THE BURNT STICK by Anthony Hill

THE BURNT STICK

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KIRKUS REVIEW

Following an Australian custom practiced until relatively recently, a light-skinned boy is taken from his aboriginal mother to be raised ""as white"" in a poignant but fragmentary episode. John Jagamarra is almost five when the Big Man from Welfare comes to camp; his mother desperately smears his skin with soot, but the Big Man is only temporarily fooled. John is transported to the Pearl Bay Mission For Aboriginal Children; he is taught to speak English, wear clothes, and attend church, but never forgets where he came from, or his mother, or even the stories told by the old men around the campfire. Hill's controlled, understated tone is reflected in Sofilas's subdued charcoal drawings; shadowy, unclothed figures sit quietly or stand together gracefully. In several scenes there are no people at all, only a rocky landscape, or a bark painting, or the remains of a fire. The brief story flashes back and forth in time and ends in an abrupt way, more symbolic than believable; years later, John returns to the abandoned camp with his own son, rubs his skin with ashes, and vows never to stop searching for his people. That vow comes late, considering how the author has prepared readers for it; John's adult life is left a blank. Good background for a novel; not developed enough on its own. Its lyricism may be lost on many, although some scenes reverberate beyond the last page.

Pub Date: Aug. 1st, 1995
Page count: 53pp
Publisher: Houghton Mifflin