Emily's Reviews > The Road from Coorain

The Road from Coorain by Jill Ker Conway
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Nov 10, 09

bookshelves: 2003
Read in February, 2003

I spent a while this weekend reading The Road from Coorain, a memoir popular about fifteen years ago that I'd found around the office. In it, Jill Ker Conway, an academic and the first female president of Smith College, tells the story of her youth and education in Australia up to the day she left for America at age 26.

The first third of the book, in which she describes her life on a sheep ranch in a remote part of New South Wales, is what makes this book worthwhile. Conway never knew a child other than her brothers until she was eleven; she did not know how to play. Instead, she helped her parents with the difficult business of running the household and managing the feeding and shearing of tens of thousands of carefully bred sheep. A disastrous drought that kills most of the flock eventually forces them back to the city.

The middle of the book discusses her schooling. She briefly attends a public school because the family's finances have been wiped out by the drought. Soon she's able to transfer to a tony boarding school as a day student. In this section there are some interesting bits about the bush vs. the city, and about Australia as a British colony. The reader gets a good sense of the Australian landscape. The problem with the last third of the book is that all happy university degrees are the same. This whole section reads a bit like a de-fictionalized version of Frederica Potter's Cambridge. Conway seems oblivious to the fact that most of her readers will have attended college and will already be familiar with the joy of discovery. A tone of self-congratulation seeps in, too.

I suspect most people read this book the way I did -- with rapt attention for the first hundred pages, then with increasing impatience into the home stretch. It's worth a look -- library not bookstore -- especially for those readers who are less meticulous and obsessive than I am about reading things to the end.
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