Beautiful Grit: Foreign Soil

 Foreign Soil by Maxine Beneba Clarke

A desperate asylum seeker is pacing the hallways of Sydney’s notorious Villawood detention centre, a seven-year-old Sudanese boy has found solace in a patchwork bike, an enraged black militant is on the war-path through the rebel squats of 1960s’ Brixton, a Mississippi housewife decides to make the ultimate sacrifice to save her son from small-town ignorance, a young woman leaves rural Jamaica in search of her destiny, and a Sydney schoolgirl loses her way.

First Impressions: The first story, David, had me hooked. I kept turning the pages just knowing it was going to be an upsetting (I have a son) yet worthwhile read. I liked the juxtoposition between the two characters’ stories too. I didn’t realise this was a technique the author excelled in.

Highlights: There is no weak story in this collectioin. All of the stories were thought provoking and I was always torn between pausing for a while after each story to reflecct, and charging on to the next story. Some stories like Hope were excellent but I wasn’t necessarily moved by the ending, and the tititular story, Foreign Soil, was not necessarily moving until the end. However, in all situations the stories were brilliant. Do I have a favourite story? Maybe Foreign Soil but I did enjoy the 90s pop culture references in Shu Yi.

What I loved most about this collection is that the stories are ordered like this for a reason. I have assumed this about other collections in the past but this collection just works so well. One example is that the patois in some stories increases in complexity as the stories progress. It seemed to me that the slang in each story is particular to the context. I may be wrong about this as I kept moving to the next story and didn’t have time to think about it further but from what I could gather, this really added to my enjoyment.

If I was an editor: I would want to know when the author can have her next short story collection ready to publish?

Overall: I never thought a short story collection could be such a page turner. Oh so compelling!

Foreign Soil: 5 Stars