Cover Image: Paris Savages

Paris Savages

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Member Reviews

This was a very interesting and eye opening novel and I don't know whether to be amazed or horrified that it's based on a true story. It took me a couple of tries to really get into the swing of this, but on the whole it was an enjoyable read.
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This tells the true story of three Australian Aboriginal people who travel with a doctor and his daughter Hilda to Europe, where they make a living performing in zoos. It was very well researched and really bright this little known story to light. What I took from it was knowledge of how many "ethnographic" shows there were around the turn of the century, and how these people were exploited. It was probably a good choice to tell the story through the German daughter's voice in the main, although she came off as very naive about how the aboriginal people would be treated. I would have preferred a more historical book with more first hand sources in, as these were the most interesting parts.
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This novel is based on the experiences of three Badtjala/Butchulla (Aboriginal Australian) people who were exhibited in European human zoos.  The author has extensively researched the topic and I think I would have preferred to read this as history rather than fiction.  For me the major problem was the main character, a fictional German teenager named Hilda who lived with her "scientist" father alongside the Badtjala on K'gari/Fraser Island.  While I understand Johnson's wish to tell the story in a way in which she didn't speak for the Badtjala characters, seeing them through Hilda's eyes resulted in too many episodes edging into "white savior" territory.  Maybe that was supposed to be the point of her character but it detracted from the story of the exploited Indigenous characters.  It also didn't help that Hilda's romantic attraction to one of the Badtjala men was largely presented through her objectification of his body (his bare chest, his strength, etc.).  As others have mentioned, the multiple perspectives of the book -- third person Hilda, first person Hilda's journal entries, first person omniscient "ghost" narrator -- were a bit jarring.  Even though I wasn't enthusiastic about this book, this is an important story to be told and I'm glad someone as knowledgeable as Johnson tackled it.
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I found this novel to be really interesting and quite a surprise. It's inspired by a real story that I certainly hadn't heard of and I think this wil be true of many. Three  Aboriginal people – Bonangera  Dorondera and Jurano – are taken to Europe as living exhibits in 1882-83. They were seen as oddities and put on display in some sort of freak shows that were shamefully popular in Victorian times. These human zoos were meant to encourage people to learn about far and distant lands but actually managed to make a mockery of people.

There are eye opening moments here and some parts of the novel will have you gasp and cry out in horror. It's very affecting. They are forced to perform for crowds in various cities and then when that's all over, the scientists are waiting to take a look at them. This was based on true facts? It's unbelievably sad. No that's an extreme understatement. Shocking and unforgivable would be more like it.

There are some dark messages and lessons to take from this but it's also a fine and gripping read. That cover is also something else! The author has done some  wonderful research and taken great pains to hide it in a compelling story - hide it well so that you know it's there as it seeps into the words but you can't 'see' it. That's the right writer to tackle such a book as this.
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I really wanted to like this book as the topic sounded interesting. However, there was something about the writing style that just failed to capture my interest. For me, the characters did not come alive.  I tried on three separate occasions to read it and have now given up. Because I didn't finish I won't post a review on Goodreads.
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I've been excited about this book since I first heard about it, and it did not disappoint. The characters sucked you into the story and the story kept you turning pages as fast as you could. I devoured it in a day. I loved it.
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