No Country Woman by Zoya Patel

no country woman.jpgTitle: No Country Woman

Author: Zoya Patel

Genre: Autobiography/Memoir

Publisher: Hachette Australia

Published: 14th August 2018

Format: Paperback

Pages: 264

Price: $32.99

Synopsis: ‘An ambitious, nuanced and confident debut: Patel writes with passion, curiosity and purpose.’ Maxine Beneba Clarke, bestselling and award winning author of The Hate RaceForeign SoilThe Patchwork Bike and Carrying The World A fresh and exciting feminist memoir about what it means to never feel at home where you live.

‘I was born in a hospital in Suva, Fiji. I can’t recall ever seeing the building on my trips back to the city, first as a child or later as an adult. I imagine it in shades of blue and brown, the plastic waiting room chairs covered in the fine film of moisture that creeps over everything there. It is not a place I’ve thought of often, but I think of it now and wonder how it has shaped me. I am Fijian-Indian, and have lived in Australia since I was three years old. Memories of my early life in Fiji are limited to flashes, like an old film projector running backwards. I remember a blue dress, a trip on a boat where my father handed me a dried, floating starfish that I clutched in my fingers, determined not to lose it back to the ocean.’

No Country Woman is the story of never knowing where you belong. It’s about not feeling represented in the media you consumed, not being connected to the culture of your forebears, not having the respect of your peers.

It’s about living in a multicultural society with a monocultural focus but being determined to be heard.

It’s about challenging society’s need to define us and it’s a rallying cry for the future.

It’s a memoir full of heart, fury and intelligence – and the book we need right now.

~*~

AWW-2018-badge-roseNo Country Woman by Zoya Patel is a story of identity – the intersection of three cultures and nations across generations – Fiji, India and Australia, and how these contributed to the identity of Zoya, and how the clash of her Fijian-Indian identity, to her, felt like it was at odds with the Australian identity that she grew up with. Zoya grew up in flux and flitting between her Fijian-Indian identity and culture at home with her family, and her Australian identity at school, with friends, that saw her feeling like she had to choose between her identities, and where it took her many years to realise she could embrace both of them equally and find solace in each – that being Fijian-Indian-Australian was who she was and each culture, country and heritage was who she was. Grappling with how to navigate the traditions of her family, parents and the culture they grew up in with her new life in Australia, where she found herself faced with the conflict of trying to embrace an identity as a Fijian-Indian, a migrant and an Australian – all of which were, to Zoya, felt as though they were competing against each other and she could only choose one.

Zoya’s story reflects her own experience as a migrant, as someone of non-Anglo heritage, and her experiences of racism and prejudice.

Zoya’s story isn’t chronological, but rather, thematic. Each chapter is related to a theme, and sometimes various family events: moves, school, weddings, or going back to Fiji to see family – and through these experiences, Zoya felt different all the time – too Australian for Fiji and family, yet too much of her Fijian-Indian identity to be fully Australian – not realising that there was a way for her to be both while she was growing up.

Zoya has also tried to tease out some of the complexities of how we interact in a multicultural society, and the different ways in which people experience privilege and disadvantage – race, gender, sexuality, class, and disability – and how this can differ for each person, yet there are also common experiences of privilege, disadvantage and discrimination that affect everyone in different ways, or ensure there is some kind of hierarchy, even if it is one that we cannot always see and that is not always obvious.

It is eye-opening and reflective, a book where people can learn what racism looks like and hopefully, fight against it and feel like they can – as allies or as those often discriminated against. Zoya teases out the complexities of all these issues, through her lens but also, through her interactions with various people along the way, looking at as many sides as possible whilst still exploring her identity and what each interaction means, how each interaction affects how she sees herself, then and now, and her journey to reconcile her whole identity as a Fijian-Indian-Australian, who has spent time living in Edinburgh, without having to give anything up, and knowing her identity is a combination of her ancestral and familial past, her life in Australia and her time spent in Edinburgh, where she was writing this book.

I enjoyed reading this, and gaining a greater understanding of what someone like Zoya goes through and how they might deal with it. Zoya’s openness and desire to communicate to her audience is fresh and easy to understand, with a flow to her story that ensures it is engaging, and is filled with humour and humanity, where Zoya discovers what feminism means to her and her identity – an identity that she comes to discover over time, where she can embrace every part of it: as a Fijian-Indian, as a migrant, and as an Australian, and a feminist.

