TERRA NULLIUS by Claire G. Coleman


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Australian natives living under the oppressive brutality of forced colonization struggle to survive, let alone fight back.

It’s little wonder that Australian Aboriginal writer Coleman has been praised and nominated for awards in her own country for her thoughtfully woke debut novel about an invasion of Australia by punishing settlers and the subsequent resistance by a native people. The title refers to an obscure legal principle used by Britain to justify the taking of Aboriginal territory—the term literally means “Nobody’s Land.” This harsh scene of brittle détente in the Australian Outback, set during an ambiguous point in the country's troubled history, is viewed through the eyes of several characters, all struggling in their own ways. Jacky is an orphaned boy, now a slave on the run, trying to get home even as trooper Sgt. Rohan hunts him through the desert. Sister Bagra is a cruel headmistress at a mission for native children, abusing her livestock with malicious glee. Esperance is a kind young woman who tries to protect her flock of starving refugees. A government official charged with the protection of natives is so evil even his own wife calls him “Devil,” like the natives do. By far the most interesting character is Johnny Star, a trooper who betrayed the colonizers and has accepted his fate as an outlaw traveling with a rough bunch of native comrades. It’s a cruel scene indeed, made more so by Coleman’s purposeful parallels to the evil treatment of native peoples during the British colonization of Australia in the 17th century. But Coleman has an astonishing trick up her sleeve in a twist so subtle and shocking that it may not hit readers all at once but is likely to have a powerful emotional effect when it lands. Coleman doesn’t hurry in bringing these disparate characters together, but when it happens, a powerful myth comes to life before readers’ eyes.

A delightfully duplicitous noodle-bender that flips the script on the Indigenous Australian survival narrative.

Pub Date: Sept. 4th, 2018
ISBN: 978-1-61873-151-7
Page count: 304pp
Publisher: Small Beer Press
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1st, 2018


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