TABOO by Kim Scott


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A teenage girl and her extended family return to the site of a centuries-old massacre of Aboriginal people.

Kepalup is a small town in Western Australia with a dark history. In the 19th century, a white man was killed by an Aboriginal man, and his family retaliated by murdering scores of Aboriginal people. Recently widowed Dan Horton still lives on the land where his ancestor was killed; now, he’s invited the descendants of the Aboriginal people who died at the site to visit even though their culture labels the place as taboo. To Dan’s surprise, one of the people among the group who’s accepted the invitation is Tilly Smith, who was briefly his foster child until she was returned to her birth mother. That's the only parent Tilly has known until she was summoned out of the blue by an inmate in a nearby prison, who happens to be her real father. An Aboriginal person of Noongar ancestry, Tilly’s father has turned over a new leaf from his former violence and drug addiction and is teaching fellow inmates the old language and customs. But along with meeting her dad and being introduced to a new culture and extended family, Tilly is introduced to some of his unsavory associates. When Tilly shows up in Kepalup with her relatives, she bears a number of dark secrets that threaten to collide with the largest darkness of all: the loss and generational trauma borne by her people. Scott (That Deadman Dance, 2010, etc.) has created a shadowy and elliptical story, but it is not as hopeless as it sometimes feels: Tilly is a survivor, and though her Aboriginal culture is not a perfect salvation, it nevertheless provides her with a touchstone in the chaos.

A demanding, sometimes muddled, novel that shines light on an often overlooked people and place.

Pub Date: Sept. 3rd, 2019
ISBN: 978-1-61873-169-2
Page count: 304pp
Publisher: Small Beer Press
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1st, 2019