Jennifer (JC-S)'s Reviews > Paris Savages

Paris Savages by Katherine Johnson
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it was amazing

‘They are dying under our noses.’

K’gari/ Fraser Island, 1882. The population of the indigenous Badtjala people is in sharp decline: introduced illness and brutal massacres have each had an impact. This is a part of our history that many Australians prefer not to think of. In this novel, based on a true story, Ms Johnson invites us to revisit an uncomfortable past.

‘This is a work of imagination inspired by the little-known true story of three Aboriginal people - Bonangera (Bonny/Boni), Dorondera and Jurano – taken to Europe as living exhibits in 1882-83.’

Louis Müller, a German engineer, his wife Christel and their daughter Hilda have been living on K’gari for some time. But Christel dies, and Louis Müller receives an invitation, from a man called Hagenbeck, to return home to Germany if he takes three Badtjala natives with them. Louis Müller tells Hilda that there is great interest in seeing them, and if the dangers of extinction become known, perhaps a reserve will be created. Hilda has misgivings, but eighteen-year-old Bonangera (Bonny) agrees on behalf of himself, twenty-two-year-old Jurano and his fifteen-year old niece, Donordera.

Bonny agrees, believing that while the journey will require the trio to perform in Hamburg, Berlin and Paris, they will then travel to London where they will seek help from Queen Victoria.

Nothing goes according to plan. Three people, displaced from their homes, treated as curiosities in a human zoo. Three people treated as living exhibits. Three people who’ve been taught to speak the ‘civilised’ languages of English and German but who are told to only speak Badjtala so they will appear authentic. Three people required to wear their customary clothing in the cold climates of Europe.

‘But it is worth keeping in mind that speaking a language is not the same as knowing someone’s thought.’

Much of the story is told by Hilda, who becomes increasingly uncomfortable with what is happening.
There were times when I had to put this novel down. While we can only imagine how Bonny, Jurano and Donordera felt, and the stories they would each tell, there is enough fact behind the fiction to make me feel very uncomfortable. Despite this discomfort (and perhaps because of it), I recommend this novel to all Australians seeking to know more of (at times uncomfortable) colonial history.

‘There is comfort to be gained from remembering the bravery of the people who journeyed before you.’

Note: My thanks to NetGalley and Simon & Schuster Australia for providing me with a free electronic copy of this book for review purposes.

Jennifer Cameron-Smith
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Reading Progress

August 15, 2019 – Started Reading
August 16, 2019 –
6.0% (ebook Edition)
August 18, 2019 –
25.0% (ebook Edition)
August 20, 2019 –
30.0% (ebook Edition)
August 22, 2019 –
64.0% (ebook Edition)
August 23, 2019 – Finished Reading
September 15, 2019 – Shelved

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