“The Interrogation of Ashala Wolf” by Ambelin Kwaymullina (2012)
Almost all of the books I read are recommendations… this one, three times over. First, the bookshop owner in Huskisson, on the NSW south coast, who likes to keep me abreast of the popular sellers in her gorgeous little shop whenever I visit (Boo Books, on the main street). Second, by my book recommending hero, Helen Sykes, at the ETA branch meeting in term 2. And finally, Jane Sherlock, at the Oxford University Press Education Conference, who described it as a dystopian fiction with a difference… and how right she was.
To start, I have to say that I think dystopian fiction is well and truly ‘flavour of the month’. In fact, it is so ‘on-trend’ that I think it is at risk of becoming a turn off for young adult readers. Personally, I wouldn’t dream of stocking my book room with anything that ‘all the kids are reading’ and right now, most of the kids are reading dystopian fiction (unless they’re reading John Green).
However, and it’s a big however, “The Interrogation of Ashala Wolf” is a book that I think would be a great asset in any book room. The novel starts off in such a unique way that I was left quite off-balance. In fact, after 3 or 4 pages I stopped reading and checked online that I hadn’t accidentally started reading the sequel. Kwaymullina has plonked her reader smack, bang, in the middle of the story and once you understand why you really appreciate the cleverness of the discontinuous narrative. Yes, it is a post-apocalyptic society in which the ‘other’ is unacceptable and control is everything. Yes, our heroine, Ashala, has a special gift and has to fight for her freedom. But comparisons to other stories with these themes would not be doing this book justice.
Kwaymullina is from the Palyku people of the Pilbara region in Western Australia, and this story offers a distinctly modern, powerfully effective sense of the dreamtime and humanity’s connection with the land. Ashala and all of her fellow ‘Illegals’ each have a connection with an animal. Ashala, as the title implies, with wolves. But she has a strong connection with the land as well, and has found refuge in the Firstwood, where she and her tribe have a pact with the saurs that allows them to live in peace. But they threaten the Balance (of society) and so they are being hunted by the Citizens. Well, one Citizen in particular…
Frustratingly, this is very obviously the first book in a series. Always a bit off-putting when I’m considering books for the book room. But in its favour, this is a very different book, and one that the students, at least at my school, are not already devouring, which makes it appealing. Further, it offers an opportunity to explore indigenous aspects in a meaningful and contextual way within a novel study. Book Two is published – The Disappearance of Amber Crow – and I am certainly keen to read it.
I thoroughly recommend this book.