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The Yield

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Member Reviews

I enjoyed this book enormously. It was a fascinating insight into the experiences of Aborigines. Through the warm characters of Poppy the Grandfather, who had never left his patch of Australia and August, the granddaughter who returned to Australia after 10 years in London, we get to understand the past that made them and the current time, when they have to stand up for their rights against an exploitative tin mining company. It is an emotional heart warming read. I cannot wait for this to be published as I am first in line to buy copies for family an friends..While it is fiction I felt it left me hungering for more.
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The Yield brings together three narrative strands which all contribute to a larger story about belonging, humanity and heritage. 

The main story is that of August in the modern day, a young woman who has returned to Australia from London after the death of her grandfather, Poppy Albert. It is back in Australia that she discovers her grandfather had been writing a book. Knowing nothing about the details of the book or why he might have been writing it, she sets out to finish the work he started. She also arrives just as a tin mining company is set to take over her ancestral land displacing the families who live there and becomes invested in preventing the tin company from going ahead with its demolition plans. 

Alongside August's story, we get snippets from the book Poppy was writing - a dictionary of Wiradjuri words - setting out the "old language" of the native tribe he is from. In putting together this dictionary, he reveals the story of the land and of his life. It was a beautiful way to tell his story and highlighted the important link between language and culture. I personally found his sections to be the most touching. 

The third narrative strand is set in the early 1900s and is told through a series of letters from Reverend Greenleaf who comes to the native people to bring them Christianity and to provide them with shelter, meaningful work and a sense of community.  He finds himself distrusted at first but begins to realise that though he wants to impose his views and ways of doing things on the native people it is he, a stranger on their land, who has much to learn. 

Tara June Winch is a talented and natural storyteller. She was able to make the three different storylines distinct from each other while maintaining a thread of commonality between them which grew stronger as the story progressed. As with any story told from multiple perspectives, I found that I enjoyed some voices more than others and unfortunately, my least favourite voice was August's which dominated the novel. Despite this, however, I really enjoyed the book and would absolutely seek out more work from this writer. 

If you love stories about family, about what it means to belong to a community or if you simply love language, you will find something in The Yield to captivate you. It is a wonderful read worthy of the acclaim it has received.
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This is a strong piece of writing weaving tough threads of maltreatment of indigenous Australians by the white Europeans with the still lingering modern day racism. Yet, cleverly interspersed with all of this is wisdom, beauty, spirituality and inspiration. 
I found this a difficult book to follow at times - we get tiny glimpses of different storylines and it makes things feel a little misty through much of the book. I also found the prose a little overly written and this meant I had to reread passages often to extract the meaning.
But I think as a historical piece raising awareness of the dreadful treatment Aboriginal people combined with the deft artistic depiction of the beauty of their core beliefs and way of life this book triumphs.
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Lyrically written a book told from three points of view.A story that brings us into the world of indigenous AustraliansA book that deserves the award it’s won.Perfect for book club discussions.#netgalley#4thestatebooks,
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An extraordinary story capturing the language of an Aboriginal tribe.

Before he died, Albert “Poppy” Gondiwindi made sure that he finalised the dictionary of his people’s language. He belonged to the indigenous Wiradjuri tribe. Had spent his adult life in Prosperous House, built in the town of Massacre Plains, which is situated on a small enclave on the banks of the Murrumby River. 

Poppy’s granddaughter, August, returns from Europe for his funeral. She has lived away from her family for the past ten years. Her grief is compounded by the pain, anger, and sadness of memory, of growing up in poverty before her mother’s incarceration, of the racism she and her people endure, of the mysterious disappearance of her sister when they were children; an event that has haunted her. Her homecoming stirs up many hidden feelings as she confronts once again, her kin and the shocking news that Prosperous is to be repossessed by a mining company. Determined to make amends and honour Poppy and her family, she vows to save their land.

It is an immensely powerful novel that stirred up strong feelings for me, an ex-South African who lived through apartheid. Australia’s treatment of the Aborigine people is not dissimilar to the era of that regime. The racism the indigenous nation has suffered since Australia as discovered is well documented and like South Africa, is still ongoing. 

I found the book to be a very tough read. However, Tara June Winch must be congratulated on tackling this very neglected subject. 

