June’s roundup already! Has anyone else felt like they’ve been on a freight train, and unceremoniously tossed out at the station in the middle of the year? Either way, our readers have certainly been keeping up to speed, as we’ve had some 20 reviews of books that contain themes of diversity, or which are written by writers with diverse backgrounds.
The largest such genre this month was that of books by migrant writers. Jane of GoodReads reviewed Chi Vu’s creepy but compelling novella, Anguli Ma, a Gothic Tale, and commented it was her favourite book this year, making her look at her neighbourbood and Australia ‘in a whole other way.’ She also rightly points out that ‘There aren’t enough stories about the non-Anglo experience of living in Australia; particularly not enough stories that aren’t memoirs of growing up non-Anglo here.’
It was also exciting to see that Malla Nunn has released the fourth novel in her Detective Emmanuel Cooper series, Present Darkness. Shelleyrae of Book’d Out wrote that ‘the cultural framework of the novel is what really sets this series apart from other crime fiction I have read. Apartheid affects every facet of life for South Africans, and Nunn doesn’t shy away from exposing the appalling inequities of the period.’ This observation was echoed by Yvonne at GoodReads in her review of Nunn’s first book in this series, A Beautiful Place to Die. ‘The goal of this book is more than ‘who dunnit’,’ Yvonne writes. ‘ It demonstrates how a society becomes wrong on many levels when it is based on a person’s appearance and not their true character.’
We were privileged to have Malla write a guest post for the AWW Challenge as part of our focus on Australian women writers of diverse heritage last year, which you can read here.
There were two reviews of P.M. Newton’s crime novels, which have an Australian/Vietnamese protagonist, Detective Nhu Kelly. The Old School was reviewed by Carolyn of GoodReads, who thought that Newton ‘nail[ed] the time and place of her novel brilliantly. Several social issues of the 70s and 90s are raised – Australia’s role in the Vietnam war and its aftermath, Aboriginal activism and police corruption.’ Newton’s sequel, Beams Falling, was reviewed by Rowena, who describes how Nhu discovers that ‘Cabramatta is a community thick with desperate immigrants and those willing to exploit them, none of whom will talk to cops, that corruption isn’t just on the streets, and that a word in the wrong ear can have devastating consequences.’ She also notes that ‘Those familiar with traditional crime novels, with a clue in almost every scene, may find the pace a little slow,’ although there is enough to keep the reader interested until Nhu makes a breakthrough.
The Asian/Australian experience is also referenced in Paula Grunseit’s interview with 2013 Dobbie award winner, Lily Chan, for her memoir Toyo. Posted on the eve of the shortlist announcement for the 2014 Dobbie and Kibble awards (subsequently won by Kris Olsson for Boy, Lost and Kate Richards for Madness: A Memoir), the interview looks at Chan’s research and writing processes, the work’s form, and the migrant experience.
This experience is also the subject matter of Cory Taylor’s My Beautiful Enemy, reviewed by Marilyn of Me, You and Books. Marilyn describes this story of a gay Australian man who falls for an interned Japanese youth during World War Two as ‘a narrative of war and how it distorts people’s lives.’ Stanley, being ‘a sustaining dream in Arthur’s rather dull life’, is ‘unattainable but … capable of bringing Arthur bittersweet joy,’ a means of escaping his grey existence.
Jennifer of GoodReads also reviewed this novel, which reminded her ‘how much store we can place on memories and how it can be possible to be trapped in the past, longing for an ideal. How much more complicated this can become when love is caught up in struggles between nations, as well as struggles with sexuality and expectations.’
Also on the subject of same-sex desire, Marilyn reviewed Yvette Walker’s Letters to the End of Love. The characters in this novel are, she notes, ‘estranged and are writing letters as part of the process of reuniting.’ Through these letters, Marilyn writes, ‘Walker pushes us to expand what we consider as love,’ as well as proclaiming love’s lasting power. Yvette also wrote a guest post for the AWW Challenge in our focus on lesbian and queer women writers earlier this year.
This month, in conjunction with NAIDOC week, we have encouraged our readers to pick up a book by an Indigenous woman writer. There are a few days left if you’d like to post a review! Ameblin Kwaymullina, author of The Tribe speculative fiction series, also wrote some wonderful and thought-provoking responses about her culture and writing practice in an interview.
Meanwhile, in June, there were four reviews of books by Indigenous women writers. Anita Heiss’ Am I Black Enough For You? was reviewed by Tarla, who found that the book encouraged her to reflect on how racism has manifested in her own life. Jenny of GoodReads read Anita’s latest novel, Tiddas, and felt ‘a bit cheated’ for ‘the point of view didn’t stay long enough with one particular character for me to feel it was “their” story and to emotionally invest in them and see the world of the novel their way. And then I realised: that was the point. The Tiddas, the sisterhood circle, is the protagonist; not the individual women.’ This was also Jenny’s first review for the AWW Challenge this year – proof that it’s never too late to start reviewing!
There were also two reviews from Jennifer of GoodReads of works by Indigenous women writers, Alexis Wright’s complex and marvellous The Swan Book, which made her ‘work hard in order to try to understand it, and will continue to occupy space in [her] consciousness’ – always the sign of a good book – and Doris Pilkington’s Under the Wintamarra Tree, an autobiographical work by the daughter of Molly, who trekked along the Rabbit Proof Fence. Jennifer writes, ‘I found it unbearably sad to read Doris’s very personal account of separation from her parents. And, while ‘Under the Wintamarra Tree’ is too disjointed a narrative to hold the reader’s attention in the same way as ‘Rabbit-Proof Fence’, I will read (and re-read) it as a reminder of the consequences of depriving children of their language and culture, of their sense of belonging.’ It sounds like this book, too, left its mark.
Meanwhile, if you’re after a work which contains a whole swag of themes about diversity, pick up Invisible, an anthology of short pieces which focus upon giving a voice to marginalised groups and individuals in fiction, and which contains a piece by Aussie writer Nalini Haynes. Reviewed on the Dark Matter Zine website by Evie, the collection ‘addresses the absence or stereotyping of certain groups, exposing a tradition of racism, sexism, homophobia, transphobia and ableism in popular culture. Each contribution uses personal experience to give the reader an insight into other perspectives on how humans can and should live their lives, rejecting narrow definitions of acceptable expressions of fundamental human experiences.’ Evie’s review of four of the stories from the collection showcases its wide-ranging subject matter.
I look forward to reading and discussing more of your reviews next month, in particular those by Indigenous women writers. Until then, I’m staying on this platform to get my breath back with a book!
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) and Entitlement (2012). I’ve recently received funding from the Australia Council’s new Artists With Disability program to write my third novel, The Sea Creatures. You can find more information about me at my website. I’m also on Twitter @ladyredjess.