Swallow the Air follows the life of 15-year-old May Gibson, an Aboriginal girl from New South Wales whose mother commits suicide. May and her brother go to live with their aunt, but eventually May travels further afield, first to Redfern's Block in Sydney, then to the Northern Territory, and finally into central New South Wales. She travels to escape, but also in pursuit of a sense of her own history, family, and identity.
Unit Suitable For
AC: Year 11 (English Unit 2). Note: activities can be adapted for Year 10 or Year 12.
Aboriginality, belonging, change, discovery, family, identity, journey
Critical and creative thinking, Ethical understanding, Information and communication technology, Intercultural understanding, Literacy, Personal and social
In this essay Heiss discusses and explains the important role of anthologies in the creation of communities of writers and in acknowledging, consolidating and launching writing careers.
An introduction to Swallow the Air, this work was written for the Reading Australia project. Novelist Melissa Lucashenko writes: ‘when May Gibson's mother dies unexpectedly beneath the jacaranda tree in the backyard, and her small family disintegrates around her, May's search is not for her Aboriginality. It is, rather, for somewhere to belong as she used to belong in her mother's presence. For somewhere she can feel safe and whole, and simply be loved: probably the most universal of human quests.’
This review discusses Swallow the Air's narrative structure, characterisation and dialogue, and the prose style.