Rony

Elite Reviewing Group received a copy of the book to review.
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Anyone who has ever doubted the power of language to bring people together and tear them apart would do well to read Tara June Winch’s The Yield with all possible haste. This remarkable novel is a deep and moving exploration of the role words play in shaping individual lives and communities, and is also – in both the real and fictional worlds – an effort to preserve the Wiradjuri language, spoken by the Wiradjuri people of south-eastern Australia. With compelling characters, an absorbing storyline and a layered structure, The Yield is not just the work of a truly accomplished author, but the kind of book that has the power to adjust its readers’ view of the world.

Divided into three interwoven sections, Winch’s novel spans a period of roughly a century and tells both personal and community histories from the perspective of insiders and those standing on the periphery. To say that it is multi-layered would be an understatement, yet somehow these very different narrative threads never get in the way of one another. Nor, despite their unequal weighting in terms of word count, does one necessarily seem more important than the others – though readers will no doubt have their favourite, each adds something essential to the story, and the links between them are so carefully formed that it is easy to slip between different voices, periods and narrative styles. 

[. . .]

The past and its constant influence on the present is one of the major themes of The Yield: metaphorical ghosts are everywhere August looks, as she flicks through her grandfather’s overdue library books and unpacks boxes containing mementoes of her and her sister’s childhood. That the past cannot simply be scrubbed out is a powerful and important message within the context of the novel, both in highlighting the deep damage done to people like the Wiradjuri – which August still encounters in the present day in the form of racist slurs, casual segregation, and a slow cultural erasure through the destruction of land and language – but also in providing a message of hope. Poppy’s dictionary, though simply a mass of words on paper, is the key to securing the future of August and her family, helping her not only to reconnect to the place she comes from, but also to begin to heal. The author’s note again underlines this, as does the incomplete dictionary placed at the very end of the novel – a poignant note on which to close, and one that leaves a lasting impression. Language can be destroyed, Winch seems to be telling us, but it can yet be rescued – and, once put down on paper, its power is formidable.

[Excerpted review from a longer write-up published on my blog.]
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What a book! There are endless reviews and articles out there, plus many interviews with the author herself, so I will keep mine brief. It’s a powerful tale of Aboriginal life in Australia, both past and present, and we explore that history and culture through the lens of one particular family, thus providing an emotional heft and impact that we often don’t get from merely reading the facts and figures. We may know something, or even a lot, about Australia’s shameful treatment of Aborigines, but the novel brings it home to us yet again. An important book and essential reading for anyone interested in Australia, its past and the legacy of that past.
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We read this for a 'book club' episode of The Bookcast Club podcast and I thoroughly enjoyed it. An amazing story of family trauma, indigenous Australia, secrets, betrayals and persecution. Its incredibly well written and thought provoking. Highly recommend.
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Three narrators, three different ways of telling the story of August, Poppy and his dictionary and the troubled history of Massacre's Aboriginal population. Excellent, well researched and haunting.
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Thank you to Netgalley, 4th Estate and Tara June Winch for this e-copy in return for my honest review.  This is a very important book that deserves to be read.  I put off reading it for a while purely because I needed to be in the right 'headspace' to be able to fully absorb it. The main focus of the book is the importance of maintaining culture through language, and through language maintaining a people identity. It tells the story of how the English arriving in Australia decimated the culture of the aboriginal people.  A powerful and wonderful book.
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The Yield reminds us that it isn't too late to attempt to salvage what we can out of the ruins of past terrible deeds. 

Told in three separate narrative strands we come face to face with the injustices, cruelties and disgusting behaviour perpetrated by our ancestors against people whose land they stole and whose humanity they tried to deny. 

This is an ultimately rewarding novel but there were some scenes that were very hard to read. I would happily read more from Tara June Winch. 

