back into a community she’d abandoned long ago.

Reconnects with her Nana. Meets aunts and cousins. Runs into her childhood romantic flame.

And all the while, she watches the threatened disaster of a mining project loom larger as a deadline approaches. Joins a futile protest to hold back the relentless march of ‘progress’, ‘prosperity’ and ‘jobs’.

The key to salvaging the ancestral Wiradjuri land lies in a rumored book her grandpa Poppy had been writing – but which she cannot find.

A book which is actually a dictionary of the ancient language, the words of which are the pillars holding up this tale.

For a book about language, Tara June Winch’s ‘The Yield‘ is written oh-so-beautifully.

Dotted throughout the book are gems like this:

“…the sliver of silver moon bent through the empty glass.”

Words are chosen, and sentences crafted, with such care and attention that even the most mundane scenes take on a sense of the sublime.

But though it’s also about words, language and culture, this is essentially a book about identity – and how it’s linked to your land and your people.

And we watch as August Gondiwindi reclaims her place, rediscovers herself, redeems her heritage.

The Yield‘ in English is the reaping, what man takes from the land. In the Wiradjuri language, ‘The Yield‘ is what you give to, the space between things.

The Yield‘ is a fantastic read. It is a great way to appreciate and understand the impact our pasts have on the present – and our collective futures.

The Yield‘ will leave you feeling stirred and shaken – in a good way.

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