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Payu’s Journey, by R. Lawson Gamble – book review by Fred Patten


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Submitted by Fred Patten, Furry’s favorite historian and reviewer.

payus-front-2.jpg?resize=256%2C375Payu’s Journey, by R. Lawson Gamble. Map.
Los Alamos, CA, Rich Gamble Associates, November 2016, trade paperback $19.98 ([4 +] 91 pages), Kindle $2.99)

This is an oversized 8½” x 11” All Ages book, which means that it is written for Young Adults but will be of interest to adults. As the cover by Krista Lynn shows, it is set in Australia and features Australian animals – and a human baby.

“Payu wandered through softly falling darkness across the barren desert emptiness, her heart choked with grief. Every step brought a jarring reminder from her milk-swollen teats.

Payu was a dingo, the wide land she traveled Australia’s Great Sandy Desert where the sparse vegetation sent long roots deep into the cracked earth in search of any scant moisture, where small patches of hardy bunch grass clung to crumbly soil surfaces. Here and there a desert pea or acacia shrub cast a long spindly shadow.” (p. 1)

Payu’s mate has been killed at their den by humans while she was out hunting, and her pups stolen. Wandering grief-filled through Australia’s northwest, she comes across two human campers, a husband and wife, and steals their infant.

“Payu watched the little one feed and considered her situation. Somehow she had made the decision to keep this tiny human. Yet in the hostile environment of the desert it could not survive without more support. She could not hunt for food and at the same time protect a hairless, defenseless pup. Not without a mate or the support of a pack.” (p. 4)

Payu’s Journey is her adventures looking for support.   At first she goes to a large dingo pack, the Red Sand Pack, with which Payu and her mate had had friendly relations, sometimes hunting together. But Ruwa, its alpha male, fears the human retaliation that is sure to follow.

“Payu stepped away from her bundle. ‘The humans took away my pups. I have taken a pup from the humans. I come to seek your support.’

A look of surprise crossed Ruwa’s face, followed by anger. ‘You have acted thoughtlessly. The humans will follow you. They will come to take back their pup and they will punish all of us. You must leave now and take the human pup far from here.’” (p. 5)

She comes across a lone dingo, Ngur, who offers to help. She is startled when he brings a red kangaroo to meet her.

“Still she stared as they smiled and watched. When Payu spoke again, it was all in a rush. ‘But how did you two … you know … dingoes and kangaroos don’t usually …’ Her voice trailed off.

Ritta laughed loudly, a high-pitched whoop of a laugh. Her big brown eyes gleamed with amusement.

‘Yes, it’s true,’ she said. ‘Crazy, isn’t it? It’s quite unusual for natural enemies like us, may I say historic enemies like us, to cross species lines, so to speak. It’s not expected, it’s not accepted. Like Ngur here, I don’t follow the rules, I go my own way, I don’t follow the mob. If you want to survive in this desert you’ve got to have friends here and there, you’ve got to have allies, you’ve got to have folks you can call on in an emergency. You’ll see, you’ll learn, now that you’re on your own too.’” (p. 12)

Ritta carries the human pup, a boy whom they name Yawa, in her pouch so the tracking human dogs will not find any scent to follow. The three set out for the far north, where the desert gives way to a green and lush jungle with plenty of fruits and water.

They encounter both friends and enemies: Death, the Desert Death Adder; Camu the camel, descendant of 19th-century human attempts to introduce camels to Australia’s deserts; the Panka outlaw wild dog pack; Aptaca, the Goanna lizard; Kinta the brown eagle; Mika, “the foxy lady”. Some have to be escaped from, while others aid them, and some join their Motley Pack. Dangers include a savannah wildfire, a deep river with crocodiles, constant human hunters in helicopters, and an apparently impassable cliff.

Payu’s Journey comes to a definite conclusion, yet it also ends on a cliffhanger with a promise that her and Yawa’s journey will take a markedly different turn in the next book. This is Book 1 of the Tales of Yawa trilogy.

Gamble writes a straightforward yet sophisticated story. He makes several characters stand out by their distinctive voices. Ngur the white dingo: ‘Mah bad paw is actin’ up. Sometimes if ah push it too hard, the tendon pulls tight and ah have to rest it.’ Death the adder: ‘Sssstop, cur, or I will sssstrike the baby.’ Ritta the Roo: ‘Oh my goodness, how terrible, how frightening, how worrisome.’ Camu the camel constantly swears by his mother’s hump, and he belches and his stomach rumbles. Aptaca the Goanna talks with an educated accent. These are blended smoothly into the adventure. Payu’s Journey is, if not for All Ages, certainly for middle schools on up through all adult ages. Readers of this Book 1 will want to read the next two books of the Tales of Yawa when they are published.

Payu’s Journey is obviously inspired by the famous Australian case of a two-month-old baby girl who was stolen by dingoes from camping parents in 1980. The true-life adventure was much less happy; the human parents reported her theft by dingoes to the police, but when the authorities could not find anything, they convicted the mother of murdering her daughter. She was imprisoned for three years of a life sentence before the remains of the eaten baby were discovered in a dingo den, and the parents were exonerated.

Fred Patten

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