Unpolished Gem

Honest and well-written memoir by Alice Pung, exploring what it means to grow up an immigrant in Australia.

Brutal at times – both to herself and her family members – this is raw and emotional.  Pung begins with her parents emigrating to Australia to escape the Pol Pot regime.  Their initial days in the ‘Wonderland’ (thus Alice’s name) of the Western World are charted, and the internal fissures of their family, as the women seek for dominance over the men and children.  Alice admits to being used as a tool and a ‘tattle-tale’ in this, swapping loyalties in the way of small children between mother and grandmother.

Alice talks about growing up and the embarrassment of being different, as well as the eventual lethargy of struggling to fit in only to lose those precious close connections to family and culture.  Ultimately Alice realises – and comes to appreciate – that she is different to many Australian girls.  But she eventually understands herself better, and at the same time, her family and their ways as well.

The story of her mother is particularly moving, who even after 18 years in Australia still spoke little English.  This alienated her from the world both in-and-outside of the house, where teenagers live who barely speak anything else.  She of all the family is least in touch with this new world they have entered and new ways of doing things.

This is terrific writing and fabulous reading recommended for all Australians.  Now there’s a big write up.


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