“Books don’t change people. I think people change people.”
Alice Pung’s novels are beloved by readers, but she has a bone to pick with those who mostly encounter people with various backgrounds through fiction. “Why don’t you have any Asian friends or black friends or poor friends or friends from the other side of the river in the western suburbs? Why do you need me to open up your eyes?”
“My biggest readers are woke people and I would think it would be a wonderful thing if they brought less of my books. And you know, catch the bus across to Footscray and play basketball with some of the kids atnd the commission flats or something. It’s my biggest gripe that some people think you can become a good person just by reading books,” she said.
Pung’s latest novel One Hundred Days tells the story of Karuna, a half Chinese-Filipino, half white-Australian teenager. After she falls pregnant, a battle of wills ensues between Karuna and her mother, who confines Karuna to their apartment to protect her.
The novel depicts a claustrophobic and controlling relationship between mother and daughter and, as with much of Pung’s work, offers a glimpse into the challenges of living between cultures in modern Australia.
Pung also opens up about up her experience of Buddhism, and the challenge of depicting the lived religious experience of her characters without reinforcing crude stereotypes of race or religion.
If nothing else, this conversation will invite you to consider what life looks like from the perspective of people you may never meet, but with whom you share multicultural Australia.
One Hundred Days by Alice Pung