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Swallow the Air

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3.19 of 5 stars 3.19  ·  rating details  ·  196 ratings  ·  31 reviews
When May's mother dies suddenly, she and her brother Billy are taken in by an aunt. However their loss leaves them both searching for their place in a world that doesn't want them. May sets off to find her father and her Aboriginal identity.
Hardcover, 201 pages
Published January 1st 2006 by University of Queensland Pr (Australia)
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Community Reviews

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Lisa
Swallow the Air by indigenous Australian author Tara June Winch has been on Year 12 reading lists almost from its first release in 2006, and I think it’s a very good choice of text to introduce young people to indigenous writing. It’s confronting, because Winch writes with disconcerting frankness about indigenous issues and lifestyles, but it’s also beautiful, uplifting, and often rather funny. In other words, it resists attempts to stereotype indigenous people head on, and I like that.

It is tru
...more
Brooke
I suppose somewhere in this book was an important message and important values but it was to much of a struggle to see them. The major issue with this book is that it seems to have confused a novel with a collection of phrases. Even though some of the phrases were beautiful, it did not flow, and it was difficult to read. I would not have finished this book if I hadn't needed to. This book was 90% metaphor, which made it hard to understand what was happening without huge amounts of effort. And a ...more
Ian Sergeant
"my mother was head sick"... So begins Tara Winch's faux-memoir of May Gibson's search for her Aboriginality and home. Winch's opening leaves us with little doubt where she is taking us. It is a journey through constant jarring simile and bizarre metaphor. It is a road-trip where character development is the roadkill along the monotonous white-lined bitumen that is the plot. And the characters only elicit the same momentary empathy as those roadside victims.

By choosing to manufacture a fiction a
...more
Mindy
It is hard to believe that this is a debut novel as Winch's writing seems to come from a place of such confidence and poise that you would assume she had many such novels already under her belt. Swallow the Air is the story of May a young Aboriginal girl who loses her mother to mental illness and suicide and who goes in search of her family roots to reconnect with her heritage.

It follows May's journey as he traces her family, first looking for her white father then travelling on to her home coun
...more
Isabella G.
I love this book. I love how refreshing it is. I love how easy it is for me to sink my teeth in it for class. I love how poetic it is and how easily it flows from one sentence to the next. For a HSC text about a topic that we've been learning about since primary school (the whole topic does get dry after a while), it was really enjoyable. This book has really helped me kick off HSC English with a good spirit because of how easy it is for me to analyse for class and how beautifully it's written.

S
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Rach Arthur
Sadly, it isn't possible to give something half a star.

It was overwritten. Her frequent, frequent metaphors rarely made sense and didn't help me connect with any of the characters (if we're supposed to like this guy, why are you describing his smile as 'curdled'?). Ultimately, I really resent that it only got published because, in the right lighting, she looks like she might be Aboriginal. Or half-Aboriginal, anyway. Maybe.
Carolyn Mck
Winch was 23 when she published this novel, to wide acclaim. It is a beautifully written book which moved me deeply through both its style and content.

Winch, described as of Wiradjuri, English and Afghan heritage, grew up in single parent household in a housing commission estate near Wollongong, NSW. She draws on this, and her own travels across Australia when she was only 17, to give an utterly convincing account of the growing up (and growing wise) of May Gibson.

Winch employs the narrative v
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Heidi
This book won the Unaipon award for a first novel by an Indigenous writer. And boy, this was not an easy read for me. Or an easy listen.

(I started this one as an audio book - because it was there, and because it’s even harder to find audio-books by non-white authors than paper books, especially in my most local library. But although the language sounded beautiful when read (and it was read by the author) the content was such that hearing it was hard, and I kept worrying that I would stumble ove
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Ross
I read this book for Year 12 English [aus], and thus my experience of this novel has been a deeply analytic one.

I feel that the language is beautifully poetic; Winch has a gift of language that many others do not. Her use of metaphor is strong, yet sometimes I feel that she tries too hard to give every passage a 'deeper meaning'. Almost all sections of this book can be read as being metaphorical, and for me this detracts from the experience; metaphor should be used more sparingly than Winch has
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Bronl
Beautiful beautiful story - rich visual language of Australian landscapes. May and her family's story is written in a frank and raw, honest way, so moving. I couldn't put it down and read in my breaks in one day.
Kit Kat
I had to read this for school and most of my class hated it, though I enjoyed the beauty of the writing and came, eventually, to enjoy the plot as well.
Marj
There's a dreaming walkabout feel to the prose in this novel. The novel is important for the main character May's journey to country and for the author's lyrical writing style. At the same time that we are lulled into a sleep-like state by the slightly rocking prose, meandering between past, present and dreaming, the events portrayed are brutal and callous. It almost feels at times as though May has disengaged from events in her own life to cope with violence, tragedy and loss. An unusual but sa ...more
Ilyhana Kennedy
What an exceptional work this is!
I found in it a heightened engagement, a lyricism that entranced me, and a content that spoke truth (I'm Australian).
There were sentences that I felt compelled to read several times over, for the pure joy of their beauty.
The author carefully crafts a composite experiential image of Aboriginal life in Australia, with a focus on the loss of the cultural markers of identity.
I hope that the author continues to write. Her work is such a valuable contribution to Austra
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Janine
I found this book to be authentic and moving but a little overwritten.
Julie
This is an exceptional novel, allowing a view into the life of the Australian Aboriginal community and how they see the world.
It is confronting and honest and a wonderful piece of writing. It addresses issues that are faced and discrimination and racism in open and frightful ways.

