The Road from Coorain by Jill Ker Conway
I had never heard of Ker Conway before reading her story, although I probably should have as she’s an accomplished scholar and was the first female president of Smith College. Her academic prominence is all the more impressive after learning about her background growing up on a remote Australian sheep farm.
Her harsh and lonely upbringing changes after the deaths of her father and brother, and her mother’s downward spiral into depression, and when she is 11 she is sent to boarding school in Sydney. She continues to experience academic success through her studies at the University of Sydney, and the memoir ends with her departure for America and the history program at Harvard.
It’s a beautifully written memoir, that handles incredibly difficult experiences with finesse. Her depictions of the Australian Outback are vivid, as are the less-flattering descriptions of the Australian chauvinism and narrow-mindedness towards intellectuals (especially female intellectuals). Overall her story is powerful and inspiring.
From the shelter of a protective family, to the lessons of tragedy and independence, this is an indelible portrait of a harsh and beautiful country and the inspiring story of a remarkable woman’s life.
If you like Ker Conway’s story, it continues in True North: A Memoir.
To see all the books featured in 31 Days of Great Nonfiction Reads, go to the series page.
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