What it really means to be a migrant
SALMA SHAH reviews NSW academic Roanna Gonsalves’ first book The Permanent Resident
Roanna Gonsalves’ first book, The Permanent Resident, released by UWA Publishing, provides a montage of the migrant experience in Australia. But in the telling of these short stories, this work reveals the migrant’s experiences as no more than an evocation of the human condition, and the migrant experience is simply a theme on which to frame the stories.
Curiously, the publisher’s blurb outlines that these stories “cut to the truth of what it means to be a modern outsider”, but to this reviewer, also an immigrant, the concept of ‘outsider’ is nebulous, even fraught with contradictions. When does one become an outsider, and does one ever feel like one truly belongs? What does one need to surrender, or acquire, in order to become less of an outsider? These ideas provoke contemplation and in reading these stories, one considers that there is likely very few who do not feel like an outsider at some stage in their lives.
This therefore renders the stories within the work as a reflection of what it means to be human – whether or not one is an immigrant or outsider. ‘Friending and Trending’ is an especially modern story about technology playing a pivotal role alongside the minutiae of a couple’s life as they live through the life-altering experience of a miscarriage. Here, the ‘outsiders’ could be anyone going through the same harrowing event.
Similarly, in ‘Up Sky Down Sky Middle Water’, we read of an extended job interview during a car journey, during which the interviewer, a married man, attempts and succeeds at seducing his future subordinate. She acquiesces in an incongruent attempt at shifting the power back to her decision, as though she is in charge of this life-changing chapter of her life.
That the characters in this story have a migrant background is almost inconsequential. What compels the reader to think deeper about the story is the gender politics at play, the cavalier gall of the one in power misusing this for his own gain, while the abused makes a decision from a place of need. This type of story plays out in the media more often than it should – and the reader feels the compunction to try to understand what it is about the sexes that leads to such blatant misuse of power. Is it a flaw in the thinking of the manipulative boss, who sees what he wants, and takes it? And what role does the victim play in this – especially when from her perspective, this is a decision she made with clarity of thought and free will?
All the stories in The Permanent Resident offer the careful reader an opportunity to reflect and understand what it really means to be a migrant – when the seemingly obvious migrant experience could be the same experience of everyone who shares it.
Gonsalves was born and brought up in Mumbai, India and came to Australia as an international student. She now lives in Sydney.
This collection of stories is more a playful, thought-provoking reflection of what it means to be an Australian. In particular, in our post-multicultural world – where we take on a little bit of everything that we see, feel and experience – in a sense, the migrant experience is no longer confined to those who journey here, because the same experience can apply to those living here and trying to fit in.
The stories in The Permanent Resident are engaging and enjoyable. That they are stories about migrants is ephemeral to the overall experience. All Australians will find something that resonates within these pages.