Book Review: The Yield by Tara June Winch

The Yield…

About the Book:

Winner of the 2020 Miles Franklin Literary Award.
Shortlisted for the VPLA.
Winner, Book of the Year, People’s Choice, Christina Stead Prize for Fiction at NSW Premier’s Literary Award.
Shortlisted for the Stella Prize.

The yield in English is the reaping, the things that man can take from the land. In the language of the Wiradjuri yield is the things you give to, the movement, the space between things: baayanha.

Knowing that he will soon die, Albert ‘Poppy’ Gondiwindi takes pen to paper. His life has been spent on the banks of the Murrumby River at Prosperous House, on Massacre Plains. Albert is determined to pass on the language of his people and everything that was ever remembered. He finds the words on the wind.

August Gondiwindi has been living on the other side of the world for ten years when she learns of her grandfather’s death. She returns home for his burial, wracked with grief and burdened with all she tried to leave behind. Her homecoming is bittersweet as she confronts the love of her kin and news that Prosperous is to be repossessed by a mining company. Determined to make amends she endeavours to save their land – a quest that leads her to the voice of her grandfather and into the past, the stories of her people, the secrets of the river.

Profoundly moving and exquisitely written, Tara June Winch’s The Yield is the story of a people and a culture dispossessed. But it is as much a celebration of what was and what endures, and a powerful reclaiming of Indigenous language, storytelling and identity.

My Thoughts:

This is a novel that I feel is best deeply contemplated rather than extensively commented on. It’s no surprise to me, now that I’ve read it, that it has been the recipient of such critical acclaim and the winner of more than one prestigious award. It is a brilliant novel: deeply thought provoking, challenging, intelligent, sophisticated in style, and beautifully written, despite the brutality and sorrow that the history, and narrative, is awash with.

There are three stories unfolding within this novel, the links between all three becoming firmer as the novel progresses. I enjoyed each section equally, to me, they each offered a lens of insight that taught me something. This may be a work of fiction, but it is insightful and informed by reality. August’s sections were drenched with sorrow, loss and grief, and yet, there was a hopeful glimmer, growing brighter as the novel approached its conclusion. What I really took away from August’s story though is the weight of intergenerational pain, and I feel I’ve gained a greater understanding about the importance of language and place within the context of cultural identity.

Reverend Greenleaf’s sections were fascinating to me on account of their historical significance, and I’ve long been interested in the history of missions and missionaries. We see here, that fine line between helping and inciting suffering. There is a lot of horrific history woven into these sections and Australia does not come off favourably. I do believe that Greenleaf’s intentions were good, but that didn’t mean that he did good through his actions. He suffered a lot himself for all that he did, and was also on the receiving end of prejudice on account of his German heritage. Anyone who doubts that slavery existed within Australia’s history would do well to read this novel.

And then we have Poppy’s dictionary, the jewel of this novel. I loved this dictionary so much. A mix of dreamtime stories with Poppy’s own history, this was just brilliantly done. I learnt so much from these sections and I really think this novel should be compulsory reading for all Australians – if such a thing existed. I’ll leave you with a few of Poppy’s dictionary entries. There were so many I loved, but this will give you a solid feel for the novel.

yield, bend the feet, tread, as in walking, also long, tallbaayanha Yield itself is a funny word – yield in English is the reaping, the things that man can take from the land, the thing he’s waited for and gets to claim. A wheat yield. In my language it’s the things you give to, the movement, the space between things. It’s also the action made by Baiame because sorrow, old age and pain bend and yield. The bodies of the ones that had passed were buried with every joint bent, even if the bones had to be broken. I think it was a bend in humiliation just like we bend at our knees and bow our heads. Bend, yield – baayanha.

gaol, shut placengunba-ngidyala When your own daughter and then your grandson get put in gaol it must make the family look like trouble, I’m sure. But it isn’t so simple. Both Jolene and Joey made mistakes but the punishments outweighed the crimes. As much as the government wants to convince the population otherwise, it is an old thinking – locking us up as a solution. I think in this country there are divisions that run further than the songlines. The closed place, the shut place – the ngunba-ngidyala – is first built in the mind, and then it spreads.

ashamed, have shamegiyal-dhuray I’m done with this word. I’d leave it out completely but I can’t. It’s become part of the dictionary we think we should carry. We mustn’t anymore. See, pain travels through our family tree like a songline. We’ve been singing our pain into a solid thing. The old ones, the young ones too, are ready to heal. We don’t have to be giyal-dhuray anymore, we don’t have to pass that down anymore.


About the Author:

Tara June Winch is a Wiradjuri author, born in Australia in 1983 and based in France. Her first novel, Swallow the Air was critically acclaimed. She was named a Sydney Morning Herald Best Young Australian Novelist, and has won numerous literary awards for Swallow the Air. A 10th Anniversary edition was published in 2016. In 2008, Tara was mentored by Nobel Prize winner Wole Soyinka as part of the prestigious Rolex Mentor and Protégé Arts Initiative. Her second book, the story collection After the Carnage was published in 2016. After the Carnage was longlisted for the Victorian Premier’s Literary Award for fiction, shortlisted for the 2017 NSW Premier’s Christina Stead prize for Fiction and the Queensland Literary Award for a collection. She wrote the Indigenous dance documentary, Carriberrie, which screened at the 71st Cannes Film Festival and toured internationally.

The Yield
Published by Penguin Random House Australia
Released 2nd July 2019

6 thoughts on “Book Review: The Yield by Tara June Winch

  1. I’m glad you got so much out of this too Theresa. As you say, the dictionary is the stand out feature of this story &, I’m sure, a big part of why it’s winning awards.
    I’m astounded that we are still not learning any Indigenous languages at school, or like Wales, use bilingual signs in local communities.

    Liked by 1 person

    • At the start of this year, the school where I work has an opening assembly where the senior students are all ‘invested’ as Year 12. Our Indigenous School Captain (that’s her actual title, we have three school captains and one is titled as Indigenous and has additional ‘Indigenous’ duties attached) gave the Welcome to Country in her Indigenous language. It was terrific, but this is the first time I’ve ever heard it spoken in real life and it was certainly the first time this has happened within that context. When you read a book like this that draws such a clear line from language to cultural identity, it is awful, so detrimental, that it’s not a part of every day life, like you indicate.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. It’s a deceptively complex book, isn’t it? So many layers. When I reviewed it, I didn’t even touch on the Rev Greenleaf parts! (obviously important, but so many layers to the story, I couldn’t cover them all). The dictionary is the standout – each entry a story within a story. As Lisa said, I’m sure it will be a fixture on reading lists over the coming years.

    Liked by 1 person

    • The Rev Greenleaf parts were of particular interest to me, given my leanings towards history, so they stuck in my mind. I agree with you, deceptively complex! But also, which surprised me, easy to read. In the way that prize winners sometimes aren’t.

      Liked by 1 person

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