“Poignant, provocative, sometimes laugh-out-loud funny, Pung’s rollicking tale of two worlds is not to be missed.”—Kirkus Reviews (starred review)
After Alice Pung’s family fled to Australia from the killing fields of Cambodia, her father chose Alice as her name because he thought their new country was a Wonderland. In this lyrical, bittersweet debut memoir—already an award-winning bestseller when it was published in Australia—Alice grows up straddling two worlds, East and West, her insular family and the Australia outside. With wisdom beyond her years and a keen eye for comedy in everyday life, she writes of the trials of assimilation and cultural misunderstanding, and of the tender but fraught relationships between three generations of women trying to live the Australian dream without losing themselves.
Unpolished Gem is a moving, vivid journey about identity and the ultimate search for acceptance and healing, delivered by a writer possessed of rare empathy, penetrating insight, and undeniable narrative gifts.
I was doomed, early on, to be a word-spreader, Pung writes, and her special burden was to tell these stories that the women of my family made me promise never to tell a soul. The stories are not of scandalous secrets or shocking revelations, but of the struggles faced by three generations of Asian women as they settle in a culturally Western country. Pung, a lawyer, recounts the journey her family made over the decades from China, her grandparents' birthplace, to Cambodia, where her parents are born, through Vietnam and Thailand to Australia where, one month after their arrival, Pung is born. In retelling her grandmother's stories, the imagined is rendered credible; Pung captures her form of magic, the magic of words that became movies in mind. In recollecting her own story, Pung loses that magic in the ordinariness of adolescence, and as the family moves toward achieving the Great Australian Dream, it passes through familiar stages the hard work of both parents, the distance created between generations and the anxieties suffered by the younger generation ( I had done everything right, and I had turned out so wrong ). The non-European-immigrant-girl-grows-up story is a familiar one to American readers. What's new about Pung's book is the Australian setting. That twist of focus reveals how more alike than different the experience is.
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A wonderful account of refugee and "other" experience. Also a beautiful book on identity and adolescence.