four-stars
Bookmarks Issue: 
41-July-Aug-2009
By: 
Chloe Hooper
user_rating: 
0

The Death of Doomadgee

A-Tall ManAustralian author Chloe Hooper’s first novel, A Child›s Book of True Crime, about a young schoolteacher’s affair, was a New York Times Notable Book and was short-listed for the UK’s Orange Prize.

The Topic: In 2004 on Palm Island, an Aboriginal community in northern Australia, a 36-year-old indigenous man, Cameron Doomadgee, was arrested for drunkenly swearing at white police officer Christopher Hurley (the six-foot-seven-inch "tall man"). Within the hour, Doomadgee died in jail from internal injuries. A riot ensued, Hurley’s home was burned to the ground, and Hurley became the first policeman in Australia ever to be charged with the death of a prisoner in custody. Hooper, asked to write about the case by the lawyer representing Doomadgee’s family, examines the two-year trial that followed. In so doing, she explores Aboriginal life—from unemployment to violence, alcoholism, racism by whites, and the ultimate quest for justice for Australia’s "original sin."
Scribner. 272 pages. $24. ISBN: 1416561595

Cleveland Plain Dealer 4 of 5 Stars
"Hooper’s fine and compassionate book enlightens readers but offers no redemption. Governments and authority figures continue to pay for the sins of their past and, even while claiming the best intentions, sin again." Kristin Ohlson

New York Times 4 of 5 Stars
"Tall Man will pull you in atom by atom, and haunt you for a quite inappropriate length of time. … Ms. Hooper tells this story carefully and ingeniously, constantly turning it over to explore new facets. She sees the world through alert, appraising eyes." Dwight Garner

NY Times Book Review 4 of 5 Stars
"Hooper followed the case and its main characters for two and a half years, and she does their complexity a remarkable justice. … And though there is no resolution, she makes of it all an extraordinary whole."Alison McCulloch

New Yorker 3.5 of 5 Stars
"Through the story of the manslaughter trial, Hooper lays bare Australia’s institutional racism and the grim conditions of Aboriginal life there. A novelist, she finds a muscular music even when confronting sordid truths."

Critical Summary

Critics agree that Tall Man is true-crime journalism at its finest. While Hooper, who admittedly knew little about Aboriginal life before researching the topic, focuses much of the book on the manslaughter trial, she tells a much wider story about centuries of Aboriginal life, government policies, and historic injustices. Thoughtful and compassionate, the book is also fast paced as Hooper becomes immersed in the community on Palm Island, especially in the Doomadgee clan. While she didn’t have access to Hurley, she talked to his colleagues in order to try to understand all perspectives of the story. In the end, Hooper concludes, "I had wanted to know more about my country, and now I did—now I knew more than I wanted to."