June 22

Asian literature

English Syllabus, Years 11 & 12  Supplementary Materials – Asia:

The Happiest Refugee by Anh Do 792.702 DO

I must be the only person in Australia who was not familiar with Anh Do, which a few visits to YouTube quickly fixed…nevertheless his memoir was both tragic and funny, humble and most of all uplifting. For any reader who has encountered refugees before, many parts of his story will sound familiar: the harrowing sea voyage, his encounter with racist attitudes in Australia and the family credo to succeed. But pervading it all is Anh’s luminescent smile, his family’s ‘can do’ attitude, helped along by the kindness of strangers wherever they go. It’s a heart-warming story. Most impressive is the family’s attitude to life – to not just survive, but to achieve personal happiness by helping others and by doing whatever you can do best.

‘The Happiest Refugee’ will no doubt be seen as essential reading as part of the Asian literature of new National Curriculum; it has so much to offer. It’s highly readable for both teens and adults, filling in a gap of our migrant history about which teenagers may know little. Mrs Osborne


Growing Up Asian in Australia edited by Alice Pung 305.895 GRO This is an anthology of writing about what it is really like to grow up Asian-Australian. Including contributions from established writers, public figures and exciting new talents, this diverse and unpredictable collection throws out the cliches and takes readers behind the stereotypes. (Goodreads review)

Unpolished Gem by Alice Pung 305.895 PUN This is an original take on a classic story – how a child of immigrants moves between two cultures. In place of piety and predictability, however, Unpolished Gem offers a vivid and ironic sense of both worlds. It combines the story of Pung’s life growing up in suburban Footscray with the inherited stories of the women in her family – stories of madness, survival and heartbreak. Original and brave, this is a girl’s own story that introduces an unforgettable voice and captures the experience of Asian immigrants to Australia. (Goodreads review)

The Family Law by Benjamin Law 305.895 LAW (Year 11 & 12 only) Each of our families have their own quirky routines, the funny sayings bred by people who live in close quarters. Mostly they’re only trotted out on family occasions, not in a tell all tale such as this.
I found Benjamin Law’s memoir quite hilarious, very ‘un-PC’ and sacrilegious honest, his family’s ability to find humour in the most harrowing experiences really endearing. This book was on my ‘To read’ list until I saw Ben live at Literati on the Gold Coast. It’s well worth the effort!


The Boat by Nam Le F LE A stunningly inventive, deeply moving fiction debut: stories that take us from the slums of Colombia to the streets of Tehran; from New York City to Iowa City; from a tiny fishing village in Australia to a foundering vessel in the South China Sea, in a masterly display of literary virtuosity and feeling. (Goodreads review)


The Cleansing of Mahommed by Chris McCourt F MCC Gool Mahommed worships Allah and Lifebuoy soap. In 1914 he returns to Broken Hill, five years after he was sent back to his homeland by his mentor and benefactor, Abdullah. A camel driver and mullah, Abdullah has learned through bitter experience that small-town Australia is not the place to be a Muslim immigrant. But Mahommed is ready to embrace the Anglo-Australian lifestyle and has hopeful visions of himself as an assimilated citizen, a practitioner of the habits of English gentlemen, and eventually a prosperous owner of a submarine shipping line.
Alice Mercer yearns for a life in a place where the streets aren′t named after the poisons that spew out of the smoke stacks – Sulphide, Oxide, Chloride – and when she encounters Mahommed on the train, she is immediately drawn to him. But this is outback Australia in 1914, and the prejudices of others prove an obstacle in their fledgling relationship, not to mention the outbreak of World War I.
When a series of cruel acts against Abdullah drive him to despair, and, finally, revenge, what follows is unthinkable. Based on a disturbing true story, this beautifully crafted story has a deeply affecting fable-like quality that provides a startling insight into how the seeds of terrorism are sown.

playinghousePlaying House by Amy Choi 305.895 CHO …it seems rather a pity this book doesn’t concentrate more on her richly observed travel experiences and less on giving her partner Scott a pretty hard time as they trot around Europe and Egypt. But once the reader clicks with Choi and gets to grips with her frequent spikiness, the book works well enough as a roving narrative, with plenty of insight into her relationship, the arrival of two daughters and, especially, a sojourn in Hong Kong and Macau in which this Asian-Australian author re-evaluates her heritage and her family relationships.

we are hereWe Are Here by Cat Thao Nguyen 305.895 NGU Told through the bright and unflinching eyes of Cat Thao, a girl born in a refugee camp, We Are Here is a memoir that begins in 1975 with her family’s gripping exodus by foot out of post-war Vietnam – a dangerous journey, unimaginable to most, on which most perished.
The escape of Cat Thao’s family from persecution traverses the horrific jungles of Khmer Rouge Cambodia and into the crowded refugee camps of Thailand. From which, finally, the Nguyens were allowed to board a Qantas plane to a freedom they wanted desperately. But the stark, contrasting suburban landscapes of Western Sydney, Australia were not the unalloyed blessing they’d imagined.
..(from novel’s blurb)


Related material (not Australian):

Adiga, Aravind 2008, The White Tiger

Aw, Tash 2006, The Harmony Silk Factory

Aw, Tash 2009, Map of the Invisible World

Buck, Pearl S. 2005 (1st pub. 1931), The Good Earth

Chang, Jung 2003, Wild Swans: Three Daughters of China

Golden, Arthur 2005, Memoirs of a Geisha

Jian, Ma 2008, Beijing Coma

Kwok, Jean 2010, Girl in Translation

Lai, Thanhha. Inside Out & back Again 811 LAI

Lam, Andrew 2010, East Eats West

Lam, Andrew 2005, Perfume Dreams: Reflections on the Vietnamese Diaspora

Roy, Arundhati 1997, The God of Small Things

Rushdie, Salman 2006 (1st pub. 1980), Midnight’s Children

Sa, Shan 2004, The Girl Who Played Go

See, Lisa 2009, Shanghai Girls

See, Lisa 2006, Snow Flower and the Secret Fan

Sijie, Dai 2002, Balzac and the Little Chinese Seamstress

Swarup, Vikas 2008, Slumdog Millionaire (1st pub. as ‘Q & A’)

Tan, Amy 2006, The Joy Luck Club

Yen Mah, Adeline 1999, Falling Leaves: The Memoir of an Unwanted Chinese Daughter

Yen Mah, Adeline 2009, A Thousand Pieces of Gold

Picture Books

There are a number of picture books which deal with migration. Here are a few titles:

Cunxin, Lee. The Peasant Prince F LIC

Do, Anh. The Littlest Refugee 792.702 DO

Greber, Armin. The Island F GRE

Lofthouse, Liz. Ziba Came on a Boat. F LOF

Tan, Shaun. The arrival F TAN


Here is a series of YouTube clips deconstructing Shaun Tan’s ‘The Arrival’. (In the U.S. this book is titled “Emigrants”.)
Emigrants Part 1

Emigrants Part 2

Emigrants Part 3

Emigrants Part 4

Emigrants Part 5

Emigrants Part 6

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