The Earth Cries Out

The Earth Cries Out

By  Bonnie Etherington

Fresh, different and exquisitely written, this is an exciting debut novel.

Fresh, different and exquisitely written, this is an exciting debut novel.

One day we were in a dream world, where Julia was dead and the space where she once was became large and silent, and then we were in another country altogether — where stories and voices made their way into our house any way they could. They heaved under the floorboards, whispered in the windows. Creaked in the attic like a python grown too big on rats. And I collected them all to fill that silence Julia left.

After the accidental death of Ruth's five-year-old sister, their father decides that atonement and healing are in order, and that taking on aid work in a mountain village in Irian Jaya is the way to find it. It is the late 1990s, a time of civil unrest and suppression in the Indonesian province now known as West Papua.

The family drops into what seems the middle of nowhere, where they experience a vibrant landscape, an ever-changing and disorientating world, and — for Ruth — new voices. While her parents find it a struggle to save themselves, let alone anyone else, Ruth seeks redemption in bearing witness to and passing on the stories of those who have been silenced — even as she is haunted by questions about what it means to witness and who gets to survive.

Extract

In the Beginning

Nelson, New Zealand

 

Here Julia and I are, down by the creek below the yellow house the last summer she is with us. Picking at sandfly bites on our shins, our hair damp and coiled on our necks. Hair cut short like boys’ because it is easier for our mother, and our father says it will keep the devil and bad men away. I, eight, and knowing all about what can lurk in the smooth depths. Julia, five, already wanting to see. Both of us shocking ourselves in the cold, knees hunched to our chests, curling against thoughts of dark bodies of eels slipping down in the darker and darker green. Flat grey rocks in the sun where we lie like chicken thighs bumped together in a pan, burning pink patches on our backs, then jumping into the water to shock ourselves pale again. Warm skin, cool milk in glass bottles, the bees in the weeds.

Also by Bonnie Etherington