Book Review — Too Afraid to Cry by Ali Cobby Eckermann

Too Afraid to Cry CoverThe Book…

Title: Too Afraid to Cry
Author: Ali Cobby Eckermann
Publisher: Navayana
Year: 2015 (Originally pubished by Ilura Press in 2012)
Price: INR 295/-

Too Afraid to Cry is a memoir by Yankunytjatjara poet and writer Ali Cobby Eckermann. The writing is sparse and the language is stark but don’t let the former mislead you or the latter deceive you.

Much can be said — and has been said — about literary critics either being too stubbornly difficult to please or, on the other extreme, being too quick to find, and in many cases supply, merit when there is none. My own opinion is that we are all entitled to our opinions!


That out of the way, I now profess my absolute adoration for Too Afraid to Cry. Is it profound? No. Is it elegant? No. Not really. Is it joyful? God, No. These are all the wrong questions. And if you are asking them, you’d better get another book. The hard reality is that very few lives, if any, are filled with profundity, elegance and happiness. These are, to modernise Hardy, only occasional episodes in the twelve season series of a painful drama called life. And as we run through the book’s pages, we realise that for Eckermann, an aboriginal in Australia ‘stolen‘ from her mother, happiness was but actually only a few fleeting scenes spread across multiple seasons.

Ali Cobby Eckermann

The prose is jarringly honest. It neither embellishes nor exaggerates. Her own rather unwise decisions, the failings of society and the racism of government policy are there for us to see in their naked form. (“‘Aboriginal families don’t care for their children.’ Where did those words come from? Who put that shit in my head?” Eckermann asks after seeing a happy Aboriginal family camping in a creek.) The poetry that intersperses the prose sections is equally unabashed. “I am white. I am grey. I am black.” She declares at one instance resolutely lashing out against the racial prejudices.

It is a brave and powerful memoir that can be completed in a single sitting. But the experience is more rewarding with breaks taken for reflection — a lot of details are left, I can only assume, for the reader to imagine and perhaps fill in — and for placing yourself in her context. I teared up a few times.

I am appending a poem from the book. I hope copyright would not be an issue.

I Tell You True

I can’t stop drinking, I tell you true
Since I watched my daughter perish
She burned to death inside a car
I lost what I most cherish
I saw the angels hold her
As I screamed with useless hope
I can’t stop drinking, I tell you true
It’s the only way I cope!

I can’t stop drinking, I tell you true
Since I found my sister dead
She hung herself to stop the rapes
I found her in the shed
The rapist bastard still lives here
Unpunished in this town
I can’t stop drinking, I tell you true
Since I cut her down.

I can’t stop drinking, I tell you true
Since my mother passed away.
They found her battered down the creek
I miss her more each day
My family blamed me for her death
Their words have made me wild
I can’t stop drinking, I tell you true
‘Cos I was just a child.

So, if you see someone like me
Who’s drunk and loud and cursing
Don’t judge too hard, you never know
What sorrows we are nursing.