Australiana

Yumna Kassab

Australiana
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Australiana

Yumna Kassab

One small town, a multitude of stories.

When the river runs dry, the town runs red.

This could be any small town. It aches under the heat of summer. It flourishes in the cooler months. Everyone knows everyone. Their families, histories and stories are interwoven and well-known by one and all. Or at least, they think they are. But no-one sees anything quite the same way. Perceptions differ, truths are elusive, judgements have outcomes and everything is connected. For better or for worse.

This is a version of small-town Australia that is recognisable, both familiar and new, exploring the characters, threads, and connections that detail everyday life to reveal a much bigger story. A tapestry that makes up this place called home.

From the acclaimed author of The House of Youssef comes this extraordinary and unique novel shining a light on Australian rural life.

Review

This is Yumna Kassab’s second novel and, as the name suggests, it is a collection of stories and ideas from an assembly of characters that together represent a narrative of rural Australia. Like a kaleidoscope scanning the drought-stricken landscape of a small town, the stories come in interconnected fragments. Kassab uses both prose and poetry and often gives the reader different reflections on the same scene. In the first story a house is broken into by bored teenagers while the owner cowers inside. The second story takes on the point of view of one of the troubled teenagers, the third is told by his long-suffering stepmother, and on it continues as many separate threads are woven together.

While the themes here are familiar to a dominant narrative of battling with life in rural Australia – an ongoing tension with the land, financial hardship and isolation – Kassab’s experimental form works to challenge this narrative by interrogating the way we tell ourselves stories about who we are. Kassab’s first novel, The House of Youssef, similarly played with form and identity with its interconnected stories set in Western Sydney about the lives of Lebanese immigrants and their families. Kassab herself was born and raised in Western Sydney, but she has spent time as a teacher in Tamworth, and so, in this novel, has been able to observe and reflect on a very different type of Australian story. Her prose is beautifully rendered and deceptively sparse. She is able to subtly and economically represent expansive ideas about the landscape, particularly the effects of climate change on both the land and its people, as well as skilfully weaving in concepts of mythology and deep time.

There is a quiet menace to this small town and its people, and Kassab’s voice is an original and essential contribution to Australian storytelling.


Kara Nicholson is a bookseller from Readings online.

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