Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Julie's Review: The Paperbark Shoe

The Paperbark Shoe Summary: Winner of the 2008 AWP Award for the Novel. From 1941 to 1947, eighteen thousand Italian prisoners of war were sent to Australia. The Italian surrender that followed the downfall of Mussolini had created a novel circumstance: prisoners who theoretically were no longer enemies. Many of these exiles were sent to work on isolated farms, unguarded. The Paperbark Shoe is the unforgettable story of Gin Boyle—an albino, a classically trained pianist, and a woman with a painful past. Disavowed by her wealthy stepfather, her unlikely savior is the farmer Mr. Toad—a little man with a taste for women's corsets. Together with their two children, they weather the hardship of rural life and the mockery of their neighbors. But with the arrival of two Italian prisoners of war, their lives are turned upside down. Thousands of miles from home, Antonio and John find themselves on Mr. and Mrs. Toad's farm, exiles in the company of exiles. The Paperbark Shoe is a remarkable novel about the far-reaching repercussions of war, the subtle violence of displacement, and what it means to live as a captive—in enemy country, and in one's own skin. ~amazon.com

Review: I wanted to love this book, but I didn't. I liked it but in the end I really just wanted to find out what happened to Gin. I wanted to skip to the ending to find out her fate, but I didn't. I read all the meat in the middle as well. The Paperbark Shoe is a story of being an outcast and being different in a world that doesn't understand those differences. Gin Boyle is an Albino who marries a farmer in rural Australia and ends up falling in love with one of their Italian POWs. Now, this wasn't a surprise just based on what I had read but there are a few twists that I didn't see coming.

I didn't find any of the characters particularly likable or redeemable. Toad was a gross, disgusting man and it had nothing to do with the fact that he liked men. Gin was so unhappy in her path in life that she couldn't see that she was nothing more than a mere distraction for Antonio. She neglected her children and her husband. I didn't get swept up in the romance of the story because I could see how it was going to end. Toad treated his wife not as a partner but as a house keeper and cook. He thought she should be grateful that he rescued her from her depressing existence.

Gin needed to learn to love herself and the fact that she was different. She could never embrace that she was albino and how that made her unique. She was a gifted pianist, well educated and abused. She was abused and ridiculed by her step father. We never really did find out what happened to her mother but I figured that she died.

I love it when love triumphs but here that didn't happen for any of the characters. They were all stuck because they didn't know how to or want to get out of their current situations. I understand that there are many people in this world and more than likely in remote parts of a country that just accepts their lot in life without knowledge of anything else. This is not the case with these characters. They had the chance to do things differently, to improve their lives but they didn't want to. They wanted to stay angry at each other and carry on with their current state of living. In other words, none of the characters grew. They were extremely selfish. Gin was emotionally abusive to her kids by not giving them the love and attention they needed to grow into healthy young adults. She was too self-centered in her own lust of Antonio to give anything to anyone else.

I'm sure that not all the Italian POWs fell in love or lust with the farmer's wife and that some of them did their penance and went back to Italy to their families or their former lives. I knew that Antonio wasn't trustworthy the minute he stepped on the farm and Gin was too naive and too love starved to see the truth.

I enjoyed reading about the Australian countryside and how they held POWs from Italy during World War II. How they made them work the land for little more than food and shelter. You wonder if in the current political climate if this would happen or if it would be deemed cruel.

If you are looking for more of a historical take on the POWs in Australia then look elsewhere. If you want to read a book that takes place during historical events but centers on outcasts and how they destroy themselves, then The Paperbark Shoe is for you.

Final Take:
3/5

Thanks to the publisher for sending me an ARC copy of this book to read and review.


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