Book Review: Alice Pung’s evocative set of essays Close To Home invites you into her Australian wonderland

Alice Pung reckons she grew up not always understanding where she fit in. But, things have changed and she now has a distinctive voice in her writing. The Chinese-Australian author has published her memoirs, several books of young adult fiction, and has had pieces feature regularly in The Monthly. And that’s all when she’s not too busy playing Mum and working as a legal researcher, editor and teacher. Her latest book, Close To Home: Selected Writings, consolidates her life experience to date by drawing together forty of her glorious non-fiction essays.

This anthology is an expansive set by a writer who is lovingly described by her father as, “Manufactured in Thailand but assembled in Australia with Chinese parts.” It seems that Pung has inherited some of her father’s sense of optimism, resilience and good humour. This is what made her books Unpolished Gem and Her Father’s Daughter such beloved memoirs, and there is some obvious cross-over here.

It is apparent in these pieces that Pung’s family are hard-working migrants. Her father considered Australia the “lucky country”, because he escaped Cambodia’s Killing Fields and sought asylum here with Alice’s mother. While some of these experiences may seem unique at first glance, there are many elements that are relatable to other migrants and first generation Australians.

These essays also showcase Pung’s development as a writer. There are pieces about intriguing pockets of Australian life, such as shopping trips to Footscray’s Little Saigon Food Market, or a 3am one to K-Mart. In other essays she writes reflective and thought-provoking articles about a range of issues, including racism, identity, gentrification and family. Pung’s prose is vivid and there are moments where you feel like you are sitting right next to her on her amazing journey.

There can be different ways to examine one’s character. In Pung’s case she feels it is the everyday things that define us. We learn lots as she unpacks different ideas through the prism of her past. These warm anecdotes, clever observations and considered reflections from her life and travels show great empathy. This tenderness radiates through to the readers, as they learn about these different individuals and the microcosms they inhabit.

Close to Home is a beautiful book brimming with rich thoughts and intimate details. In this collection of essays, Pung is like a welcoming host drawing us into her creative heart and mind and those of her nearest and dearest. Pung’s writing celebrates who we are, where we’ve come from and the shape of things to come. Close to Home is ultimately an evocative look at Alice’s adventures in an Australian wonderland.

FIVE STARS (OUT OF FIVE)

Alice Pung’s Close To Home: Selected Writings is available now through Black Inc.

Natalie Salvo

My writing portfolio can be found at: https://nataliesalvo.wordpress.com/