The Girl Who Fell From The Sky

Heidi Durrow’s first novel The Girl Who Fell From The Sky won the 2010 Bellwether Prize, the brainchild of author Barbara Kingsolver and which seeks to reward previously unpublished novels exploring themes of social justice. Durrow’s novel explores themes of race and identity through the telling of Rachel’s story, the daughter of a Danish woman and an African-American GI. The narrative is woven out of multiple voices, those of Rachel, a boy named Jamie, Rachel’s mother Nella and Nella’s employer Laronne. The shifts in voice are also coupled with shifts in time and Durrow utilises analepsis and prolepsis so deftly that the tension of the narrative gradually and temptingly tightens until the reader seems unable to put the book down. At least that was my experience. I read the book in one sitting. The narrative begins with Rachel moving to live with her paternal Grandmother and we are aware that there has been an event or an accident that has necessitated this move and of which Rachel is the only survivor. This accident forms the centre of the narrative and the tension that drives it. The move to her Grandmother’s house likewise forces Rachel to confront her race, where she must accept that people view her as black despite her having never questioned the colour of her skin and despite the fact that her mother, with whom she has spent the majority of her life, is a white Danish woman. Durrow not only implicates questions of skin colour but also of language and culture within Rachel’s story. Racism and racial stereotyping are crimes committed by both blacks and whites alike in this book and in ways that are at times overt and at others worryingly nuanced. Yet for all the weight that is associated with these kinds of themes, Durrow in fact writes fiction that is in so many ways light and easily digestible. The reader isn’t required to think too deeply or in ways that are overly abstract which is not to say that it is not good fiction, rather it works to Durrow’s advantage because it allows her to transmit ideas and opinions on issues that are profoundly important and prevalent in today’s society. Yet for all that this novel is worth, I found it almost too easliy digestible. It left me with a nice enough proverbial taste in the mouth but I felt that not much had been required to get me there, I hadn’t had to struggle too much with it and I think that is where this novel is left wanting. Afterall it is one thing to raise awareness of issues such as racism but another to have a novel that works on more levels than just the themes it gives representation to.

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