Home > 2010, 21st Century, Abandoned books, Australian Literature, CENTURY, Colonialism, Novel, Scott Kim > Why I had to abandon That Deadman Dance by Kim Scott

Why I had to abandon That Deadman Dance by Kim Scott

That Deadman Dance  by Kim Scott. 2010. Not available in French.

Scott_DeadmanLisa from ANZ Lit Lovers gave me That Deadman Dance by Kim Scott as my Humbook gift last Christmas. It took me a while to start it and it took me a while to acknowledge defeat and abandon it. I so didn’t want to quit reading it but I had to, this is too great a book to be understood and enjoyed half way through the lenses of non-native English speaker. I need a French translation with a foreword and explanatory footnotes and it’s not available in French.

That Deadman Dance relates the foundation of settlements in Australia and the relationships between the first white people coming there and the natives, the Noongar. I know absolutely nothing about the history of Aborigines and lots of things were totally lost to me. I did go to an exhibition of Aborigine art in Paris after Lisa gave this novel to me, to prepare for the book but I didn’t learn much that day. French museums have a knack for lacking of educational signs in exhibitions. Either you’re in and you already know something about what you’re seeing or you get out almost clueless. Once I’ve been to one called Contemporary art told to children. We brought the children there, mind you, all the pieces were a contemporary version of a previous and famous art work. It was explained alright, but do you think they had put a picture of the painting or sculpture it referred to? Of course not. We spent the whole visit looking for the missing pictures on our smartphones and showing them to the children on a tiny screen. But back to Scott and my difficulties.

I can read what you may consider difficult books (like Henry James) because the vocabulary is rather easy, at least for a Frenchwoman. Lots of your big words look like French words anyway. Reading a book about Australia with lots of descriptions of the landscape and a narrative leaping from one voice to another is another thing. Here’s a quote, just to hum to you the music of Scott’s voice:

They followed a path, rocky and scattered with fine pebbles that at one point wound through dense, low vegetation but mostly led them easily through what, Chaine said, seemed a gnarled and spiky forest. Leaves were like needles, or small saws. Candlestick-shaped flowers blossomed, or were dry and wooden. Tiny flowers clung to trees by thin tendrils, and wound their way through shrubbery, along clefts in rock. Bark hung in long strips. Flowering spears thrust upward from the centre of shimmering fountains of green which, on closer inspection, bristled with spikes.

Evocative, isn’t it? Kim Scott writes beautifully and the story in itself interested me. (You can read more about it here, under Lisa’s pen). I stopped reading it because I was sabotaging a marvellous piece of literature and I didn’t like that a bit. Other books by Scott are available in French, I’ll try one of them and perhaps, once I know more, once my English is better, I’ll return to this one. Right now, I’m frustrated not to be able to enjoy That Deadman Dance. Thank you Lisa for bringing this writer to my attention. And thank you to Actes Sud for translating some of his former books in French. This publisher is a gem.

  1. June 21, 2013 at 12:22 am

    Well at least you tried…

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    • June 21, 2013 at 8:52 pm

      L’important c’est de participer?

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  2. June 21, 2013 at 1:43 am

    Emma, I totally understand what you mean! It happened to me several times. At the moment, I am reading Foal’s Bread by Gillian Mears and it’s a very difficult book to read(yet very enjoyable). Luckily I read it on my Kindle which has a dictionary integrated! I have That deadman dance on my shelf, but I might wait a bit before starting it then… Australian authors can sometimes be very localized and tough to read !

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    • June 21, 2013 at 8:55 pm

      I read it on the kindle but even with the dictionary, I was losing too much of the beauty of the text. I was too concentrated on understanding to really hear the music of this language and he deserves to be read with enough detachment from the language to grasp his voice.

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  3. June 21, 2013 at 2:11 am

    Ah Emma … I’m not surprised. I do think this really wonderful book would be hard to read for someone whose first language isn’t English because the perspectives and time-frames do flit around.