A wonderful memoir that that explores the intersection of vastly different cultures, religions, nations and race, alongside feminism, and how this shaped Zoya and her world, whilst recognising how the factors that make up an individual’s identity – whatever their race, gender, beliefs and ability – are as individual as hers, and whilst there are common experiences related to these aspects of identity, and assumptions made based on these factors, each individual experience is always going to be different in some ways, and similar to the common experiences in others.

The Upside of Over by JD Barrett

upside of overTitle: The Upside of Over

Author: J.D. Barrett

Genre: Fiction

Publisher: Hachette

Published: 29th May 2018

Format: Paperback

Pages: 298

Price: $29.99

Synopsis: A scathingly brilliant new novel from TV scriptwriter J.D. Barrett, author of THE SECRET RECIPE FOR SECOND CHANCES, that explores sex, love and all the stuff in-between.

What happens when one of the country’s most popular identities goes from reading the news to being the news?

Olivia Law had always been the good girl. Great grades, perfect career, husband, house and hairdo. She’d learnt image was everything, so she refused to look below the surface of her life. When not at work, her minutes were filled with causes, chairing boards and dining at fabulous restaurants with her equally fabulous husband, David. She kept up the Botox, blow-dries and worked hard. It wasn’t enough, but whenever doubt crept in she’d head to a Pilates class or plan a renovation on her trophy house.

Then she turned 45.
Olivia wasn’t prepared for David to leave. The fact that they hadn’t had sex for two years should have triggered warning bells … it didn’t.

In an attempt to fix her broken marriage Olivia exposes herself like never before. But when her confession goes viral, the husband, house and job disappear. The woman who once offered glamorous reassurance and a steady gaze is labelled a princess of perversion. Humiliated, defeated, facing fifty shades of failure, she’s left wondering who the hell she really is? Stripped bare, she abandons perfection … and something remarkable happens.

Olivia Law just might get her sass back (and this time, it’s the real thing).

The brilliant new novel from J.D. Barrett about break ups, breakdowns and break throughs. Batteries not included.

 

~*~

Olivia Law has enjoyed a well-respected career as a newsreader and in the media for many years. And then her marriage falls apart, and she sends a private video to her ex-husband that is a little risqué, which somehow goes viral. What follows is the epic fallout that sees Olivia hit rock bottom, and it takes best friend Darcy, stepson, Finn, her best gay friends, Hugo and Ricky, and a few unexpected allies to pull her through. Escaping up to Byron, Olivia confronts her own sexuality and identity, finding friends in Leo, and Ace, and a new identity that she forges through an online personality, which is encouraged by her friends and her stepson’s mother, Karen and sister Ava. As she ventures into this new life, hints of why she was fired and how the video was leaked to the public start to come out, and sexual harassment cases start to emerge as Olivia’s videos begin to empower women to speak out about anything and everything and stand up for themselves. What will follow results in the reactions to what happens in these cases and how people try to make sure the least harm is done, and what happens when people are caught out.

AWW-2018-badge-roseThe Upside of Over looks at how women in the entertainment industry can and at times, are treated once they reach a certain age, as though they have a use by date that society seems to impose on them for career, family, marriage. After her unsuccessful marriage, Olivia feels lost for a while and is questioning where she fits in, and whether she really has a place in the world anymore, which leads to her exploration of self. When she fails, that failure is what catapults her into a new life, and with a renewed sense of self. It is a funny book, that readers at cross roads of their life, and wondering about where they are going, J.D. Barrett writes about the forced invisibility and compliance of Olivia with humour and sass that ensures each page is a surprise and creates a story with charm as well as humour.

Of all the characters, I think Ricky, Hugo and Finn ended up being my favourites, and I was surprised by Karen, and the way she turned out to be such a good friend to Olivia in the end and backed her at every stage in the case that the network Olivia had worked for brought against her. I loved the diversity in this book – the ages, the genders, everything and the way the plot and everything else all flowed so seamlessly together, showing that the world isn’t always what we see on the surface, that there is more to people than meets the eye and peeling back the layers shows who we truly are.

In today’s world, where the #TimesUp movement was started with the revelations last year about Harvey Weinstein, this is an eerily prophetic book that looks at the inner workings of the television and media industries – what we see onscreen doesn’t reveal what happens behind the scenes, and the way the media treated Olivia in the novel – when it had never been her intention for the video to be leaked – illustrated the different ways media reports scandals depending on who is involved and the perspective they want to present. Where Olivia’s network tried to throw her under  the bus, when one of her former colleagues came through for her, I liked that, and thought it sent a powerful message that sometimes standing up for what is right, and doing everything possible to uncover the truth, even if it means risking your own career, is better than kowtowing to executives and what they want.

