WITH Harmony Day still fresh, it seems a good time to delve into award-winning Fremantle author Simone Lazaroo’s latest novel Between Water and the Night Sky.
Her first major novel in almost a decade, Between Water takes Lazaroo’s own life as a starting point, but the “auto-fictional” account focuses on her parents – their mixed-race marriage was a rarity in WA when she was growing up.
It’s the story of Elspeth, a Western Australian woman from a small Wheatbelt town and Francis, a young Singaporean who arrives in Perth in the late ‘50s with his box brownie camera and his Great Wall of China suitcase.
Lazaroo herself was born in Singapore and says while the memories have dimmed over time, she recalls the impact racism had on the family after arriving in Australia when she was three years old.
“In lower primary school, when I about five, there was a fair bit of racism at the little school that we went to,” Lazaroo said.
“My father was dark skinned, and so were my siblings and me.
“Some of my siblings look more obviously Asian than I do; they copped a fair bit of racism unfortunately.
“I know my father did too, because I remember him coming home and talking about it with my mother.”
At the time the White Australia Policy was still in force, and Lazaroo said while it was somewhat diluted, it’s sentiment really affected people like her father and siblings.
The novel is also a story about the impact of childhood trauma and its intergenerational effect.
Lazaroo started writing it as a memorialisation of her parents, and particularly her mother.
“Between Water and the Night Sky was inspired by my mother’s courage, that wasn’t always obvious to outsiders,” she said.
“Some people didn’t know that she’d had all these traumatic events and that she still came through life trying to be creative and good to other people.
“I wanted to focus on my mother, who despite a terrible childhood trauma of her own, considerable hardship during and following the breakup of her marriage, remained quietly, but inspiringly courageous and creative,” she said.
“But as I wrote something longer, the story took on a life of its own.
“The fictionalisation was partly to make the story more engaging.
“And it was partly necessitated by the fact that I often didn’t know the details of significant events in my parents’ lives.
“For those, imagination was all I had; in the case of my book, I felt it was also appropriate to use fictional devices and imagination.
Lazaroo said she hoped that by writing about issues of trauma it would help readers who’d experienced their own to feel less isolated.
“I hope that it can give readers some kind of empathy for people who’ve had difficult times… experiences of some things like poverty.
“I think lots of writers, hope that their books will do that.”
Lazaroo says Australia doesn’t have as strong a tradition of “auto-fiction” as in Europe, but says she’s been encouraged by the early response.
“I was glad that early reviewers… implied that this novel suggests ways in which we might deepen our connection with people we love,” she said.
“[Writing] is a way of making connection with people who you might not otherwise make a connection with. Whether that’s online or a physical book form, that opportunity to make connection with people is a wonderful thing.”
by ARIANA ROSENBERG