And caught in the middle of it all is Alice, who realizes, perhaps better than anyone, the contradiction and complexity that come with living a dual life: the life of an Asian and the life of an Australian. People then often ask me, ‘well why don’t you read it to her?
Funny, charming, moving, and unfailingly honest, Alice Pung’s memoir Unpolished Gem captures the best and worst of life in a new country. ’ That is a very reasonable question, but among other things, Unpolished Gem is a book about the things in life that matter more than words.
My father, on the other hand, has read my book about three times – each time armed with a heavy dictionary, as English is of course not his first language.
He speaks Teochew, Khmer, French, Cantonese, Mandarin and English (my mother also speaks five languages – unfortunately none of them are English).
They came here; and my father survived the killing fields.
My mother is illiterate, so my father has a year ten education. So, when the first stage of ethnic cleansing in Cambodia, they closed down all the Chinese schools, so my mother has a grade two education.
It is the 1980s, and little Alice is born into her family’s newfound luck and prosperity.
But economic and social prosperity come with a price—not one exacted by their new host, Australia, but one that they impose upon themselves.
So, although I admittedly did tell certain stories that weren’t the most fitting to the migrant narratives of ‘success’, I thought it more important to tell the truth – that sometimes people can toil and toil for two decades in a back shed and lock themselves out of a language for the sake of their children’s futures, that when Asian high achievers have meltdowns they sometimes quietly implode rather than dramatically explode, and that things that happen to us in life are cyclic, not linear.
Sometimes what you think is the end really is the beginning.