My thanks to netgalley and the publisher for a copy of the book in exchange for an honest review.
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The Yield by Tara June Winch layered in three different timelines. It talks about the experiences of First Nations people, culture, and the forgotten Wiradjuri language. One might take some time to get used to the writing style and narrative.
The author has a brilliant job in capturing the essence of sensitive topics such as indigenous culture, colonialism, the importance of language.
It's worth the read where one can be educated with the provided insights on language and culture.
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Unfortunately this is a DNF from me.
I really wanted to enjoy this one but I found it too fragmented that it was difficult to become engrossed in it. I enjoyed the sections of August but they were never long enough so by the time I had become invested the next chapter would begin.
I also didn't enjoy the chapters of the Priest/Father. It's just not something I find interesting to read.
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It took me a while to get used to the narrative but once I did, WInch's skills awed me. The shifts in narrator interrupt the flow, but Winch succeeds at mixing personal history and cultural history. It unpacks complex themes in an accessible way.
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The Yield is told by means of three alternate points of view: that of August, who lives in London, but is from Massacre Plains, Australia, and returns to her birthplace when news reaches her that her grandfather Albert has died. Then there is the viewpoint of a dictionary compiler, who puts down not only words but also stories -- words like "minhi" and "baayanka" and the stories that go with them. And finally, the letters of Reverend Ferdinard Greenleaf to Dr. George Cross, President of the British Society of Ethnogaphy written in 1915. The connection between the three points of view will become clear towards the end of the book; at the beginning, the reader needs to let go and get into the rhythm of the story-telling.

August is a member of the Gondowindi, an indigenous family whose horrific treament at the hands of white colonialists unfold as we read the book, and especially the letters of Rev. Greenleaf. Greenleaf himself is a missionary originally from Germany who -- appaled at the poor state of the indigenous population -- decides to establish a mission where indigenous people can feel welcome and learn "the word of God". There is a slight disconnection between the various characters of the book and the events described, but this conveys the sense of dislocation that the characters themselves experience. Albert, the dictionary compiler, is probably the most mature and relatable of the characters. As we read on, we realise that his dictionary work is part of a broader plan to leave behind a record of the language and culture of the Gondiwindi. Add to the mix a mining company that has received licence to drive the villagers away in order to mine for tin and a disappeared little sister and you have the elements of the story Winch covers in the book.

This book conveys in a really eloquent way the indigenous experience at the hands of white colonialists. It is hard to believe the prejudice white people harboured until relatively recently. There is a point in the book where a team of university students tries to get indigenous children to swim at the local swimming pool although this was legally forbidden. They turn up at the pool and make a scene -- only to be told by white people that the children should return where they came from. "They’re bad,” one woman said, “they don’t belong here, they should go back to their huts." When you go to a foreign country, August says at some point, you try to learn a few phrases from the language of the people living there. You do that out of courtesy but also to make life easier for yourself. Yet, when white people went to Australia, not only did they not try to learn any of the indigenous languages but in addition they forbade indigenous people from speaking their native tongue and tried to erase every memory of their traditions. That is why Albert's dictionary is important; because the words it includes and the stories it conveys are some of the few pieces of evidence of other languages and other civilisations in Australia.

In an appendix to the book Winch says that Albert's fictional dictionary is based on a dictionary of Wiradjuri, one of the 250 languages of Australia on the brink of extinction. She also says the following:

The experiences of the fictional Gondiwindi family reflect those experienced by all Indigenous people touched by violence, segregation, abuse, and the dehumanizing policies and practices of colonialism. As part of these separation policies, the government and churches banned and discouraged the use of the native tongue. They did this by forcibly removing children from their families, where they were taken into missions and institutions in order to expunge the Indigenous culture. This practice began in 1910 and continued until the 1970s.
Cultural knowledge, community history, customs, modes of thinking and belonging to the land are carried through languages. In the last two hundred years, Australia has suffered the largest and most rapid loss of languages known to history. Today, despite efforts of revitalization, Australia’s languages are some of the most endangered in the world.

Despite that, the novel ends on a positive note. Albert's dictionary, the kindness he showed people while alive, his wisdom and goodness, leave behind a legacy that touches everyone that was connected to him. Some kind of healing is possible even though it does nor erase, of course, the centuries of oppression and abuse. There is optimism at the end of the book and the sense of dislocation diminishes. I really enjoyed this book for its treament of such a difficult topic, which it does intelligently and with compassion.
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'There are few things worse than memory, yet few things better [...] Be careful.'

The Yield is both a fantastic story and an education on an incredibly important topic: Australia's historically terrible treatment of its native peoples, and the long-lasting consequences still affecting the country to this day. 

August's return to Australia and gradual reconciliation with family and history, her grandfather Albert's dictionary of his language, and a nineteenth century clergyman's account of well-meaning but misguided attempts to help the Aborigines he encountered are told through through cleverly interlinked stories, the strands eventually coming together in the fight to save the Gondiwindi land from destruction at the hands of a mining company. 

