Book Review: Stone Sky Gold Mountain by Mirandi Riwoe

Stone Sky Gold Mountain…

About the Book:

Set during the gold-rush era in Australia, this remarkable novel is full of unforgettable characters and deals with timeless questions of identity and belonging.

Family circumstances force siblings Ying and Lai Yue to flee their home in China to seek their fortunes in Australia. Life on the gold fields is hard, and they soon abandon the diggings and head to nearby Maytown. Once there, Lai Yue gets a job as a carrier on an overland expedition, while Ying finds work in a local store and strikes up a friendship with Meriem, a young white woman with her own troubled past. When a serious crime is committed, suspicion falls on all those who are considered outsiders.

Evoking the rich, unfolding tapestry of Australian life in the late nineteenth century, Stone Sky Gold Mountain is a heartbreaking and universal story about the exiled and displaced, about those who encounter discrimination yet yearn for acceptance.

My Thoughts:

Stone Sky Gold Mountain is an unforgettable story, gentle in its brutality as it inches closer to its tragic inevitability. It is a study of prejudice, displacement, racism, and misogyny. You really didn’t want to be anything other than a white man in 19th century Australia.

It is so beautifully written, evocative and lyrical, yet entirely easy to slip into and get lost in.

‘And in the dim hut, his thoughts shatter like porcelain – crumbling fragments of confusion, shards of lucidity. The pieces shift and tremble in the cavity of his skull. Some come together, neat, with only tell-tale fissures in the glaze, but mostly they float in the air, broken.’

Deeply atmospheric, the setting and era is conjured through the narrative vividly and consistently. There is no mistaking the location within this novel, and anyone who has lived in central and north Queensland will relate to the sense of cloying and oppressive heat that lifts from the pages of this story; the depiction of the unrelenting buzz of flies and the aggressive way they pursue you in a bid to locate the slightest bit of moisture. I can’t even begin to comprehend, from my air-conditioned and fully screened house, how unbelievably hard it would have been to live each day with no reprieve from the elements.

‘She stirs her soup, closing her eyes to banish thoughts of grey-shirt. She doesn’t want her enjoyment of the meal to be tarnished. She carries her stool outside and settles down to watch the last of the sun sink beyond a rise of grass as dry as wheat, punctuated by clumps of bright green foliage. Before eating, though, she sifts the soup for flies that might have fallen into its depths, stunned by its heady steam; searches for tell-tale wings or the crooked leg of a roach. Thinking of how her mother would scold her for being so fussy. She gulps down five burning mouthfuls before looking up again.’

There is so much sadness and injustice throughout this novel but it bears this weight lightly. It’s a truthful read, but not a depressing one. Literary historical fiction is my absolute favourite to read, so I feel as though this novel was, for me, made to measure. Needless to say, I highly recommend it and hope to see it listed for future literary prizes.

‘Sunset casts its dreary gloom through the doorway, lingering over their meagre belongings, before slowly withdrawing, inch by dark inch until Meriem lights the two lamps.’


Thanks is extended to UQP for providing me with a copy of Stone Sky Gold Mountain for review.

About the Author:

Mirandi Riwoe is the author of the novella The Fish Girl, which won Seizure’s Viva la Novella V and was shortlisted for the Stella Prize and the Queensland Literary Award’s UQ Fiction Prize. Her work has appeared in Best Australian Stories, Meanjin, Review of Australian Fiction, Griffith Review and Best Summer Stories. Mirandi has a PhD in Creative Writing and Literary Studies and lives in Brisbane.

Stone Sky Gold Mountain
Published by UQP
A$29.99 (Paperback)
Released 31st March 2020

31 thoughts on “Book Review: Stone Sky Gold Mountain by Mirandi Riwoe

  1. I really want to read this one, and your review makes me even more keen. It’ll have to wait though as I’m starting a book buying ban this week for at least a month.

    Liked by 2 people

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