    I remember this excerpt. I loved it because we Aussies can name those plants so unfamiliar to Chaine. Indigenous people would have one name for them, and we would have another, but for newly arrived Chaine all he can do is describe them. I found that beautifully writing – both the description and the getting into the head of a stranger in a strange land!

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    • June 21, 2013 at 8:58 pm

      That’s exactly how I felt: new words and I was using too much energy on the language not to get lost in the change of perspective and the movements back and forth in time.
      O
      I wish I could read it though. Would you recommend another one? I could see if its available in French.

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      • June 22, 2013 at 2:24 am

        I wish I could, Emma, but he’s only written about 4 novels. The one that made his name is Benang. I haven’t yet read it but I think it may also shift around a bit. I think Lisa has read it, so she may know.

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  4. June 21, 2013 at 10:25 am

    Hello Emma, I feel a bit guilty about this: but *smiling* it’s your own fault in a way, your English is so good I just took it for granted that there would be no language problem.

    I had to laugh about your comments about the French signage in museums … I’ve been in a number of museums in Paris and in regional France and stomped out muttering about how I wish they had English signage as well as French. I’ve always assumed that it was my poor French that made it hard for me to understand what was going on! But now I know it’s not just me …
    I had to smile in one chateau in the Loire Valley. I managed to translate the gumpf well enough to understand that American benefactors had donated a substantial amount for the restoration – but even that was entirely in French, so our hapless American friends did not know about the ‘grateful thanks of the French people’ until I translated for them!

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    • June 21, 2013 at 1:00 pm

      Oh yes, I was fascinated by Emma’s comments on museums Lisa … I just assumed that museum practice was pretty standard, particularly in the big museums in the western world, but clearly not. I know that here labelling is a much discussed “art”. On our next European trip I won’t be able to speak the languages anyhow so I guess it won’t matter.

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      • June 21, 2013 at 9:17 pm

        I think museums in America are often more educational in their approach, if I refer to the few ones I’ve seen.
        Plus, it’s easier to move around collections in the Met and in the Louvre, where I ALWAYS get lost. I never understand the directions, I don’t know how tourists do.
        Well, if you don’t read the signs, you can always rent an audio guide. These ones improved over the years and are available in English. The problem of language is pretty annoying with kids, but it’s inevitable. We’ve visited a wonderful house, fully furnished from the Jane Austen era (you’d love it) in Dublin and we spent the visit translating what the guide was explaining.

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        • June 22, 2013 at 2:20 am

          And I think that’s what Aussie museums/galleries seem to aim at too … Education I mean.

          Audio guides … Yes if they provided English ones that would be a good option. I once … Stupidly … Went to a museum of literature in Japan. I understood almost nothing!

          When next I go to Dublin, I’ll ask you for that place!

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          • June 22, 2013 at 11:12 am

            I hate audio guides. One of the things I love about my husband is that he shares my interest in the history and art and cultures of different places – but when we traverse museums he is plugged into a machine, and I am not. The conversation we ought to have about the beautiful paintings we see, the artefacts, the buildings and so on, doesn’t happen until afterwards (when, really, it’s too late), because he is listening to the machine. So, just when I am really excited about something I’ve seen, and long to talk to him about it, he is listening to a (usually) moronic description of the item. I might just as well go on my own.
            I would much rather buy a written guide, in my own language if I can’t read it in theirs, and then we can share the moment and I have a lovely book to take home as a memento of the occasion and an addition to my home library.

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            • June 22, 2013 at 1:20 pm

              I agree in general Lisa .. I’m not a huge fan of the audio guides here either, but they might come in handy if labels are in a foreign language. A guide in English would be good. I’m starting to change my mind though about buying guides … as we tend to bring them home and not use them much, particularly now that so much info is on the internet. I’ve started not buying exhibition catalogues anymore either, or show programs, which I’ve always done in the past, Maybe it’s turning a certain age! Downsizing and all that.