With the current wave of stories coming out against Hollywood producers, this could not be a more timely novel in my mind, and even though it doesn’t directly reference the #TimesUp movement or Weinstein, the shadows and hints about it are there, showing the fickleness of the outward appearance of perfection, and how quickly things can go wrong, but the upside of this is what Olivia made of it, and the voice that she gave to women all over through her venture – even those she didn’t expect to hear from.

Interview with J.D. Barret appears on this blog too.

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Her by Garry Disher

Title: Her

her.jpg

Author: Garry Disher

Genre: Fiction

Publisher: Hachette Australia

Published: 8th August 2017

Format: Paperback

Pages: 210

Price: $29.99

Synopsis: Beautifully and powerfully written, this is a look at the darker side of Australia’s past – and particularly

the status of girls and women in our society – that will stay with you long after you finish reading.

Out in that country the sun smeared the sky and nothing ever altered, except that one day a scrap man came by . . .

HER name is scarcely known or remembered. All in all, she is worth less than the nine shillings and sixpence counted into her father’s hand.

She bides her time. She does her work.

Way back in the corner of her mind is a thought she is almost too frightened to shine a light on: one day she will run away.

A dark and unsettling tale from the turn of the twentieth century by a master of Australian literature.

~*~

A recurring theme across literature and various stories is the idea of names, and the power that they can have. In Rumplestiltskin, the Queen must guess Rumplestiltskin’s name to save her child, an act she achieves through deception and spying. By announcing his name, he loses, tears himself in half, and as the sanitised versions say, they all lived happily ever after. In Harry Potter, Voldemort’s name is one to be feared, and even years after his initial defeat, even those of Harry’s generation, including Hermione, a Muggle-born, are afraid of speaking it – a fear that Voldemort exploits in the final book to track down those who are trying to fight him. And in Her by Garry Disher, names are taken away as an act of power, a way to control women and girls, and a way to make them feel desolate and alone. The scrap man buys his women and girls, and denies them names and identities beyond Wife, Big Girl, You and Sister. Moving around, selling scrap and goods made from scrap, the scrap man is abusive towards his women, and spends all the money on pub visits throughout the course of the novel, blaming You, Wife and Big Girl.

Eventually, You is questioned by authorities about her name, and why she isn’t in school. She soon desires a name, and eventually, at the age of about six or seven, names herself Lily. From here on in, Lily forges her own identity, and plans to escape with Sister, who becomes known as Hazel. Set during the turbulent first twenty years of the twentieth century, the First World War and the Spanish Flu pandemic, the scrap man and his hastily thrown together family, whose main purpose is to help him deceive, and allow him to do what he wants to them, are unaware of the lingering effects of the war, knowing only that rabbit skins are in high demand for boots and hats for soldiers, and only seeing it as a way to make a living that he soon fritters away at the pub, and blames ‘his women’ for losing.

In a world so consumed by the war, the Kaiser and the trenches, the Australia, the country Victoria that Lily and Hazel know is ignorant of this war that has affected millions. They are sneered at for not knowing how the war has broken people, and broken families. It is, at its heart, a story about broken people, bought by a man who comes across as having no humanity, no feelings, and who uses and abuses people.

Lily’s time spent going around to places and gathering food and sometimes pilfering things leads to her growing sense of identity, something that was denied her for so long, and gives her the strength to keep planning her escape, and plans to take Hazel with her.

It is a novel where every word used pays off, and where the simplest of lines, such as Lily’s desire to hit the Kaiser, even though she doesn’t have an inkling of who it is or the significance of the war years to the country, illustrates how Lily responds to her world, and how an act of hitting a man unknown to her can give her a feeling of power.

I read it in two nights, and it is a well paced novel, that reveals a side to Australian history and humanity often ignored and unacknowledged, contrasting the wider horrors of war to the insular world of people who are out for themselves in more ways than one, and who are willing to manipulate and take advantage of people.

A historical fiction novel about World War One that uses it more as a pin point in time, and an event that simply gives the novel context, I felt this showed the grim reality of how women and girls could be treated – as property that in this story, didn’t even deserve names or identities, and the harsh reality of what it meant to be poor in those times. It highlights what having a name and identity means to us as humans. It is a novel that I might revisit one day, and is definitely one that stays with you for awhile.

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