A debut collection of stories about a traditional Australian tribal community, told in the voices of shamans, elders and tricksters.
Ma, the 99-year-old shaman who runs a cafe on the border between a city and Aboriginal lands, dishes out stories, laughter, beer and biscuits together with healings and body decoration to her local regulars. She shares the spotlight with her sheepdog, Bruce; her brother Midget, who has extra fingers and sometimes feigns Scottish heritage; her sister Possum, who serves cake and tells scary tales; and Rabbi Wingspan, who combines his shamanic training with the Torah and has a strange sense of what counts as kosher. The stories’ language is simple, and they mostly come from the characters’ own lives; although there may be lessons here, the stories are meant to entertain. Linden winds her themes through the traditional stories and the scenes in the cafe. Culture clashes between city people and locals, and between those who leave their ancestors’ land and those who stay behind, manifest in Ma’s teasing of her tourist visitors and in the harsher tales of city girls lost and tribal law succeeding where city law fails. Ma and her companions acknowledge the modern world when it suits them, mixing coffee and aspirin to use as a potion and selling paintings to tourists at crazy prices while also remaining part of an older worldview. Stories about shamanic journeys, healing practices and justice explore the relationships among the people, their land and their ancestors. The net effect is rough yet magical, practical yet playful, with an internally consistent authenticity that comes more from the author’s modern imagination than from tradition.
A fine collection evoking nostalgia for a simpler way of life.