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              • June 22, 2013 at 2:22 pm

                I try to buy them before I go, which you can often do on the internet. So the night before I hit the Louvre, (or wherever) I’m tucked up in bed in the hotel, reading up about what I’m going to see. And I take it with me when I’m there.

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              • June 22, 2013 at 2:38 pm

                That’s probably the best thing to do.

                Ps: I’ve started another Aussie book. I’m surprised because, again, the foreword, which is rather humorous starts with “Max Barry is an Australian, for which he apologizes” I know he doesn’t mean it and that he’s making fun of it but I wonder how he got the idea to write that. It would never occur to me to apologize being French. I’ve noticed a similar thing when I read Toni Jordan’Addition. What’s this sorry-I’m-not-American syndrome?

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              • June 22, 2013 at 3:16 pm

                I’ve no idea, I’ve never read Max Barry and I’ve never heard that expression before.

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              • June 22, 2013 at 3:15 pm

                Ah … Perhaps they can now be bought electronically and I can just take my iPad to the museum/gallery? That would be great. I like that idea …. Will check it out. Thanks Lisa … I hadn’t realised you could buy guides in advance.

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              • June 22, 2013 at 2:30 pm

                I don’t buy catalogues anymore either. Most of the time, you don’t look at them anymore. I buy bookmarks from everywhere I go. So, when I start a new book, I choose a bookmark and remember where I’ve been. (This morning, choosing the bookmark took more time than choosing the book!)

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              • June 22, 2013 at 3:18 pm

                Lol Emma … I pick up bookmarks a lot too … But then I can’t bear to use them and end up using old envelopes instead! I love your taking longer to choose the bookmark!

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            • June 22, 2013 at 2:28 pm

              I’m too lazy to carry around a guide book per museum. Too heavy. I haven’t tried to download guides on the kindle. Have you tried?

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    • June 21, 2013 at 9:06 pm

      Don’t feel guilty, I’m glad I discovered a new writer and I’ll definitely try one in French. Which one would you recommend?

      Signs in museums ate tricky, right? They’re often in English too. (Or they want you to rent an audioguide…) Often I think they’re too small, so everyone approaches the wall to read the sign and then has to move away to see the picture or the object. Or they’re totally irrelevant for the philistine and are only useful for the specialist. (Very frequent)
      Some exhibitions are very well staged though, especially in the Musée d’Orsay or at the Pinacothèque.

      The ones I’m referring to in my billet were particularly lacking in terms of educational content. We has expectations when it was supposed to be for children. (There was an awful art work consisting of dirty nappies put under glass pads and creating a path of child pee and shit. My children still remember it)

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  5. June 21, 2013 at 11:59 am

    From the little bit that you posted I like Scott’s writing. The sentence structures seem complex, however. As you mention, it will be interesting to see what you make of the writing if you give a good translation of one of Scott’s books.

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    • June 21, 2013 at 9:08 pm

      I decided to write a billet about it even if I have abandoned it because I hope to convince other readers to try him. He’s talented, it’s worth a try if you speak English well enough.

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  6. June 21, 2013 at 1:45 pm

    It’s a beautiful quote. I’m really sorry this proved to be such a challenge and wouldn’t have thought it would but maybe he really has a very vast vocabulary or it was the constant chnage of point of view. I think you could manage but it would take much more time. I’ve got it here but forgot about it. I’m glad you reminded me but not sure when i will get to it.

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    • June 21, 2013 at 9:20 pm

      It’s the combination of vocabulary, unfamiliar territory and shifts in period of time and point of views. I had no strength to make up for weaknesses so it became impossible.
      From what I’ve read, I think you’d like it. And yes, he writes beautifully. Hey, Actes Sud will probably have it translated one of these days.

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  7. June 21, 2013 at 5:54 pm

    I really enjoyed this book, whilst acknowledging it’s difficulties as it does meander somewhat, but is an important work and deserving of its success. Well done for getting as far as you did.

