The Surprising Power of a Good Dumpling by Wai Chaim
Anna Chiu and her younger siblings Lily and Michael are very familiar with the ups and downs in their mother’s mental health, but that doesn’t make their family life any easier. Year Eleven student Anna takes on parental duties when her mum retreats into her bedroom for months at a time, ensuring that Lily and Michael are fed, showered, dressed and delivered to school on time. Anna’s father buries himself in running his restaurant, and pretends that his wife’s condition isn’t that serious. Desperate to escape the sometimes-oppressive environment at home, Anna convinces her dad to let her work in the restaurant on the school holidays, where she meets, and starts a romance with, Anglo-Australian delivery boy Rory. Anna’s enjoyment of slogging it out as a valued member of the Jade Palace team and her heady experience of first love is tempered when her mum’s health suddenly deteriorates.
Wai Chim has written a sensitive portrayal of a close immigrant Chinese-Australian family struggling to manage an untreated mental illness. Everyday details pile up in an atmosphere of pressure and hypervigilance; Anna’s mother comes across as loving and loveable, but the difficult aspects of her behaviour are also not glossed over. The process of Anna’s mother being admitted into hospital and the harsh realities of medication provide a realistic insight into the process of recovery.
Anna truly won my heart; at sixteen she’s caught at the crossroads of responsibility and restriction, labouring under heavy expectations that come from others and herself. Chim has employed a deeply immersive storytelling style to explore the unspoken truths within families, trust, inter-cultural relationships, cultural obligations, first love and forgiveness with sophistication and unfailing empathy.