The importance of language, in tying people to their land and their history, comes through so strongly. Winch used the language of her own people, the Wiradjuri, which is itself the target of an academic project to record and preserve words. 

I was also fascinated by the references to Aboriginal farming techniques, and plan to read Dark Emu soon to learn more about this - Winch includes a great list of recommended reading in her afterword.
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Though it took a little while to fall into the rhythm of the book, once I did and realised what it was doing, preserving a language and sharing a culture, while telling the story of one who returns, having been separated from it through travel (and a non-inclusive education), I thought it was brilliant.

The Wiradjuri Aboriginal people, of which the author is a descendant, are a people and a culture that have been dispossessed, yet in some respects and from an alternate perspective, can also be said to have thrived despite the setback of colonialization.

The Yield is an acknowledgement of what was, a perspective on what it is to straddle dual cultures and a powerful reclaiming of Indigenous language, storytelling and cultural identity, one that will endure.

Known as the people of the three rivers, Wiradjuri people have inhabited modern-day New South Wales, Australia for more than 60,000 years. At the time of European colonization, there were an estimated 3,000 Wiradjuri living in the region, representing the largest cultural footprint in the state.

A Triple Narrative, Of Voice, Time and Style

The story is told through three voices, in three narrative styles, across three time periods, that I have come to think of metaphorically as the past, present and future of Aboriginal culture.

The Future, reclaiming one’s culture

The first person narrative is the voice of Albert (Poppy), the grandfather of the fictional Gondiwindi family. He is no longer living when we read his granddaughter August’s account of her return from England to Australia, he is the reason she returns, for his funeral.

He has written down important words that populate and are interspersed throughout the entire novel, the mystery of them revealed as the narrative moves forward.

English changed their tongues, the formation of their minds, August thought – she’d drifted in and out of herself all that time. The language was the poem she had looked for, communicating what English failed to say. Her poppy used to say the words were paramount. That they were like icebergs floating, melting, that there were ocean depths to them that they couldn’t have talked about.

Nothing like your average dictionary, Poppy’s entries are an accessible rendering of words in his indigenous language, his descriptions or meanings are anecdotal stories of an oral tradition, ensuring we understand. More than mere words, they preserve a culture, they are evidence of a civilisation. They are the future, a key to the longevity and respect of his people’s lineage.

ashamed, have shame – giyal-dhuray I’m done with this word. I’d leave it out completely but I can’t. It’s become part of the dictionary we think we should carry. We mustn’t anymore. See, pain travels through our family tree like a songline. We’ve been singing our pain into a solid thing. The old ones, the young ones too, are ready to heal. We don’t have to be giyal-dhuray anymore, we don’t have to pass that down to anyone.

The Present, a return to one’s culture

The second person narrative is the present day account of August’s return, of her discovery that her grandmother Elsie is being forced to leave the family property because of a mining company claim and the way it has been presented to them, is as if they have no right to or compensation for the land or buildings.

Elsie isn’t prepared to fight, but August becomes aware of her grandfather’s project, of what is required to potentially save the land and reinstate their existence. It is a time of reckoning as she allows events of the past to rise, and rather than run from them, can make amends.

There is also the presence of outsiders, activists on the hill, ready to intervene if necessary. These people are something of an enigma to August and her family. In challenging one of them, she highlights that aspect of humanity – that there is always someone whose call is to agitate and prick the social conscious of the other, that it’s often not those to whom the injustice is being done.  When Mandy warns August to be careful and to conceal herself, she tells her she’s nobody anyway.

“You are somebody. But these days we can’t do anything as somebody, we can only do something as nobody. The nobody of everybody.”
August thought for a moment. “I don’t get it.”
“When something is important enough that it’s personal to everyone,” Mandy added.

The Past, overriding one culture with another

A third epistolary narrative, is a series of letters written by a British/German Reverend Ferdinand Greenleaf who lived in the area in the late 1800’s and wrote an account of his attempt to build a mission. His few letters are spread across the novel, recording his intentions, his observations and his responses to all that he witnessed.

