Mary Dalmau is general manager of Reader's Feast
Bookstore in Melbourne, Australia, which celebrates its 20th anniversary this
September. She is a former president of the Australian Booksellers Association
and a regular contributor to publishing courses and library advisory boards.
Here she urges American booksellers, librarians and readers to seek out Listening to Country by Ros
Moriarty, a book "with universal relevance
and resonance well beyond Australia that causes the reader to ponder our
connection to the physical environment, our sense of ourselves within our
family unit and the ways in which cultures clash or accommodate each other. It
is also a simply told, beautifully written memoir: author Ros Moriarty
seamlessly weaves her life into the narrative."
Dalmau's story about
the book is also an illustration of how a passionate bookseller championing a
book can make that book into a success for the author, the publisher--as well
as for her bookstore. Listening to Country was published in Australia by Allen & Unwin and appears here in the
U.S. May 1 through Trafalgar Square ($17.95, 9781741753806).
As a career
bookseller in Australia, I have specific touchstones that signify the
highlights of my 34 years in the trade. One of these touchstones was becoming
aware of this book. I was in my lift-well (the room off the bookstore floor
where the marketing work for our business, Reader's Feast, gets done). It was
late at night and I was compiling our quarterly guide.
The first thing
to strike me was the cover of Listening
to Country--it is a luminous photograph of Ros standing looking across
water. The colors are "outback" colors and the scene is overlaid with
graphics that connote Aboriginal art. I opened the book and began to read. Some
two hours later, well beyond midnight, I knew I had to leave the store and get
home (!), but I also knew I had discovered a writer and book of special note. A
few days later, I penned my review for our book guide:
"As I write
this review, I am yet to finish Listening
to Country. I could have finished it by this time but I am savoring the
experience of 'listening' to this book. It is perhaps the most lyrical and
evocative book I have read in years. Ros Moriarty is married to John, an
Aboriginal man, and they have three children. From the earliest years of their marriage,
they have travelled home to John's country and family, a journey that, each time,
holds special meaning for everyone as John was taken from his mother when a young
boy (one of the "stolen generation"--Aboriginal Australians taken
from their families by the government and relocated with white Australian
organizations such as church-run missions). With her children now young adults,
Ros undertakes an extraordinary journey with John's female relatives. She
travels to the Northern Territory's
Tanami Desert with these remarkable women to perform ceremony.
Moriarty, in sharing her experiences with us, has created a beautiful rendering
of the wonder that results when one human being connects with another. She has provided
a lovely portrait of the natural grace and humility of good women. And, she has
offered her readers the chance to just be still and listen to this land, its people, and our own hearts."
travels into the country of John's female relatives are interspersed with
information about her life in Adelaide, Melbourne, and Sydney as she and John
forged a business together that today is the Jumbana Group--the company
responsible for the design of Qantas planes painted in the colors and symbols
of Aboriginal Australia. An especially poignant sequence in the book is when
Ros and John are in front of the world's media as a painted Qantas plane is
coming out of grey skies over Osaka, Japan, and John is experiencing a
bittersweet wonder at "his" land, art and culture being celebrated
when it is so often derided and misunderstood.
From my Spanish
and Irish heritage I have been aware of the sense of "welcome"
synonymous with both cultures. Reading Listening
to Country was most affecting for me when I realized that such cultural
attributes are inherent in the Indigenous people of Australia over thousands of
years. The sense of belonging is not the preserve of a few but is at the core
of how Aboriginal people live; and it extends to the physical landscape. They
belong to this land and are deeply connected to it in ways we can only imagine.
Any person interested in how we save this planet from the destruction wrought
over the past century will find the ethos of our Indigenous people instructive.
I have been able
to champion Listening to Country to a
position in our bestsellers for the year 2010; indeed we listed it as Reader's
Feast Favourite Book of the Year in our end-of-year marketing. My review in our
guide was supported by in-store displays and it became the first book we
promoted heavily through Facebook and Twitter. Listening to Country was shortlisted for two national book awards
in Australia and we hosted an evening with Ros in our store. She was also one
of our guests at our annual "Writers at the Convent" festival two
months ago. Her book was reprinted at the beginning of this year, I believe
largely on the evidence of its appeal from the sales in my bookstore. Our
opening order of 30 copies has been followed by several more, for a total in
the hundreds. Listening to Country was
recently included in an annual, national campaign that lists a select number of
Australian and international titles that are "must reads."
The subtitle of Listening to Country is "a journey
to the heart of what it means to belong." It is a journey Ros undertook in
a physical sense but one she also takes the reader on. For me, it has become a
defining book. It articulates my sense of belonging to my family and provides
markers for how better to survive the world as I travel through it. Our success
at Reader's Feast with the book has provided an added dimension to its impact
on me. Our ability to champion Listening
to Country is a source of great pride--to discover a book, to love it, to
spread the word about it is a joy. It is also conducive to successful bookselling.