Reviewers from The Hindu Business Line and The Sunday Guardian recently caught up with Ali Cobby Eckermann post the Navayana Annual Lecture and her sessions at the Jaipur Literature Festival. Talking about her memoir Too Afraid to Cry, she told them how English is a searing example of the way language boxes us in.
The challenge , she says was to “translate a language of kinship and nomads, community and traditions into a more ‘square’ language that is English. She explains, “Aboriginal language is language of music, happiness, and filled with inherent song and poetry. English is a brutal lessening down of that.”
Her story would wake her up every day between 3am and 5am, and the form dictated itself. The chapters are short and episodic, the drama comes from the content and not the telling. The writing proved to be a release, and while she was hesitant at first about publishing it, she realized, “It was such a healing process for me that I wondered if other Stolen Generation people read it, if there would be a healing for them too.”
On being asked about the lack of specificity in her story, she said, “I think data and dates and facts actually allow the reader room to separate, to deny, and to say: “Oh, those facts mean it happened over there” or “It only belonged there”. I wanted to write Too Afraid to Cry as an emotional timeline, so I didn’t really mention the names of places. I wanted to remove all the factual elements as a way of allowing the reader to immerse themselves into the story and to travel on that emotional highway, because it’s one thing that human beings around the world share: emotion, and it’s really underrated these days.”
The idea that culture can be archived is as silly as it sounds. “There have been efforts, certainly. I think a lot of Aboriginal people shared knowledge with white people: missionaries, anthropologists and so on. A lot of our intellectual property has been stolen,” she said. “To a certain extent, Aboriginal people have financed a whole generation; a generation of white people who have worked so bloody hard for the Aboriginal. The lives of the Aboriginal people, however, haven’t changed despite these efforts and the white people have got rich, or had comfortable lives, a lifetime of employment. White people don’t seem to know when to leave. Actually, through all that “help”, they have helped create this idea that we can’t look after ourselves, that we are deficient minds.”
Buy Too Afraid to Cry here.