Stephanie Green on the summer reading pleasures in Australia: The Conversation

Summertime and reading always went together in my family. Whether we were sunbathing on hot silky beach sand or cooling off in the back yard under a shady plum tree, our books came too. In those pre-digital days, the best Christmas presents were books – the paper and cardboard kind, with a spine you could crack. Ideally, something that’d last the distance so we wouldn’t run out of good reading before the end of the holidays.

Chris MooneySinghIt was a rare sight. When a ruddy Caucasian Sikh with a full flowing beard, dressed in loose Punjabis and wearing a turban, comes on stage and full-throatedly recites divine poetry – one sits back feeling that things must still be somewhat well in the world. Enter Chris Mooney-Singh, another revelation of The Goa Art and Literary Fest 2013. Poet, novelist, dramatist, musician, teacher, events organizer, journalist and broadcaster; life as led by Mooney-Singh seems to be a wonderful example of how following one’s passion can lead to a very broad band of experience.

Australia’s relationship with Asia has always been a focus for heated debate and, often, misunderstanding. What role do books play in moulding this relationship?

A research project underway at the Queensland University of Technology seeks to answer that question by investigating the role of children’s literature in shaping young readers’ attitudes to Australia’s past, present and future relations with Asia.

balli kaur jaswal

Balli Kaur Jaswal grew up in Singapore, Japan, Russia and the Philippines. She attended the creative writing programs in Hollins University and George Mason University in the US. In 2007, she won the David TK Wong Fellowship at the University of East Anglia, where she wrote Inheritance, her first novel, published by Sleepers Publishing in February 2013.

Currently, Jaswal teaches VCE English in a secondary school in Melbourne.

Inheritance is a story about a traditional family grappling with their rapidly modernising surroundings.  It is a nation’s coming-of-age story, seen through the sharp lens of a traditional Punjabi family as it gradually unravels.  Set in Singapore between the 1970’s and 1990’s, Inheritance follows the familial fissures that develop after teenaged Amrit disappears in the middle of the night. Although her absence is brief, she returns as a different person.

In this interview with Kitaab’s editor Zafar Anjum, Jaswal discusses the journey of her first novel from its genesis to its publication.

Inheritance is your debut novel. How did the idea of this multi-generational saga come to you?

The characters came to me before the story did. When they started interacting with each other and conflicts began to arise, the story was born. In rising Asia, there is a palpable tension between tradition and modernity. The characters from different generations play out these tensions – they’re living proof of one country’s uneasy balancing act of past and present. As the landscape of Singapore changes, the characters have to decide between adjusting to them or completely retreating.