The Yield by Tara June Winch

Where to start with this big story, plump with important themes, lush language, and rich history? No review that I will do of Tara June Winch’s novel, The Yield, will capture all the elements of this book, so instead I will focus on the two parts that drew me in – the experience of grief, and the meaning of words.

The story focuses predominantly on two characters – Albert ‘Poppy’ Gondiwindi who, knowing he will soon die, puts pen to paper to record the language of his people. His life has been spent on the banks of the Murrumby River at Prosperous House, and his stories reveal the importance of landscape and the role of particular people in his life.

August Gondiwindi has been living in London for a decade when she learns of her grandfather’s death. She returns home for his burial, wracked with grief and burdened by the tragedy she had intended to leave behind in Australia – the disappearance of her sister, Jedda.

The stories of Albert and August’s lives are told against an unfolding threat – the land at Prosperous is to be repossessed by a mining company. August is determined to save their land and the stories that go with it.

There exists a sort of torture of memory if you let it come, if you invite the past to huddle beside you, comforting like a leech. He was telling her more – that a footprint in history has a thousand repercussions, that there are a thousand battles being fought every day because people couldn’t forget something that happened before they were born. There are few worse things than memory, yet few things better, he’d said. Be careful.

Grief, specifically ambiguous loss, is explored in a number of ways in The Yield, most obviously through the parts of the story that relate to Jedda’s disappearance.

Life or death have finality, limbo doesn’t; no-one wants to hear about someone lost.

Winch captures the yawning uncertainty of such loss, describing Jedda’s disappearance as a time during which ‘…almost every woman’s hair in the family then took a journey into silver…‘, and for August, just nine-years-old, ‘…her heart stretched like bubblegum string until it snapped. And it stayed snapped.‘ At a broader level, the character of Jedda represents the grief and trauma of the Stolen Generations.

The importance of place is also explored in terms of grief and loss. August asks what would happen if Jedda were to return and ‘no one was there’, and reflects –

‘…I don’t know who I am without this place.. Just the idea of Prosperous here, when I was away, was a comfort. It’s a place I could always come back to.’

August’s thoughts on ‘place’ are revealed alongside the concurrent plot line – that the land of Prosperous is being ‘repossessed’ for mining. I don’t need to spell out the irony (or crime) of land being ‘repossessed’ from Indigenous Australians.

The loss of the land cuts the last remaining ties the people from the banks of the Murrumby have to the context for their stories, history and spiritual beliefs. Winch has structured the book around alternating chapters in the past, present, and ‘storytelling’ through Albert’s dictionary of Wiradjuri words. The definition of each word reveals the importance of the land.

baayanha – yield in English is the reaping, the thing that man can take from the land, the things he’s waited for and gets to claim. A wheat yield. In my language it’s the things you give to, the movement, the space between things.

There is power in this story – the legacy we leave, the attitude we have. In the face of losing Prosperous, August’s grandmother says, “Please don’t be a victim, Augie. It’s an easy road, that one.” And this is the message that has lingered – how do situations change if we consider being the victim as the ‘easy path’? I’ve been testing the idea in various scenarios. I haven’t made my mind up as to how far it applies but it’s interesting, and I keep mulling it over, and ultimately, that’s the stuff of a great book.

Check out far more thorough reviews of The Yield at ANZ Litlovers and Whispering Gums.

4/5 A rich reading experience.

Of cooking murrnong (milky yam) in an earth oven –

When it was ready, they dug up the gulambula and then we ate the steamed dinner. Then we talked about the little things that are the big things.

16 responses

  1. I’m intending to read more Australian writing and your beautiful review has inspired me to put this on my list. I love books that tackle difficult subjects like loss and grief, and this sounds like it’s found the perfect way to explore complex experiences.

  2. I really DO need to read it now, what with your review and Sue’s in quick succession. Interesting that she writes about loss; I know her brother died a year or so ago so I wonder if that informed her novel or wether it had already been written? I think I read somewhere she was planning on writing a book about grief.

  3. What a perfect summary: “plump with important themes, lush language, and rich history”. It’s the kind of book that inspires different kinds of responses making every review a delight to read.

  4. This sounds so impressive. Reading your review I wondered how long the novel was to capture all this, so I clicked the Readings link. 352 pages is incredible – I was expecting it to be twice that! I’ve just checked and I think it’s getting a UK release in June – fingers crossed…

  5. Thanks for the link Kate. You are right – it is such a big book to try to capture in a review. Both you and Lisa focused on the loss/missing themes/motifs which are really important. I took a different tack but felt sorry about not mentioning that as a unifying thread through the book.

  6. I might buy this one and let it simmer on my shelves for a while. Reading these reviews made me wonder why the author used such well known names as Gondiwindi and Jedda. (And I must review Jedda one day, I have it at home somewhere).

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