Unpolished gem by Alice Pung

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Melbourne lawyer Alice Pung’s first published book is a stunning memoir of growing up in a Chinese-Cambodian family in Melbourne’s western suburbs. As the blurb says,               

This story does not begin on a boat. Nor does it contain any wild swans or falling leaves.

Yet Alice’s parents and grandparents were forced from China to Cambodia to Vietnam and finally Australia due to the regimes and wars that tore those countries apart some years ago.

 We meet Alice’s parents and grandparents as newly arrived immigrants in Australia. Their astonishment at escalators, the old age pension and traffic lights is amusing and the listener is invited to laugh along with the story.

 The story follows Alice from birth to a coveted university place, all the while depicting the struggle, hardship, aspirations and eventual success of her extended family to accept and be accepted into the community, to give their children a good education, to succeed in business and to save enough money to build their dream home.

 An unpolished gem is told in the first person, often with flashbacks used to depict parts of her parents and grandparents lives back in Asia. The style of the story should enable teenagers to become engaged in what is essentially a tale of finding your place; in your family, in your country, in yourself. I am sure that many people will identify with that developing sense of self, even if the cultural expectations are not what they have personally experienced.

 An unpolished gem is an accessible and charming book and although a true story and probably aimed at the adult market, it reminded me of the raw power and emotion of Looking for Alibrandi.

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