Reviewed by Wendy Lipke
Miki stepped into the bed of ashes and debris…Her mind skidded in and out of her body, remembering a different ruin and comparing it with this one…. In less than two years, she had completed a circle – twice now, finishing up with nothing except the clothes she is standing in.
She had been denied Freedom, Choice, Friendship, Self-determination and Courage, first by her parents and later by her brother, Kurt.
But she wasn’t the same person now, she was older and stronger, she had friends, new knowledge, more confidence. She knew she could start over. She knew that the important things in life couldn’t be seen or burned.
This story by Karen Viggers is about how Miki comes to the realisation that isolation wasn’t healthy and that people needed each other and they needed an opportunity to make their own choices and mistakes. But realising this and acting on it are two different things.
By following the two years in Miki’s life as she discovers this wisdom, Viggers touches on issues in domestic life that people like to hide. This is a story about bullying. Miki experiences bullying; Max, a young boy experiences bullying; several wives experience bullying as does Leon, the young park ranger who has just moved into a logging town in Tasmania. The setting of this book raises the issue of logging where families rely on this occupation to put food on the table for their families and where others are concerned with the indiscriminate logging of old forests and the destruction of habitat for the wildlife. Viggers also manages to weave into her story the plight of the Tasmanian Devils.
This is a story of the disconnect between parents and their children and the close community dynamics which are slow to allow others to be integrated into their midst. Leon has finally left home, believing that his mother no longer needed his protection from his father. This allows him the opportunity to re-connect with his grandfather enriching both of their lives. To try to fit into the town, he joins the local footy team where most of the players are brawny loggers, and view him as the enemy.
Max is still going to school but is being bullied by one of the bigger lads and coerced into stealing. His Dad, one of the loggers, is always yelling at him so he is drawn to Leon who is renting the house next door. His dog, Rosie, has had pups which disappeared and she is about to have pups again. Max has been told that Rosie was a bad mother so Max is doing all he can to ensure that the next lot of pups are kept safe.
Although this book has the title The Orchardist’s Daughter, the lives of these three characters are closely interwoven as Viggers creates her tale of friendship and determination which will eventually see Miki free to explore her own world and Leon to fit into and become accepted in this tiny town. I wondered about the title as only once in the book is there any mention of an orchard and then it is about Miki’s past, not part of her present journey.
Karen Viggers says “The Orchardist’s Daughter grew out of a sense of being an outsider – not necessarily being lonely or troubled, but just someone who can sometimes feel a little bit different…….” She says that this book is for anyone who, like her, has ever felt a little bit different or separate from anyone else or who has struggled to find their place in life. But it’s also for anyone who has an affinity with nature and feels humbled by forests, mountains and the wild and wishes to hold onto the majestic trees from the old forests. Other books by this author, also set in Australia, are the Stranding, The Lightkeeper’s wife and The Grass Castle.
I thoroughly enjoyed this story. Although life does not always seem fair, it is good to be reminded that we are responsible for our own path through life, and that we have the strength inside us to overcome most of the difficulties life throws at us if we would only reach out to others and accept their support. Karen Vigger’s characters do just this. This author writes an interesting story which has a deeper impact on the reader than just being a way to fill in a few hours. This is a book that a reader will remember.
Allen & Unwin