The Choke

By Sofie Laguna Allen & Unwin

I never had words to ask anybody the questions, so I never had the answers.

Abandoned by her mother and only occasionally visited by her secretive father, Justine is raised by her pop, a man tormented by visions of the Burma Railway. Justine finds sanctuary in Pop’s chooks and The Choke, where the banks of the Murray River are so narrow it seems they might touch – a place of staggering natural beauty. But the river can’t protect Justine from danger. Her father is a criminal, and the world he exposes her to can be lethal.

Justine is overlooked and underestimated, a shy and often silent observer of her chaotic world. She learns that she has to make sense of it on her own. She has to find ways to survive so much neglect. She must hang on to friendship when it comes, she must hide when she has to, and ultimately she must fight back.

The Choke is a brilliant, haunting novel about a child navigating an often dark and uncaring world of male power and violence, in which grown-ups can’t be trusted and comfort can only be found in nature. This compassionate and claustrophobic vision of a child in danger and a society in trouble celebrates above all the indomitable nature of the human spirit.

Sofie Laguna, winner of the 2015 Miles Franklin Literary Award for The Eye of the Sheep, once again shows she is a writer of rare empathy, originality and blazing talent.

Sofie Laguna

Sofie Laguna’s second novel for adults, The Eye of the Sheep, was longlisted for the International IMPAC Dublin Literary Award, shortlisted for the Stella Prize and won the 2015 Miles Franklin Literary Award. Her first novel for adults, One Foot Wrong, was longlisted for the Miles Franklin Literary Award and shortlisted for the Prime Minister’s Literary Award. Sofie’s many books for young people have been published in the US, the UK and in translation throughout Europe and Asia. Sofie lives in Melbourne with her husband and two sons.

Judges' report

The Choke is a compassionate work of fiction focusing on the plight of a disadvantaged child finding her way in the world despite poverty, absent parents and a dysfunctional family. Sofie Laguna writes evocatively of the Australian landscape, and paints an isolated, desperate world with much clarity and sensitivity. In Laguna’s fiction, she calls into question our assumptions about the way in which children perceive the world around them by favouring their perspectives. She is particularly good at inhabiting the perplexing world of a child on the precipice of adolescence. In The Choke, Justine is left to navigate so much of her life alone, missing out on an innocent childhood and demonstrating extraordinary resilience. Laguna is a sympathetic writer whose commitment to showing contemporary Australia in all its glory and ugliness continues to delight.