It’s surprising that we have made it to 2021 without a collection of writing from those of Asian descent. But it seems it was worth the wait. The collection hums along with pace and describes life for expat Asians living in Aotearoa: some thriving, some struggling, some longing for a return to the cultural norms they knew as children, others embracing Māoritanga, and still others just continuing their search for who they are. The issues they face are not all necessarily isolated to the Asian community, but certainly pervasive within our society: racism, sexuality, political frustration and ideologies just to name a few.
Paula Morris and Alison Wong are both highly loved and respected writers in their own right, and the curation of this selection is tantamount to some small bit of magic. Over 75 writers have been procured and bring voices of a nation that has become more multicultural and cosmopolitan than ever before.
The selection contains poems and fictional stories of both purely fiction and non-fiction origin. They take on those important feelings of isolation and separation delving into how, at times, they can feel alien in a country that is predominantly composed of migrants.
A few of the writers are recognizable names in the glory that is New Zealand literature (Chris Tse, Gregory Kan, Rose Lu and Tze Ming Mok for example) but many are from creative writing masters students who are published either for the first time, or early in their career. That makes for a really vibrant and eclectic mix of writing styles and experiences.
A real stand out is the essay by Tan Tuck Ming on the Chinese Gooseberry - more commonly known as the humble Kiwifruit ‘Seven mournings of the Chinese gooseberry’ with the wonderful line “a satisfying cross-section of a creature.” in describing the fruit itself. Beneath this essay with its wonderful descriptors and historical elements is a pulse of sadness. Another example (and the collection is full of them) of cultural appropriation by foreign nations. Even the produce takes on a new meaning for migrants.
From a personal perspective, there is little more rewarding than reading prose in English penned by speakers of other mother tongues. Something about the lyricism and the imagery that is brought to the language. It is often so much richer and deeply connective as a text than some native English speakers can conjure. The English language is malleable, and robust and it is only through exploring what others do with it that we native speakers can grow and develop.
These works need applause. These writers need the mainstream celebration that this anthology hopes to achieve. They all have the mana to carry them forward into careers that are rewarding and fruitful - some of them are (rightly) already there. Celebrating our diversity in New Zealand is an important journey that we all must travel. We welcome Asian descendants into our work place, into our schools and into our communities. It is long overdue that we welcome them into our literature. Long live the Kiwi Asian writers.
Reviewer: Chris Reed
Auckland University Press, RRP $49.99