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by Joanne Fedler
About ten years ago, South African born Joanne Fedler wrote When Hungry, Eat – a most beautiful book – supposedly on losing weight for her 40th birthday but it was so much more. All about being Jewish, emigrating to Australia, leaving loved ones behind, remaking yourself. It was a standout book for me at the time.
Her new book, Unbecoming is a novel set in Australia which takes up on many of the themes she raised over a decade ago. It reads as though its autobiographical – the main character’s name is Jo, she’s emigrated from South Africa to Australia, is married with two grown children who still display pre-frontal cortex deficits and a lack of understanding of the basic math of consequence – but it is a work of fiction!
While on her three-month marriage-and-motherhood sabbatical in the country, Jo bumps into an old friend, Fiona, who invites her on a ‘sacred’, silent walk to mark her 57th birthday – the first since her husband Ben died. The last thing Jo wants is to share anything about herself – these are Fiona’s friends, not hers. And what’s she going to say? That her young adult children have made life choices she doesn’t understand? That she has no idea who she is anymore? That everything is falling apart – even her happy marriage to Frank?
But the unexpected intrusion of a stranger into their secret location unleashes powerful and conflicting emotions in each woman, provoking conversations and confidences that stray into the shadowlands of motherhood, the mysteries of midlife, the future of monogamy and Mother Earth.
Enjoyable, relatable, (“As soon as my periods stopped, without changing anything in my diet or lifestyle, five kilograms climbed on board like I was the last bus of the night.”) irreverent and at times even heart-breaking, Unbecoming is an engaging read for us over-50’s…
(And in a completely peculiar and no doubt unintended way, the book left me feeling relieved that I didn’t have to bring up teenagers in Australia!)
Unbecoming gives all the women who were teenagers in the ’80’s pause to consider our contributions, value our achievements, face what we’ve failed to do, and draw the breath we need to breathe into our children, who will carry the tools for making the world better, into the future for us – Karen Schimke, author of The Karen Book of Rules