It is here we read of the past treatment of people, the struggles, the behaviours, the results, the small successes, the failures and the reminder that anyone can become a future victim when the allegiances of a nation turn.

respect – yindyamarra I think I’ve come to realise that with some things, you cannot receive them unless you give them too. Unless you’ve even got the opportunity to give and receive. Only equals can share respect, otherwise it’s a game of masters and slaves – someone always has the upper hand when they are demanding respect. But yindyamarra is another thing too, it’s a way of life – a life of kindness, gentleness, and respect at once. That seems like a good thing to share, our yindyamarra.

The Many Ways to Preserve a Cultural Heritage

The entire novel is a monumental endeavour, encompassing as it does, this one language of the hundreds that existed and have either become extinct, or are under threat of becoming so.

The way the words and language create a bridge of understanding of a way of life and thinking is indeed a celebration. The thought of one man spending his latter years in pursuit of this, of sharing all that he knew, so he could pass it on, in the way of the coloniser – using the written word and not the oral stories of the past that risk dying out – is remarkable and uplifting.

It’s Never to Late to Be An Inspiration

One of the inspirations for the book was the work of Wiradjuri elder Mr Stan Grant Senior, whose contribution has since earned him an honory doctorate for his life’s work to reclaim the Wiradjuri language.

With an anthropologist, John Rudder, Mr. Grant has breathed new life into the language. They worked together on a revision of a long-neglected Wiradjuri dictionary, “A New Wiradjuri Dictionary,” almost 600 pages in length, as well as a collection of small grammar books. – extract, New York Times

I love that stories like this are being written, helping to preserve a much wronged culture and people, and that a new generation of writers are using literature to further develop empathy and understanding.

Highly Recommended, a future classic!

“I was told when you revive a lost language, you give it back to all mankind,” he said, sitting in his kitchen, not far from where the kingfishers darted across the Murrumbidgee.
“We were a nothing people for a long time. And it is a big movement now, learning Wiradjuri. I’ve done all that work. I’ve done all I can.” Stan Grant Sr

About the Author, Tara June Winch

Tara June Winch is a Wiradjuri author, born in Australia in 1983 and based in France. Her first novel, Swallow the Air was critically acclaimed. She was named a Sydney Morning Herald Best Young Australian Novelist, and has won numerous literary awards for Swallow the Air. The novel has been on the HSC syllabus for Standard and Advanced English since 2009 and a 10th-anniversary edition was published in 2016.

In 2008, she won a prestigious mentoring scheme and was mentored by Nobel Prize winner Wole Soyinka who introduced her to a whole new world of reading; for the first time, she began making links between Greek tragedies, biblical myth and Indigenous dreaming stories.

There’s a wonderful video interview of the two of them in Nigeria available online.

Soyinka chose Winch to be his protégée because of her “sure hand [and] observant eye”.

The Yield, was first published in 2019, to commercial and critical success and took out four prizes including Book of the Year at the NSW Premier’s Literary Awards, the Miles Franklin Literary Award, the Voss Prize, and the Prime Minister’s Literary Award. It was shortlisted for The Stella Prize.

Further Reading

The Guardian Interview: I had to be manic’: Tara June Winch on her unmissable new novel – and surviving Andrew Bolt by Sian Cain
Article New York Times: An Heir to a Tribe’s Culture Ensures Its Language Is Not Forgotten by Michelle Innis
ABC News: January 26 is a reminder that Australia still hasn’t reckoned with its original sin by Stan Grant, 27 Jan 2021

N.B. Thank you to Harper Via, an imprint of Harper Collins dedicated to publishing extraordinary international voices for an ARC (advance reader copy) provided via Netgalley.
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This is an own voices, aboriginal Australian insight into the struggles indigenous culture has had to survive.

The book takes from letters, a unique Aboriginal dictionary and August’s perspective. The book’s focus is language and the importance of maintaining culture through language, along with family struggles, identity, cruelty and exploitation.
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4,5 out of 5 stars. 
It took a bit of  time for me to get used to the different voices and to get into the story, but then it got so good! Winch excellently tells the history of the aborigines and how the English arrived and took over everything. She does so in an honest and nuanced way from three different point of views which makes you reflect and reconsider the beliefs you may have had. Powerful, accomplished and heartfelt.
Thank you  Harper and Netgalley for the ARC.
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I really wake this book with its focus on Australian indigenous populations through a century of time.  However I found it difficult to get in to and, being honest, I gave up about a third of the way in.
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