A Chinese Affair (Isabelle Li, Margaret River Press)
Isabelle Li’s debut collection A Chinese Affair is a strange beast—a genre mashup that showcases the Chinese-Australian experience by mixing short story and memoir. Li makes the unusual decision to use both a first-person autobiographical narration and that of a proxy character, Crystal, to tell her story of growing up in China and her emigration to Sydney. This approach makes the collection uneven at times: ‘Mooncake and Crab’, which tells of a dinner party between Australian and Chinese guests, successfully captures the barriers that differences in language and culture can build. However, ‘Pebbles and Flowers’, about a couple trying to conceive a child, lacks that same quality and feels tonally out of place from the rest of the collection. The Australian short-story narrative is currently in a strong place, with authors such as Maxine Beneba Clarke, Benjamin Law and Christos Tsiolkas all contributing to a vibrant kaleidoscope of Australian contemporary society. Li is a welcome new voice in this group, especially for readers who prefer an unusual structure and gentle tone.
Lindsay Wilkins is a bookseller for Mary Martin Bookshop