A couple of years ago I saw Kathryn Lomer in conversation with Cate Kennedy, a fantastic conversation about writing that encouraged me to buy at least one book by each of these fantastic authors. I bought ‘talk under water’ by Kathryn, and loved it, so I was really looking forward to reading this one, and I wasn’t disappointed.
The Spare Room is a beautiful story. Nineteen year old Akira has ben sent to Australia by his very stern, (an as Akira puts it himself) ‘very Japanese’ father. The plan is that Akira will learn English and will then be able to take over the international arm of his father’s company. But Akira has desires and plans of his own, and his time in Australia shows him that he can have a life outside of his father’s plans.
But there is another story here too. Akira has lost his closest friend, Satoshi, who could not take the pressure of his own father’s expectations. In Australia, there is something off about Akira’s host family. As time goes on Akira learns that they too have suffered their own loss, and to begin with at least, Akira’s presence is not helping the situation.
I love the way Kathryn expresses the struggle of learning a foreign language:
“You often want to say something entirely different but you are limited to the vocabulary you know and you have to try and construct something from the little that you have. A bit like trying to make a salad when you only have braising vegetables, or trying to build a boat using nails. You get kind of warped into the shape of the words you know. There is a big gap between what you think and what you say. It would be a long time before I felt that the real me, the one with ideas and opinions and funny stories to tell, could find his way out again. For a while that person was trapped inside a new language.”
(Sometimes I feel this way with English too… except English is my first language.)
This is a lovely story, of how complete strangers can help each other heal, and how facing our fears often helps us overcome them.
I love it when a book truly takes you out of yourself and gives you a glimpse of life from someone else’s perspective. This month I’ve read two such books – ‘Becoming Kirrali Lewis’ by Jane Harrison and ‘talk under water’ by Kathryn Lomer.
I closed both books with a sense of slight disorientation; suddenly acutely aware of, for one example, the lack of Aboriginal faces on our television screens* (Becoming Kirrali Lewis); and just how much we rely on sound in our everyday life (talk under water).
‘Becoming Kirrali Lewis’ is a fantastic novel about a young woman discovering the truth about her identity. An Aboriginal girl adopted by a white family, Kirrali has no desire to look for her birth mother – the woman gave her up, after all, plus she already has a fantastic family, who have taught her all she needs to know about her own culture.
But then she starts studying law. At uni she meets all sorts of other people, including Erin who teaches her that some Aboriginal women were forced to give up there babies right up until the 60’s and 70’s. This leads to a lot of searching and plenty of surprises as Kirrali learns that there’s a whole lot more to being Aboriginal than what they say on television.
‘talk under water’ by Kathryn Lomer gives some insight into yet another under-represented culture – the Deaf. Will’s parents have seperated, and his dad has torn him away from his home-town of Kettering to escape to NSW. Following the facebook page of his hero – Jessica Watson, who circumnavigated the globe solo at age 16 – he sees a post from Summer – also of Kettering. He sends a message, and Summer replies, and the two begin a friendship. But then Will gets the best news ever – he and his dad are moving back to Kettering! Summer does not seem so enthusiastic and when Will turns up on her doorstep he discovers why – Summer is deaf, and she never mentioned it once.
Though their friendship hits a rocky start things soon improve and Will learns quite a lot about the Deaf community and communicating in sign-language, but in the process he also learns a lot about himself.
These were both fantastic books to read, and I highly recommend them both!
*to be completely honest, we don’t have a television – maybe a kind reader can reply and tell me I’m misled on this one (we can always hope, right?)? But what I based my comment on is my children’s DVD collection. I cannot think of a single Aboriginal character in any of them.