No More Boats by Felicity Castagna
No More Boats follows two previous works of fiction by Australian author Felicity Castagna: a collection of short stories and a YA novel, which won the Prime Minister’s Literary Award. This latest is a family drama about an unconventional breakdown, suffered by Antonio Martone, a post-war Italian migrant who has been pushed into retirement after an accident at his building site, in which he was injured and his best friend killed.
When we think about migration and diaspora, we often dwell on memory; current scholarship is interested in intergenerational memory and inherited cultures. Castagna, very astutely, draws a link between migrant histories and the forgetting and distancing which happens between first- and second-generation migrants as they encounter social and economic pressures to fit another cultural mould. The results are explored as the Martone family’s fundamental misunderstandings of each other unravel against the backdrop of the Tampa crisis in 2001. The wave of bigotry and fear that flows out of Canberra and into the streets of Parramatta adds to Antonio’s confusion and isolation, as he is seduced by an odd group of right-wing troublemakers in his front room. Antonio’s incongruous racism, portrayed as a sort of madness, rocks his family and mirrors the dislocating and alienating events happening in politics – the effects of which we are still encountering now.
No More Boats is a striking work of suburban Australian realism. Though the premise seems to belong to an absurdist novel, it’s grim and absolutely relevant to our present, disappointingly similar as it is to the new-old rhetoric of assimilation and blatant xenophobia that is hurled around by politicians now. Castagna makes an essential point about the connection between our long history of cognitive dissonance when it comes to settlement, migration and dispossession, and how necessary it is that we try to remember and connect in order to maintain our humanity.
Georgia Delaney works as a bookseller at Readings Carlton.