A terrific new novella by Hoa Pham
Wave explores the alienation of being an international student in Australia with great pathos and depth, told with Hoa Pham’s characteristic compassion and lyricism.—Alice Pung
A short book but as Alice Pung so accurately endorses: told with Hoa Pham’s characteristic compassion and lyricism. Hoa Pham’s story of Midori and Âu Cô who are international university students is an emotional narrative exploring the plight of the two women who, separated from their families and cultural taboos, fall in love, only to have disaster and a marriage of convenience come between them.
The author is Hoa Pham, an Australian of Vietnamese descent who works by day as a psychologist. In Wave which is her seventh book, it’s not difficult to imagine that both her work and life events may have their place in her moving narrative. For it’s a story of international students, their displacement, their forbidden love for one another, amid environmental disaster and violence.
A story of our time.
Midori is from Fukushima and at the age of nineteen becomes the guardian of her younger brother following the sudden death of their parents after the earthquake and tsunami hit Japan.
Prior to the disaster, and before The wave changed everything, Midori bathed in freedom and happiness with her lover Âu Cô.
In their secret universe they were water dragons, with the sea lapping against their scales. She was gold, her lover was silver and they were born of royalty.
Both of them had ‘loneliness in common’. Midori had escaped to Australia to get away from her parents only to find ‘herself walled in by indifference’, with ‘the hard knot in her heart dissolved’ as she found a partner in Âu Cô.
When she hears that her parents have died in the Fukushima earthquake she is in shock. She is overcome with guilt for she had previously wished them dead. When even her lover fails to comfort her with ‘each touch… laden with guilt’, Midori descends into depression all the while thinking ‘kamikaze suicidal thoughts’, and her brother believes he is cursed. ‘First his parents and then Midori tried to leave him alone.’
A school shooting ensues. The ‘oddball’ of her class shouts “you do not understand me” before shooting the two top students of their class. Chen was alone, alienated and Midori finds that she was to be the next student on his list of targets, chosen because she had rejected his offers of friendship. Hoa Pham describes this all too familiar scene of the friendless student who walks into school and mows down innocent victims in a rage of mental despair. Recent history is awash with such sad, tragic events. Again reinforcing this novella as one with intense emotions and suited to our troubled times.
It is written simply and thoughtfully and divided into small chapters beginning with the name of the person who is telling this particular part of the tragic story.
Following the shooting Âu Cô reflects on what this event meant for her lover Midori.
Maybe his death was what pushed her over. Her world was broken by those gunshots.
The Vice Chancellor says: ‘We are not like this. This is not what Australia is like’. She wanted to reassure them. The isolation, alienation and exploitation of the international student looms large in this intelligent work including a reference to the pressure exerted by overseas parents on their offspring to do well in Australia. When Chen took revenge on his fellow classmates he faced deportation if he failed, but will now spend the rest of his life in a psychiatric unit.
Midori’s life continues to unravel when her lover informs her that she is going to marry Dzung, the eldest son of a Vietnamese family who ‘had still not done his duty and produced a family’. But in her acceptance of the marriage proposal, Âu Cô’s realises that her ‘wings were clipped’.
Wave explores love, loss, displacement and alienation and causes the reader to reflect on these important issues. Âu Cô loves Midori but the prospect of marriage to her Vietnamese fiancée offers her own family the hope of a new life in Australia and she also wants a child. The traditional values that these two international students happily left at home have surfaced. This does not bode well for Midori who had promised to be at her lover’s wedding but fails to turn up and takes to wandering in the mountains on her last adventure.
Wave is published by Spinifex Press