Monday 20 July 2020

Review: Paris Savages by Katherine Johnson

Happy Monday all. Does anyone else find it really hard to get going on a Monday? I certainly do and today has been no exception. Going to try and get out of that feeling by sharing with you my review of Paris Savages by Katherine Johnson.


Before I begin writing my review, myself like the author Katherine Johnson has done, state the following:

"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. While travelers and performers have been journeying to Europe from distant lands since the time of Columbus, it was not until the mid-to-late nineteenth century that ‘ethnic shows’, also known as ‘human zoos’, became mass entertainment."

I honestly don't know where to begin with writing this review, it shocked, saddened and devastated me in a way that a well written story will manage to do. The impact on me to say the least was huge and I am still feeling all those emotions long after reading.

The year is 1882 and the indigenous Badtjala people are fighting to keep their homeland and their lives. An unexpected opportunity arrives for three of them to travel to Europe where they hope they will be able to speak to the Queen of England and ask for this treatment to stop. They go along with German scientist Louis Muller and his daughter Hilda and to 'earn' enough money for passage to England they must perform inappropriate cultural displays for the entertainment of the Europeans. They also face intense scrutiny not just from those watching them, but from other scientist's also and this in particular made my blood boil. This is of course a world unknown to them and it is at a times a hostile and cruel one and when disaster inevitably strikes, they need to find their way back home.

Paris Savages was a huge eye opener for me about our history and I'm disappointed (if that is the correct word here) that I didn't know more about this as I feel that it should be highlighted just how wrong it was and of course would still be to treat people in this way. The thought that 'human zoos' are a part of our actual history and not a work of fiction is what has shocked me the most. How could people of that time be so ignorant as to think this was ok and that those people were less than we were? 

I'm glad this story made me feel uncomfortable and angry at the complete and utter ignorance of people of that time. Trying to use minority groups for entertainment and monetary gain genuinely disgusted me. Exactly I am sure the feelings that the author was intending to invoke of the reader.

I think Katherine has handled this story really well and with a great sensitivity. The questions the author poses at the end are also very thought provoking questions like who actually were the savages as we know that it wasn't Bonny, Dorondera and Jurano.

Despite it's subject matter, I quickly become engrossed in this story. Katherine's writing is easy to follow and you can tell that a lot of research has gone into writing this novel.

This post was part of the Paris Savages Blog Tour

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