Tuesday, May 28, 2024

Review – The Archipelago Of Us

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Serena Kirby, ARR.News
Serena Kirby, ARR.Newshttps://www.instagram.com/serenakirbywa/
Serena Kirby is a freelance reporter, writer and photographer based in regional Western Australia. With a background in public relations, education and tourism she’s had 30 years experience writing and photographing for local, national and international publications. Her current focus is on sharing stories from the sticks; its people, places and products and the life that lies beyond the city limits. She enjoys living in a small town while raising a tall teenager.
The Archipelago of Us cove

I read a lot of books (and I mean a lot) and every now and then I come across one that stands out. The Archipelago of Us is one of those books.

Written by Renee Pettitt-Schipp, this highly polished memoir is the author’s first work of prose. Renee’s previous book was an award-winning collection of poems written in response to her time (2011-2014) working as a teacher of refugee children in detention on Christmas and Cocos (Keeling) Islands.

This new book is a travel narrative that recounts Renee’s 2016 return trip to the Indian Ocean Territories (“a complex and beautiful place”) and it’s hard not to fall in love with the paradise she describes in such exquisite detail, almost from a microscopic perspective.

Descriptions such as that of the aquatic Grotto “… before me a luminous, liquid, aquamarine jewel is set into the floor of this small limestone cave,” and how she describes the landscape and the flora and fauna clearly show her poetic prowess. The picture she paints of a land of pandanus, frangipanis, coral reefs and swimming in water as warm as “a child’s bath” made me want to pack my bags and book a flight. 

It’s fair to say that when this book starts it’s easy to be lulled into a sense of calm, wonder and delight but as the chapters progress there’s a shift from the beauty that surrounds Renee to the real reason for her trip and the story she needed to tell.  Renee eloquently describes this need to write as, “This story sat in my body like a living thing willing to be born, each time drawing me back to my desk”.

Renee had been haunted by the memories of what she saw and learnt when she was first on the islands in regards to Australia’s handling of asylum-seeking refugees arriving by boat. Renee points out that seeking asylum is legal in Australia but that many consider the act of seeking asylum by boat as illegal. This complex concept is wrapped in policies and politics, in prejudice and public perception and this book explores many of the layers surrounding this issue.

Renee returned to the islands to try and understand her feelings about how Australia treats asylum seekers and to put these things under the same microscope she uses to convey the physical beauty of the islands. It is a strong and sharp juxtaposition. 

There is a harrowing account of the 2010 boat tragedy where 50 lives were lost, told by someone who was there, and stories of countless other souls lost in the pursuit of refuge, safety and freedom. 

This book is also well researched and Renee also conducted numerous interviews with people on the island, including local identities, to gain a broader understanding and perspective. At times the weight of what she learns leaves her “broken wide open” and readers will be touched by Renee’s honesty and bravery in speaking up and speaking out.

There’s no doubt this book demands a great deal from the reader and there are likely to be aspects that some will find challenging and uncomfortable as it questions who we are as a nation and the ‘Fair Go’ image that we love to portray. 

This book is carefully crafted, thought-provoking and enlightening. Renee may be classed as an ‘emerging writer’ but this work is more of the calibre of a seasoned author than a literary newbie. 

The Archipelago Of Us is a must-read for general readers and anyone interested in Australian national identity, politics, humanitarian issues and social justice. Five Stars!

Author: Renee Pettitt-Schipp
Publisher: Fremantle Press
ISBN:  9 781760 992224 
Buy through Booktopia

This book review is supported by the Copyright Agency’s Cultural Fund.


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