For most of my readers (I am assuming here) we are used to being in the majority we haven't been refugees, or the odd face in the sea of faces that are similar. I think it's important for majorities to do all they can to understand what it is to feel on the outer.
I was really interested to read Cat Thao Nguyen's moving memoir We Are Here. Nguyen is born in Thailand in a red cross refugee camp after her parents made the extremely treacherous journey on foot from Vietnam through the jungle of the Khmer Rouge Cambodia to escape persecution. Eventually they find themselves in Sydney with nothing except a sarong gifted by the man who risked his life to get them across the border into Thailand.
When I started this read I thought I might end up overwhelmed and unable to finish but Nguyen has such a vivid and captivating voice that I actually read this one very quickly, I usually find memoirs slow going. By the end of the book I was a little bit in love with the author and I'd still be very keen to have her for dinner! I have talked about the book with so many people since I have finished it.
Mostly, I finished the book so challenged about the ways in which we as a community, and more specifically me as a individual, reach out and make connections with new arrivals. It helps to paint the picture of how huge a transition it is to arrive somewhere that everything, every single thing, is alien and foreign and you have to start from the very bottom. So often I thought, where was a local family who could have just given a friendly word, advocated, passed down hand-me-downs?... It's made me want to get more involved in the lives of people around me.
It's also made me realise again how much pressure is carried by children who have to play adult roles in order to keep the family moving and accessing information and how important it is for us (majorities) to try to make the way as easy as possible.
There is something in this story for everyone - my favourite parts were when Nguyen Speaks about seeing a photographic installation of Vietnamese sewing rooms around the world and the power of recognition that moved her to tears, "He delivered to me the type of validation that comes with a published artwork carrying the core themes of one's life... it was the beginning of my understanding of the transformative and healing powers of creative art." There are some pages folded over and underlined in my copy.
So much good stuff. This book has the power to tell stories that need to be told.... stories that are the backbone of emerging new societies in every country around the world. The world is ours to share and we need people who can translate it for us when we can't understand it and who will hold up painful truths that we need to acknowledge.
I applaud and congratulate Nguyen on a wonderful, moving book that has challenged and inspired me on many levels. And I'd like her to know - I have a space for her in my diary if she's ever in Adelaide.
Details - Allen and Unwin Feb 2015, RRP $24.99 available as an ebook. Many thanks for this book in my mailbox.
love you more than a book that has folded corners xxx