Shannon's Reviews > The Paperbark Shoe

The Paperbark Shoe by Goldie Goldbloom
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's review
Mar 29, 2011

really liked it
bookshelves: 2011-reads, fiction-historical, fiction, romance, first-reads
Read on April 08, 2011

Another "First Reads" win; another gem I likely wouldn't have picked up otherwise, given that it's not technically my normal fare; and another author whose future work I will certainly seek out.

"The Paperbark Shoe" is a the story of Gin Toad (née Boyle), an Australian albino woman just turned thirty. At the opening of the book, she has given birth to three children (one already deceased) with her dwarfish, decidedly uncouth husband Agrippas Toad (known throughout most of the book simply as "Toad"), with whom she lives on a subsistence farm in Wyalkatchem, Western Australia. Scarred both physically and emotionally from years of abuse at the hands of children and adults, and a distinct lack of love, romantic and otherwise, Gin has resigned herself to her life, having given up the hopes and dreams she once had. It isn't the life she planned, and he isn't the husband she would have chosen had she managed that life she'd wanted, but he wanted her, and that was enough.

Enter John and Antonio, two of the many Italian prisoners of war sent to Australia to serve as farmhands. These four quickly find themselves entangled in more ways than one. 1940s Wyalkatchem provides a harsh backdrop to the drama of the Toads and the Italians and Goldbloom uses it to its full potential, painting the landscape and the lives of the main characters -- the adult Toads, the Toad children, and the Italian POWs -- in vivid detail. Indeed, Goldbloom pulls very few punches as she describes the harsh reality of life on the Toad land, describing Gin "beating maggots" off a piece of meat on one page and a rabbit with a broken back crawling toward the edge of the road on another.

My only "gripe" with the book as a whole is its fairly unsatisfying ending (I say "ending" for it in no way feels like a "conclusion"), but, to be fair, without taking the cliched "and they lived happily ever after" or "s/he broke his/her heart" routes (I won't say which, as I don't wish to spoil), it does feel fitting, in a way.

As I said, it's not my normal fare -- a bit too romance-y for my usual tastes -- but I did enjoy it, and I wouldn't hesitate to check out Goldbloom's future efforts.
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