The award places Cunningham in the ranks of Pulitzer Prize winning authors like William Styron and Horton Foote.
Hillsborough, NC (Vocus) December 9, 2008
As the world watches India and Pakistan sort through Mumbai’s wreckage and the continuing mass murders by Sudanese forces, Message Stick, an award-winning novel, reveals that genocide can happen even in the most developed nations. The trauma of Australia’s Stolen Generation touched on in Baz Luhrmann’s movie Australia comes to life in this novel, showing the real repercussions of a government policy that lasted until the early 1970s.
The novel’s protagonist is a biracial Aborigine who was removed from his family under the government’s assimilation policy. Although touted as a measure to “save a dying race” by integrating Aboriginal youth into European society, the policy was brutal. Welfare officials stole children from school classrooms without notifying parents. Newborns were whisked from hospital wards before mothers held them even once. And on Aboriginal land reserves, armed government officials conducted sweeps to yank children from the arms of their parents.
Only biracial and light-skinned children were targeted. The focus on these particular children was intended to assist with eliminating any traces of Aboriginal blood. Sketches of how each generation would look progressively less Aboriginal and progressively more European were included in official manuals. By encouraging these children to marry white partners, it was hoped that the race would disappear within three generations.
Although the posses that had hunted the clans during the opening decades of the century were no longer allowed, the welfare agents often used force. Parents who refused to let go of their children were shot in the arm or leg. The brutality against the stolen children took many forms. In orphanages and missions across the nation, they were beaten, flogged, sexually abused, and hired out as slave laborers to local ranches.
In Message Stick, Gabriel Branch returns to the outback for the first time in over forty years. While searching for his best friend, he draws the attention of a Pitjantjatjara shaman who loots ancestral sites for objects to sell on the black market. Since the shaman was also caught up in the early years of the assimilation policy, the government’s attempt at genocide is portrayed in detail.
All of Cunningham’s work helps people cross the boundaries of race, culture and belief that cause so much global strife. A recent study by New America Media, a national association of ethnic media organizations that promotes better race relations, found that even in America, minorities harbor a high level of distrust for each other.
The study goes beyond the traditional white-versus-minority tensions so often discussed in the news. It reveals that African-Americans, Hispanics and Asian people avoid each other. Message Stick comes at a time when the need for fiction that presents the real people behind universal issues is critical for world peace.
The book has already won two national-level awards. The James Jones Literary Society awarded a fellowship because Message Stick follows the “spirit of unblinking honesty” for which author James Jones was known. Jones wrote From Here to Eternity and Thin Red Line. The annual Hackney Literary Award also selected Message Stick as a first-place winner. The committee said, “The award places Cunningham in the ranks of Pulitzer Prize winning authors like William Styron and Horton Foote.”
As part of her research for this book, Cunningham spent six months camping in the outback alone. She learned to play the didgeridoo, heard oral tellings of Aboriginal stories, and met members of the Stolen Generation and people from different tribes.
A book study guide that focuses on the Stolen Generation is now available at http://www.LaineCunningham.com. The website also contains an interview with the author, an excerpt from the novel, and a limited-time free download of the e-book. The print version will be released in January of 2009.
Laine Cunningham’s next book details the ancient lessons Dreamtime tales offer modern people from every nation. For author appearances, contact Laine at 336-267-6572. For book orders and media kits, contact Tracey Yellowhorse, book manager for Sun Dogs Creations, at 919-644-1807.