The Yarra – Nam Le – first published in Brothers and Sisters, reprinted in The Best Australian Stories 2010

05 Mar
Machete by Marcello Braga

Machete by Marcello Braga

To keep with the Australian vein I’m mining at the moment, I’ll talk about a Nam Le story I’ve recently read. Nam Le is one of Australia’s brightest upcoming stars. His collection, The Boat, did fantastically well on both a local and an international level. He writes long short stories, though they probably fall short of novella length but I know the borderline is extremely vague between these two terms.) There are only seven stories that make up the collection, The Boat, but some of them run over sixty pages long.

One that I’ve read recently though that has particularly impressed me though was  The Yarra. Even though it is shorter than some of his other pieces Le writes, it was still the longest story in The Best Australian Fiction 2010. It is the story of two brothers who are second generation Vietnamese Australians. The story is set in Melbourne (the Yarra is the major river of that city) and details the strained relationship between the two. Narrated by the younger brother, it describes the beatings that he took from his brother Thuan when they were boys, and goes on to detail Thuan’s relationship with a girl called ‘Baby’ which keeps winding up in fights between Thuan and Baby’s ex boyfriends.

Image by Frostnova

Image by Frostnova

They go to Asian nights at nightclubs. Asian nights, the narrator says, occur in Melbourne, but got banned in Sydney due to the fights and gang violence at such events. Perhaps with good reason, because at one such night, Thuan and his friends fight off one of Baby’s exes and his friends and wind up killing three of them. Thuan goes to jail over it while the younger brother continues on becoming a lecturer at a university and buying a house. What is revealed at the end of the story though, was the younger brother was there the night it happened, and was as much a participant as any.

For better or worse, Nam Le, as a writer has lived the immigrant experience. His family arrived in Australia (from Vietnam) when he was two. In many ways the twentieth century and possibly the next is a story of great shifts in the population. Of subcultures within cultures. Myself, as I’ve mentioned am strictly middle class, but have always been fascinated with the lives of the poor. However, when I lived in Sydney, I realised that I really had no idea about the life within the migrant communities there. If I attempted to write a story set there, I would find it riddled with at best, assumptions and at worse, stereotypes. It is impossible to grade disadvantage in Australia on some type of scale, but I would put the trials suffered by first and second generation immigrants as up there.

Nam Le is only young, and its guaranteed that he’ll produce more work. I suspect he’ll be one of Australia’s leading authors over the coming years.

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Posted by on March 5, 2011 in Uncategorized


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