Book review: This Way of Life by Sumner Burstyn

This book is in bookstores now

A candid and easy read that gives an interesting insight into a way of life that most of us would consider if not reckless, than at least uncomfortable.

The Ottley-Karena family certainly do seem to flourish with the simpler things in life – no mention of television or PlayStation – or even the Internet among these pages. No, these children live a life more like their ancestors – living off the land, learning through experiences, not Wikipedia  and developing stronger, caring relationships with the animals and the land around them.

It is a beautiful book to look at – large size, with a rather cute and well dressed long-haired boy on the cover – well dressed despite the fact he’s holding a chicken by its feet. Inside the text is large and easy to read, and the pictures are glossy and plentiful – even if they do not always directly relate to the story that is being told.

The book is entirely in present tense, which is a little confusing because it is, of course, about past events, and obviously much of it has been written in consultation with the family themselves – for there are many mentions of “Peter says…” or “Welly says…” This, I feel, hindered the narrative somewhat, but I quickly got used to it.

The events in the families life are a bit harrowing at times – and Colleen (the mother’s) practice of explaining the risks and then letting the children make their own decisions seemed actually quite a sound one. As long as they were not going to get themselves killed (and they didn’t), it puts them in control and ultimately teaches them responsibility.

Peter’s accident while horse mustering was about as harrowing as this story got. Otherwise, it seemed pretty lightweight, almost romanticised. The relationship that the family have with horses was a lovely one – the way the horses trust them and they treat them with all the respect that they would a treasured friend. Learning about their horse-“breaking” (it’s whispering, really), was truly heart-warming.

I believe this would be a good book for the younger reader, as the writing style is fairly simplistic and given that the majority of the family are children, it is one that might open the city youth of today to a simpler, less materialistic way of thinking.

Reviewed by Angela Oliver

This Way of Life
by Sumner Burstyn
Published by HarperCollins
ISBN 9781869509644

2 thoughts on “Book review: This Way of Life by Sumner Burstyn

  1. This style of story or documentary; white boy raised by natives, gone bush living an idyllic life in paradisical surroundings, overcoming challenging struggles and in conflict with the evil (insert the bad guy’s name here). It’s a common storyline, that sells well. But demonizing a member of your family to make a more engaging story.. for thousands of strangers to cheer at. Takes the ‘glow’ off this tale. I’m a Karena, here is the side to the tale that was repressed:

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