Cowrie continues her journey

Issue 

Cowrie continues her journey

The Journey Home
By Cathie Dunsford — Spinifex Press, 1997. 301 pp., $16.95 (pb)

Review by Carla Gorton

Cathie Dunsford's second novel, The Journey Home, takes her central character, Cowrie, on a journey which mirrors Dunsford's own experiences teaching creative writing at university in Aotearoa (New Zealand) and as a Fulbright post-doctoral scholar at the University of California in Berkeley.

The Journey Home lovingly deals with the complex issues of sexuality, racism, feminism, academia and the effects of colonisation. It is beautifully written, with Maori, Hawaiian and native American dialogue woven through it.

At times, however, it is hard not to feel that the central female characters are just a bit too articulate, wise and generous. The conflict and pain in the book are always surmounted and the healing process is always instructive. Has Dunsford's life been so blessed?

Nevertheless, if the optimistic tone provides the reader with a little pleasure and confidence (particularly against the harsh backdrop of present-day economic restructuring and the misery it causes), then why not?

The Journey Home is a contemporary feminist cross-cultural tale with an emphasis on grassroots community action. Many themes run through it, including the tension between activism for social change and academic life.

Frustrated by trying to fit her South Pacific lesbian writing into the current post-modernist mould, Cowrie begins to challenge the women's studies and lesbian studies course coordinators at her university. In the process, she delves into major debates and issues for many feminist students.

At one point, for example, Cowrie argues with her supervisor: "But Rita, I know you privately agree that the predominance of theory over primary texts has become outrageous in recent years, that we have abandoned the activism and original creative writers for reactive theorists who earn big bickies for generating an industry around their own careers. How can you live with supporting the status quo?"

Apart from her passion for life and the politics of struggle, Cowrie's love of food adds to the sensual nature of the book.

Having tired a little two-thirds of the way through it (the characters are sometimes predictable), I put the book down for a while. Returning to it later, the beautiful language and imagery brought fresh pleasure.