By Cat Belshaw
As in the United States and Canada, the people of Australia and New Zealand (also recognized by its Māori name, Aotearoa) have been undergoing their own reckoning with the terrible realities that come with living in settler colonial societies. And, as we know well at the FOLD, writers and readers are often at the forefront of this work — amplifying and celebrating the plurality of voices and experiences that comprise us.
This month, we feature books by some incredible BIPOC authors from Australia and New Zealand/Aotearoa. Whether you know these two countries well, or not at all; whether you plan to travel there in person, or just in your mind, we’ve got some recommendations that are sure to draw you in to the unique histories, painful struggles, and beauteous wonders of these countries on the same side of history, at the other side of the world.
1) Aue, by Becky Manawatu
Aue: (verb) to cry, howl, groan, wail, bawl. (interjection) expression of astonishment or distress.
Taukiri was born into sorrow. Aue can be heard in the sound of the sea he loves and hates, and in the music he draws out of the guitar that was his father’s. It spills out of the gang violence that killed his father and sent his mother into hiding, and the shame he feels about abandoning his eight-year-old brother to a violent home. But Taukiri’s brother, Arama, is braver than he looks, and he has a friend, and his friend has a dog, and the three of them together might just be strong enough to turn back the tide of sadness.
Becky Manawatu (Ngai Tahu) is a bestselling multi-award-winning author of Maori descent, and a compelling new voice in New Zealand fiction.
Safdar Ahmed is an artist, writer, and educator in Australia. In 2011 he visited Sydney’s Villawood Immigration Detention Centre. He brought pencils and sketchbooks with him and began drawing with the detainees. Their stories are told in the new graphic novel, Still Alive.
Weaving journalism, history, and autobiography, Still Alive is an intensely personal indictment of Australia’s refugee detention policies and procedures, which are not unlike those in many Western nations. It is also a searching reflection on the redemptive power of art. (And death metal.)
Eugen M. Bacon is an African Australian academic and self-described “computer graduate… re-engineered into creative writing.” In Mage of Fools she writes about the dystopian world of Mafinga, Jasmin must contend with a dictator’s sorcerer to cleanse the socialist state of its deadly pollution.
Mafinga’s malevolent king dislikes books and, together with his sorcerer Atari, has collapsed the environment to almost uninhabitable. The sun has killed all the able men, including Jasmin’s husband Godi. But Jasmin has Godi’s secret story machine that tells of a better world, far different from the wastelands of Mafinga. Jasmin’s crime for possessing the machine and its forbidden literature filled with subversive text is punishable by death. Fate grants a cruel reprieve in the service of a childless queen who claims Jasmin’s children as her own. Jasmin is powerless—until she discovers secrets behind the king and his sorcerer.
After Alice Pung’s family fled to Australia from the killing fields of Cambodia, her father chose Alice as her name because he thought their new country was a Wonderland. In this lyrical, bittersweet debut memoir—already an award-winning bestseller when it was published in Australia—Alice grows up straddling two worlds, East and West, her insular family and the Australia outside. With wisdom beyond her years and a keen eye for comedy in everyday life, she writes of the trials of assimilation and cultural misunderstanding, and of the tender but fraught relationships between three generations of women trying to live the Australian dream without losing themselves.
Unpolished Gem is a moving, vivid journey about identity and the ultimate search for acceptance and healing, delivered by a writer possessed of rare empathy, penetrating insight, and undeniable narrative gifts.