A Clear Dawn: New Asian Voices from Aotearoa New Zealand
Edited by Paula Morris and Alison Wong
(Auckland University Press, $50)
Taking its title from Ya-Wen Ho's translation of a Li Po poem, A Clear Dawn holds all the promise and possibility of its namesake, suggesting a clear way forward for new voices to be heard and the dawning of greater representation, publication and recognition of a diversity of New Zealand writers.
Naturally the diversity of writers leads to a diversity of content. This is an anthology of creative non-fiction, fiction and poetry with excerpts from novels, previously unpublished works, and published pieces from the last decade. While some writers explore ideas about being Asian, being migrants, being torn between the traditions of family and discovering their true self, others write about being queer, being alone, being young, being old, revenge, jealousy and mass hysteria. It would be impossible to draw any major themes together, although some pieces do seem to talk to each other or nod knowingly in each other's direction.
The pieces in A Clear Dawn are ordered alphabetically by author name, which allows the reader to flick back and forth without missing something in the careful ordering. Author biographies appear at the start of each piece, rather than listed at the back of the book, tying the writer's identity much more closely to their own work, letting them introduce their piece and give the reader something to consider while reading.
In Latika Vasil's introduction to her story "River", she describes her childhood memories of India as "strangely disjointed images – sleeping on the rooftop of my grandmother's house, looking at the stars through a mosquito net; a yellow and black snake floating in floodwaters outside our house in Calcutta – and I'm not even sure these are real or imagined. New Zealand has been home for a very long time."
Highlights from the work itself include the experimental pieces by Akeli and Ki Anthony; Russell Boey's gentle and heartbreaking story "Pooh sticks"; the precise imagery in the poetry of Joanna Cho and Vanessa Mei Crofskey; and Grace Lee's award-winning essay on body image, "Body/love".
Drawing on lived experiences, Himali McInnes shows the sinister misogyny of accusations of "sanguma", or witchcraft in Papua New Guinea in her story "Forest fire". Cybella Maffitt expresses what it's like to feel like a disappointment to older family members in her poem "But the onions won't grow this year". And E Wen Wong draws parallels between 9/11 and the horrors of March 15, 2019 in her poem, "one world sleeps in an apple".
Reading the diversity of works in A Clear Dawn: New Asian Voices from Aotearoa New Zealand it is clear that a change to our understanding of Aotearoa's cultural and literary landscape is necessary. Representation matters and the success of this anthology is not just in its one-off representation of such a range of writers, but in bringing to light those, who, I hope, will continue to be represented in anthologies not just limited to Asian voices. In embracing the vague and general term "Asian", the editors have shown just how complex a word it really is.
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Reviewed by Saradha Koirala
Saradha Koirala is the author of three poetry collections and a teen novel. She teaches English, literature and creative writing in Melbourne. A longer version of this review will appear on www.anzliterature.com.