    You can read my review here if you like.

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    • June 21, 2013 at 9:21 pm

      Thanks for the link Claire, I’ll read your review.

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  8. June 23, 2013 at 12:57 am

    It’s interesting that you had trouble with this book. I guess we in Australia take it for granted that everyone who can read English will be able to understand our literature, but it just goes to show how encoded cultural references can be. I completely understand that without knowledge of the Australian landscape and our flora and fauna, the history of the country, and Aboriginal culture, it would be really difficult to understand the nuances of the book.

    The “sorry I’m not American” thing is a snide nod to the fact that years ago most Australians didn’t think that our culture was very worthwhile and we had what was called a “cultural cringe”. People thought that only writers, artists, musicians, etc., from overseas were any good, and in order to be thought successful in Australia you had to make it big in America first. We still have a bit of that going on, which is what Barry is alluding to.

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    • June 23, 2013 at 11:04 pm

      I guess that being a foreigner reading in a foreign language didn’t help. I don’t know if it’s as puzzling for British readers for example.

      Thanks for the explanation about Barry’s comment. I know he was joking but this is not aimed at Australian readers since it’s an American edition.

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  9. June 23, 2013 at 8:52 am

    Sorry to know that you couldn’t finish this book, Emma. But glad to know that you still liked what you read. Hope you are able to pick this book again sometime and continue from where you left off. This rarely happens to me – I rarely abandon books, even those that I don’t like – but I can understand what must have happened. It is sad if we can’t do justice to a book and so it is better to postpone reading it to a different time.

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    • June 23, 2013 at 11:09 pm

      I hope it will be translated into French. I’ll have to try another of his books. Benang is available in French.

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  10. June 24, 2013 at 3:26 pm

    I got rid of my books in Italian because I found that I wasn’t quite good enough to do them justice, so I sympathise.

    I wouldn’t look to kindle for guidebooks. Kindles work well for books you read from beginning to end in a straightforward way, so novels or narrative histories or whatever, but very poorly when you need to use a book for reference. You can’t flick back and forth as you can with a hardcopy.

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    • June 24, 2013 at 9:07 pm

      I’m going to try an electronic guidebook. There’s a table of content. Since I carry around the kindle anyway, my backpack will be lighter and that’s tempting. I’ll let you know how it went.

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      • June 25, 2013 at 7:40 am

        I went to Japan with the guidebook – Rough Guide to Japan – on my Kindle. It was OK and I’d do it again rather than carry those darned heavy books, but the maps were not great. Kindle is not good for that sort of thing. On this years OS trip I have downloaded guidebooks onto the iPad. The maps are better and the bookmarking works well. I can bookmark the pages I want the night before and then find them easily as we tour around. I much prefer the Kindle for intensive reading but the iPad for books like this. So, my husband will have the small laptop (MacAir), and I will have the iPad and Kindle.

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        • June 25, 2013 at 9:40 pm

          Thanks for sharing your experience. I plan to have a paper map and an electronic guide. If it doesn’t work out, I’ll buy a paper guidebook when I’m there.

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          • June 26, 2013 at 12:07 am

            That sounds goddess … Do write up your experience. I think we are all enjoying working out how best to work e-books into our lives, aren’t we?

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            • June 26, 2013 at 10:49 pm

              I’ll think about it.

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              • June 27, 2013 at 3:29 am

                “goddess”? What was that autocorrect doing? And I have no idea what I intended now! I meant something like “sensible”!

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              • June 27, 2013 at 6:34 am

                Well, you can call me goddess any time, it doesn’t happen very often and it feels quite good, actually. 🙂
                I heard that we have a new French word for these automatic slips. It’s not in the dictionary yet. (The Académie Française decides what goes into the dictionary). It’s called “frapsus” and it’s made of “faute de frappe” (typo) and lapsus (slip). So it would be a typslip.

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