Into the Suburbs

Christopher Raja

Into the Suburbs
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Into the Suburbs

Christopher Raja

‘In Calcutta we were crammed in among crowds, traffic and pollution. We had visions of breathing fresh, clean air and living in a classless society where everyone was your mate.’

Christopher Raja was eleven years old when his father, David, decided to move the family to Australia in pursuit of the idyllic lifestyle. They brought their hopes and aspirations to a bungalow in Melbourne’s outer suburbs. On the surface, the Rajas appeared to be living a ‘normal’ Australian life.

Throughout his teenage years, Christopher embraces the freedoms of his adopted country, while his father becomes more and more disenchanted. Just as Christopher is settling into university, the family is rocked by a tragic and unexpected loss.

Exploring topical issues of race, class and migration, Into the Suburbs is an affecting portrait of one family’s search for home.    

Review

Personal stories of migration to Australia always break my heart a little. It is within these affecting portraits of someone’s life that we see an Australia that is racist, classist and so arrogant. Christopher Raja’s story of arriving from Calcutta to Melbourne when he was eleven years old shows us the debilitating effect of racism. His story is told in an open and pragmatic style, noting the early days of arrival to the Garden State through to adulthood. He takes us by the hand and invites us into his memories, beginning with his parents’ optimism for beginning a new life in a country that is clean, open and quiet.

Christopher Raja takes to the outer suburbs of Melbourne like a duck to water. He partakes in teenage tomfoolery, he worships footballer Warwick Capper, he has girlfriends, and he ventures out of the family home. Meanwhile, his parents are struggling. Once proud, systematic racism and cultural differences now weigh them down. Tragedy strikes and Raja is left to understand all his parents fears and hopes.

There are laugh-out-loud moments in his memoir; anyone of a certain age will understand the references to popular culture from dingy St Kilda clubs to fumbling with girlfriends in stolen moments. Anyone can empathise with the generational gap between parents longing for respect and a teenager’s need to break away. Throughout this period, his own suburban life is shown to be a melting pot of Australian and Indian culture. He does what so many people have done; he learns to balance cultural expectations.

Read this book if you want to understand what it is like to be outsider. Read it if you haven’t realised that we are all responsible for making our community a welcoming place. Read it because, for so many of us over the generations, Raja’s story of finding a home within our suburban streets is our story as well.


Chris Gordon is the programming and events manager for Readings.

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