Over October, we held a focus on Australian women writers of diverse heritage, with book offers and a series of fabulous guest posts. Tseen Khoo, a researcher and writer on Asian-Australian issues (among many other things), voiced her frustration with the limited readings of texts by Asian Australian women such as Hsu Ming Teo’s Love and Vertigo which, its author has stated, was more about class than race.
Alice Pung also elaborated on the theme of class, describing the ostracism of Australia’s poor, whose culture of ‘ten dollar K mart shower curtains or those twenty dollar fibreglass Buddhas in every aspiring middle-lower class’ would most likely not make its way into the ‘museums of the future’. However, we can always find these worlds in literature such as Ruth Park’s novels, which ‘preserve lives that would be lost forever through poverty and neglect’.
In a similar way, literature enables us to hear the stories of those of diverse heritage who might also be overlooked, whether this be about Alice, the daughter of Cambodians, growing up in suburban Footscray, or the world of 1950s Swaziland where people are divided by race, as in Malla Nunn’s novels. In her post, Malla wrote of her family’s love of storytelling that accompanied her from Swaziland to Australia, and how Australia gave her the freedom to write of the ‘deep, powerful roots that forever connect me to the colonial backwater where I was born and raised’.
Merlinda Bobis, author of Fish-Hair Woman, also wrote a poetic post about the influence of her culture on her writing and of the sensation of being between two worlds, as she opens, ‘It’s 12 midnight in bed in Australia, and I’m in my grandparents’ ancestral house again, in the village of Estancia, Bikol region, Philippines.’
Writers of diverse heritage have a double vision: a unique perception of life in Australia, and of the life they or their families left behind, which results in rich and varied texts. It was great to see our readers also reading and recognising this diversity!
Bree of 1girl2manybooks reviewed two novels, Sarah Ayoub’s Hate is Such a Strong Word, a young adult novel about Sophie, the eldest daughter of a Lebanese-Australian family who writhes under her father’s strictness. Bree writes that ‘This is the kind of book I could happily talk about forever until I had a review that never stopped’ – now that’s a good recommendation! She also reviewed The Perfect Wife by Katherine Scholes, who was born in Tanzania but now lives in Australia. This book was set in Africa after World War Two, as are Malla Nunn’s Detective Emmanuel Cooper novels. The first of these, A Beautiful Place to Die was a fantastic read, and I reviewed it here.
Monique Mulligan of WriteNoteReviews penned a review of Banafsheh Serov’s first novel, The Russian Tapestry, which begins in St Petersberg in 1913 and spans several years. Monique describes it as ‘as historical fiction with romantic elements’, and recommends it to ‘those who love historical sagas that weave love and adversity together like Dr Zhivago’. Banafsheh and her family escaped from Iran to Australia, and her memoir, Under a Starless Sky, relates their experiences.
Rita at The Crafty Expat reviewed The Memory of Salt by Alice Melike Ulgezer. Even though she found the book hard to start with, she responded to its nuances and ambiguities, as she writes, ‘What I really loved in this story was that even though the father of Ali suffers from some kind of mental illness, does terrible things and is not a conventional type of father, I could feel the love the main characters had for him and how special he was in her/his eyes.’
Marilyn Brady, who is conducting the Global Women of Color challenge, wrote a detailed review of Michelle de Kretser’s second novel, The Hamilton Case. Marilyn describes it as a ‘brilliantly constructed novel about Ceylon, the British Empire, and conflicting perceptions of truth by a woman who lived there as a child and knew its mysterious beauty and danger’, a novel in which ‘ambiguity and uncertainty are central themes’. I really enjoyed de Kretser’s prize-winning Questions of Travel, and Marilyn’s review has prompted me to pick up this one.
We also ran a book giveaway for readers who reviewed books by Australian women writers of diverse heritage. I had my boss draw three names from a hat, and these were Bree (Hate is Such a Strong Word), Monique (The Russian Tapestry), and Rita (The Memory of Salt). Congratulations to all our winners (I will be in touch about delivering your books!) and to Malla Nunn, Text Publishing and Black Inc. Books for their generous donations. Above all, thank you to all who participated last month and helped to highlight the engaging and thought-provoking writing by Australian women writers of diverse heritage.
I’m Jessica White, a novelist and researcher, and I’ve been deaf since age 4 when I lost most of my hearing from meningitis. I have a PhD from the University of London and have published two novels with Penguin, A Curious Intimacy (2007), about botany and lesbianism, and Entitlement (2012), about Native Title and grief. You can find more information about me at my website. I’m also on Twitter @ladyredjess.