Ali Cobby Eckermann’s ‘Too Afraid to Cry’

This is not a review because I know Ali Cobby Eckermann and have huge respect for her as a poet and as a human being—and because I used to work for Ilura Press, publisher of Eckermann’s memoir Too Afraid to Cry, and remain friends with and admirers of Ilura’s founders, Sabina Hopfer and Christopher Lappas. So, not a review but some brief random thoughts on Too Afraid to Cry:

The word ‘important’ is overused these days but it seems to me that this is an important book. In having the courage to tell her story—the courage to write it and, separately, the courage to publish it—Eckermann offers readers the opportunity to gain a glimpse into the real lives that that make up the collective story of the Stolen Generations. She helps us understand, if we want to, that the term ‘Stolen Generations’ means something real, something contemporary, something tody and tomorrow (though maybe not ‘Today Tonight’), and that it can be something that genuinely and enduringly challenges Australians rather than makes us feel regretful in a passive sort of way … or, just as often, mildly (or not so mildly) resentful that all this inconvenient old history is still getting raised. The idea that a ‘real’ Indigenous person is a ‘traditional Aborigine’ — that is, authentic = pre-European-contact — persists in mainstream Australia (the mainstream mainstream, not only the redneck mainstream), as does the genuinely felt but dogged resort to egalitarianism, as in ‘we’re all equal these days so that’s all right then. Phew.’

I read Too Afraid to Cry slowly, over several weeks, in small chunks. The chapters are often very short, and I usually read one or two chapters at a time. It’s a confronting book, hard to read at times, violent in all sorts of ways—but one of the achievements of Eckermann’s prose is that it didn’t make me want me to avert my gaze but rather compelled me to stare harder at the words. Given some of the events and troubles Eckermann describes, the absence of anger in the prose is remarkable. As a writer who is most at home on the page writing fiction (i.e. making it up), I am in awe of Eckermann’s honesty and her willingness to expose herself. And as somebody who was adopted as a baby, Eckermann’s journey has compelled me to think hard about my own past.

I hope Too Afraid to Cry becomes a book that Australians share and talk about. You can find it on the Ilura Press website here.

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