An amazing novel, not just for Australians, but also for anyone who has ever felt as though they were on the outside, it allows a view that your life is no where near as bad as you thought it was.

A fantastic novel, on
...more
Kate
I read this book after coming across the "Cloud Busting" chapter in a collection of short stories and I found it beautiful, so thought I would read the whole book. The novel is written in a lyrical fashion, with beautifully descriptive language. However the plot was not as strong as the language. The short chapters and the jumping in time and place were easy enough to follow, but meant I hadn't fully engaged with the character's life. I gave it four stars overall because I want to give the langu ...more
Claire Melanie
hauntingly beautiful prose, achingly sad story. gorgeous book.
Lolly
I read this one before I put it into the primary school library and lucky I did! Definitely not suitable for little people! But apart from that, the imagery in this novel was at times quite beautiful. I guess it was intended to evoke dreamtime stories, and to that extent it did work. It could be confusing and muddled at times which made it hard going sometimes, but maybe that was intentional - to be of mixed heritage is a confusing state and finding a sense of 'home' is a challenge at the best o ...more
Rebecca Evans
A beautiful piece of poetic prose with lilting lyricism and quite a wonderful story that is simultaneously magical and bleak. It's not the greatest book ever written, but for a debut novel it is remarkable. May's constant flights of fancy question the ending but never has a journey home felt so true, and relatable.
Danielle
A very good read. Very harsh, heart breaking and terribly real circumstances - but written so beautifully. Hard to say that I enjoyed it, because of the story contents. However, I think it was powerful in the sense that it made something difficult to hear beautiful to read - if that makes sense.
Colette-writer-reader-dork
I had to read this for school and I never finished it, I mean it was really short it was also really bad. The author went to my high school and it is set in the area I live in (hence why I had to read it for school).

I did not like it, not even a little.
Sharon Lee
Ok I'm not sure what to do with this. It's grim. I can't decide if it's a portrayal of harsh reality or if it is playing to the stereotype. It's Samson and Delilah in that it's beautiful and shameful at once. But too much too quickly?
M
A confronting, confident novel by an Indigeous writer. Each chapter is a vignette and whilst it is disjointed it is reflective of the inconsistencies and obstacles we all encounter. A text to study for Yr 11+
AJ
Not a bad read. The writing style was quite beautiful but sometimes, it was a bit too ambiguous and hard to understand. I can see the appeal of the novel, but, in all honesty, it just wasn't my type of book.
Wendy
May 15, 2009 Wendy added it
I really didn't enjoy this book, I nearly quit reading it but persisted. It was far too wandering and vague for me, I do appreciate that may have been the intention of the author but it just drove me nuts.
Natalie
Some very good parts but a lot of bad stuff to sift through. At times, Winch was too heavy handed in trying to get her point across which struck me as odd for someone using such a poetic voice.
Karan Negi
Ugh GOD!!!! it was Dreadful. All that beautiful writing signifying very little. The entire premise is banal and is really easy to put down.
Kari
A short book that doesn't take long to read. Would be good to read it again (more thoroughly) one day.
Shirley
I feel sorry for anyone who has to study this for Belonging in Yr12 English.
Chel Hartrick
Aug 28, 2009 Chel Hartrick marked it as to-read
Recommended by ANZLL member, Carol
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Tara June Winch has written essay, short fiction and memoir for Vogue, VICE, McSweeneys (US), and various Australian publications. Her first novel, Swallow the Air won several Australian Literary Awards, and her body of work was awarded the international Rolex Mentor and Protege Arts Award in 2009. Her forthcoming novel and short story collection are due out 2015. She has one daughter, and resides ...more
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“She shuffled us out like two jokers in her cards reminding us to go to Auntie’s house before dark, and telling us again she loved us.” 0 likes
“It’s an odd thing, a backyard, a little strip of nature, a little reminder of the rest of it, elsewhere.” 0 likes
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