Music for Tigers by Michelle Kadarusman
Michelle Kadarusman writes about her new novel Music for Tigers at PaperbarkWords:
As an Australian living abroad, you are heightened to any mention of home in North American media. It doesn’t happen that much and when it does it’s somehow personally reaffirming. It’s one of the quirks of living far from your birth place and even after decades away the homesickness never leaves you. So, when The New Yorker ran a feature about a group’s obsessive search for the Tasmanian tiger, I was giddy. Not only because of the automatic reaction of Look! Look! There’s something about Australia in The New Yorker! but also because of my long-held fascination with the haunting and tragic history of the thylacine and the continuing mystery of whether it still exists. I must have talked to many people over the years about this particular interest because The New Yorker article landed in my INBOX multiple times forwarded by friends including my editor at Pajama Press, Ann Featherstone. Ann included a short note saying something along the lines of… time to get going on that story you told us about. It’s not that my editor and publisher were totally off the middle grade thylacine story I had pitched to them a few months earlier (hmm, ok, so where is it set? Tanzania?) – but now my mysterious animal and obscure location had been legitimized to their North American ear.
Within weeks I had packed a bag and set off to the Tarkine region of Tasmania to research the book. Ethereal is perhaps too flowery a word for this experience, but I can’t think of another to describe delving into the history of the thylacine while soothing my eternal homesickness. The Tarkine is a breathtaking place and walking through the ferns and blue gums of my childhood, listening to currawong birdcalls while breathing in the scent of lemon myrtle and eucalyptus was intoxicating. And peeking down the shadowy trails of the temperate rainforest it was easy to imagine a thylacine crouching there, ready to come out for a brief but starring role in my story.
Music for Tigers is about a young Canadian girl who is sent to her Australian family’s bush camp in the Tarkine, where she discovers her great-grandmother harboured a secret sanctuary for the thylacine and her family have been trying to protect endangered species ever since.
Writing from the perspective of a Canadian protagonist, I was able to introduce the magic and beauty of the Australian landscape to young North American readers in a way that may not have been as impactful if the character was local. And although I didn’t do it consciously, writing a reverse outsider scenario to my own was wonderfully satisfying.
Happily, since writing the story I now live a good portion of the year in Australia, so while my yearning for Oz has eased Music for Tigers remains to be my love letter to the Australian bush and to the unique animals that once and still thrive within it.
And a place that will forever and always be home.
International honours for Music for Tigers:
USBBY Outstanding International Book, Washington Post KidsPost selection, 2020 Kirkus Best Book, 2021 Green Earth Book Awards Honor title and a 2021 White Raven Selection
My interview with Michelle about Girl of the Southern Seas
My interview with Michelle about The Theory of Hummingbirds
I reviewed Music for Tigers for the Weekend Australian (subscribers only, behind paywall)