Powerful Books from Indigenous Authors

Powerful Books from Indigenous Authors

Last year I challenged myself to read more books by authors from different backgrounds to myself. Some were recommendations from friends, and some were recommended to me on the StoryGraph. Embarking on this challenge led me on the most wonderful journey through different stories from authors all around the world. As my previous book review article was so popular, I wanted to share my favourites from this quest with you too. There is a variety of lengths and writing styles, and therefore hopefully something that everyone can enjoy.

First, a little about StoryGraph. It’s a free and slick GoodReads alternative (not owned by Amazon) renowned for its amazing and spot-on recommendations. Previously I’ve showcased their fab service, as well as highlighting some of the known troubles with GoodReads. I promise they’re not paying me to yabber on about them, I just think they’re great.

Now, onto the books! Here are the best from my quest:

One Story, One Song by Richard Wagamese

One Story, One Song cover showing silhouette of an eagle in flight
Image credit: Waterstones

Let’s start with the award-winning One Story, One Song by Richard Wagamese, a native Canadian. This collection of autobiographical short stories and musings frequently draws on native teachings and traditional fables. Wagamese himself went from Ojibwe family beginnings to growing up in the care system and struggling with homelessness as a young adult. Eventually, he re-discovers his native roots in later life and we are taken on this journey with him. The recounts of his tumultuous life are interspersed with calming Ojibwe teachings and gorgeous descriptions of his growing relationship with nature.

I found this book informative about indigenous issues and how these can persist through generations and during individual lives. Despite some of his experiences being a little melancholy, this collection is a hopeful one overall. The traditional native stories are incredibly soothing and this book left me with a sense of peace. The short chapters also make it accessible and easy to pick up and put down. I’ll certainly be adding more books from Wagamese to my ‘to read’ list.

One Story One Song is available in print

Sabrina & Corina by Kali Fajardo-Anstine

Sabrina and Corina cover showing a woman with a red rose in her hair
Image credit: Blackwells

Next up is Sabrina and Corina by multi-award-winning novelist Kali Fajardo-Anstine. Fajardo-Anstine is an American woman with Latino, Indigenous, and Filipino family roots. These influences are evident in her books which predominantly feature Latin and Native American women as main characters. Sabrina and Corina is no exception, with its tales of Latina women of indigenous heritage living in modern Denver, Colorado. Each chapter presents like a short story from the perspectives of different characters, some of which intertwine.

Some of the experiences and events are quite sad, but this was matched by the strength and solidarity of the characters. I found this book to be a relatively easy read, and as with the previous book the short (and mostly unrelated) chapters made it easy to dip in and out of.

Buy Sabrina and Corina in print or audio

Follow the Rabbit-Proof Fence by Doris Pilkington Garimara

Follow The Rabbit-Proof Fence cover showing three young girls holding hands in the empty Australian outback
Image credit: Blackwells

Now we have a must read – Follow the Rabbit-Proof Fence by Doris Pilkington Garimara. This relatively short tale is the remarkable true story of three Aboriginal Australian children. They successfully trekked almost 1000 miles on foot to return home from a government-run camp. Yes, you read that right. These incredible girls escaped the settlement in Western Australia in 1931 and made it home to their families. More surprising than their journey is the story of how they came to be in the camp in the first place.

Before reading this book I had no idea that Aboriginal children in Australia were forcibly taken from their families. Shockingly, they were transported to camps that forced them to adopt white settler behaviours and practices. Written by the daughter of one of the girls, it has since been made into an award-winning feature film. I found this book equally humbling and captivating, and finished it feeling like it was essential reading. This unforgettable tale’s relatively shorter length and more accessible writing style make it a good place to start on this list if you’re unsure.

Buy Follow the Rabbit-Proof Fence in print or audio

There There by Tommy Orange

There There cover, showing two bird feathers
Image credit: AbeBooks

There There by Tommy Orange. Orange is a citizen of the Cheyenne and Arapaho native American Tribes, and his debut novel There There simply had to make it onto this list. Inspired by his own work in a digital storytelling booth for Native American experiences, this book follows the stories of twelve people who are either Native American or who are close to people who are. It begins with a factual essay by Orange detailing challenges experienced by these population groups. Next, it embarks on the twelve intertwining fictional stories. The characters range from a modern-day teenager discovering his culture, to a family occupying Alcatraz prison in the late 1960s (based on real events).

The characters felt very real to me, and so this book gave life to the challenges faced by indigenous groups I am learning about. This novel poignantly showcases previously ‘invisible’ experiences and people, and how powerful connecting with culture can be.

There There is available in print

Potiki by Patricia Grace

Potiki cover, showing traditional Maori art of people and wooden carvings
Image credit: World of Books

Last (but definitely not least) a short hop across the Pacific takes us to the beautiful Potiki by Māori author Patricia Grace. This utterly compelling fictional tale tells the story of a Māori community and their opposition to a private company purchasing and redeveloping their ancestral land. The book title can mean ‘youngest child’ and the central character Toko has the gift of foresight for the unfolding events. We follow the story from the perspectives of him and his family, and from the outset you are absorbed into traditional practices, customs, and ways of thinking. The narrative style is mythical, spiritual, and completely timeless.

I loved seeing the Māori words used throughout and experiencing the world through the characters’ eyes. I found it to be inspiring and uplifting, and evocative throughout. Potiki truly changed my perspective of what it means to belong to a community. This little book stayed with me for many months after I read it.

Buy Potiki in print or audio

To see more of what I read, follow me on The Storygraph. Do you have other books to recommend? Share them in the comments as I’m always after more gems to get stuck into.

Stefanie

Stefanie

Stef is a medical doctor and public health specialist, with a passion for the prevention of illness. When she isn't working at her day job or trying to keep her plants alive, she often has her nose in a book or goes for a walk with an audiobook for company.

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