The Burnished Sun

Mirandi Riwoe

The Burnished Sun
University of Queensland Press
29 March 2022

The Burnished Sun

Mirandi Riwoe

From the award-winning author of Stone Sky Gold Mountain come these superbly crafted stories that explore the inner lives of those who are often ignored or misunderstood.

We follow a migrant mother who yearns to feel welcomed at a kids’ party in a local park; a young skateboarder caught between showing loyalty and being accepted; and an Indonesian maid working far from home who longs for the son she’s left behind. Bookending this collection are two stunning novellas: Annah the Javanese re-imagines the world of one of Paul Gauguin’s models in nineteenth-century Paris, while the highly acclaimed The Fish Girl reworks a classic W. Somerset Maugham story from the perspective of a young Indonesian woman.

With rich emotional insight and a light touch, these wide-ranging stories reveal hidden desires and human fragility.


My introduction to the work of Mirandi Riwoe was through her much-praised literary novel Stone Sky Gold Mountain, a beautifully written reimagining of Australian colonial history set in the goldfields of Far North Queensland. I have since been keen to read her earlier publication, the Stella Prize-shortlisted novella The Fish Girl’ which appears here in this new collection. The Fish Girl is a moving and exquisite rendition of a character from W. Somerset Maugham’s troubling short story The Four Dutchmen in which a ‘Malay trollop’ is taken on board a sailing ship with tragic consequences for the men and for her. Riwoe has recast this story from the point of view of a young Indonesian girl who is traded by her father and must move from her small village to work in the house of a Dutch merchant. From there she is sent on a sea voyage with four Dutchmen that ends in trauma and tragedy.

The Fish Girl appears in this collection with another novella Annah the Javanese, also a postcolonial reimagining of a woman who has only ever historically been represented by white men. Annah was the French artist Paul Gauguin’s maid, model, and lover. Riwoe wonderfully recreates 19th-century Paris with all its darkness and grime and misogyny and racism.

These two novellas flank an extraordinary collection that beautifully showcases a selection of Riwoe’s writing from various publications over the last few years. In each story we hear from a character who finds themselves an outsider looking in. The Invitation tells of a mother recently arrived in Australia from Indonesia whose son is never invited to the birthday parties of other children. Hazel is a heartbreaking glimpse into the life of a grandmother isolated in a nursing home during Covid. The Burnished Sun has already won the 2022 UQP Quentin Bryce Award, which recognises one book on UQP’s list each year that celebrates women’s lives and/or promotes gender equality’. It is a more than worthy winner.

Kara Nicholson is a bookseller at Readings Online.

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