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The Road from Coorain ()

Vintage Books List of the Best Reading Group Books

Jill Ker Conway was born in 1934 in Hillston, New South Wales, Australia.  This memoir takes her from her birth up to her departure for graduate school in America; she would go on to become the first woman president of Smith College.

I very much liked the first section of the book, which describes her young girlhood on a 30,000 acre sheep station in the Australian outback.  It has much of the elegiac yearning of books like How Green Was My Valley (1939)(Richard Llewellyn 1906-1983) and West With the Night (1941) (Beryl Markham  1902-1986).  But as the book goes along it really takes on a sort of self pitying tone that I found a bit hard to take.  In particular, she complains several times about how they weren't taught in school about how badly the aborigines were treated and the precipitating cause of her flight from Australia is an incident that she attributes to pure sexism.  But in general, the story seems to be saying, "Look at all I achieved despite my hard scrabble upbringing out in the bush."  Meanwhile, the girlhood she describes, while it does seem a little lonely and quite taxing physically, comes across as nearly idyllic and an ideal background for future self reliance and achievement.  Add to that the relative wealth that her family eventually accumulates and the fortuitous appearance of scholarship money at opportune moments and I have trouble seeing what she has to complain about, other than a quarrelsome, but obviously lonely, mother.

She had me early, but lost me later--a half good book.


Grade: (C)


Book-related and General Links:
    -MIT Coop: Jill Ker Conway
    -INTERVIEW: REFLECTIONS ON AUTOBIOGRAPHY (The NewsHour with Jim Lehrer Transcript)
    -INTERVIEW:  When Memory Speaks: Reflections on Autobiography. Jill Ker Conway  (BOOKNOTES,  C-SPAN)
    -FIRST CHAPTER: When Memory Speaks: Reflections on Autobiography. Author: Jill Ker Conway
    -TEACHERS GUIDE: The Road from Coorain by Jill Ker Conway (Vintage Books)
    -READING GROUP GUIDE: The Road from Coorain by Jill Ker Conway (Vintage Books)
    -WEBRARY : 1995 Book Discussions: Road from Coorain
    -REVIEW: of THE ROAD FROM COORAIN (Verlyn Klinkenborg, NY Times Book Review)
    -REVIEW: of TRUE NORTH A Memoir (Carol Brightman, NY Times Book Review)
    -REVIEW: of WHEN MEMORY SPEAKS  (Deborah McDowell , NY Times Book Review)
    -READING GROUP GUIDE: True North by Jill Ker Conway (Vintage Books)