Title: The Paperbark Shoe
Author: Goldie Goldbloom
Publisher: Picador Books
Genre: Literary Fiction
PP: 384 pages
Set in Australia during World War II, “The Paperbark Shoe” is ostensibly the story of Gin Boyle Toad, an Albino woman, who has married beneath her social class in order to escape being institutionalized for life. Although a trained classical pianist and a member of the moneyed class, Gin is an outsider because of her pigmentation. Her husband, Mr. Adolphus Toad, is a crude farmer of short stature who has some unusual proclivities; his size and oddities place him outside conventional society. Antonio and John, two Italian prisoners-of-war, are participants in a worker program designed to aid Australian farmers. Outsiders because of their nationality and because they are the enemy, the two integrate their lives into those of the Boyle household. Yet, they are never fully accepted as part of the family unit and remain aware of their outsider status. As outside observers, the two surviving Boyle children, Mudsey and Alf, are affected by and comment on the adults’ interactions.
Goldbloom’s command of language is extraordinary. In relating his story, she is able to make the reader empathize with even the despicable Toad. Goldbloom’s description of the things Gin has learned since coming to Wyalkatchem, page 35 in the ARC, is a powerful testament to the strength required to survive in the harsh Australian ranchlands. One can feel the pride Gin takes in her accomplishments, though that pride is tinged with despair. Even as Toad and John, and Gin and Antonio establish relationships, they remain outside the conventions of polite society. Goldbloom draws the reader into those relationships, their joys and their sorrows.
This novel flows smoothly from beginning until it reaches its final chapter. Only there do the scenario and plot seem to become disjointed from that of the main text. It is almost as if the chapter had been written at another time and tacked onto the book’s end. While it is a powerful text, in and of itself, I do not think the book would have suffered without the inclusion of that final chapter. Nevertheless, this is a wonderful novel and richly deserves a five-star rating. If you are looking for an interesting, character driven book which will keep your attention from beginning to end, I urge you to read Goldie Goldbloom’s “The Paperbark Shoe.”