The Travel Writer
Picador, $32.95 pb, 310 pp, 0330422561
Anyone who has read Simone Lazaroo’s novel The Australian Fiancé (2000) will find many echoes in her latest work, The Travel Writer. That earlier book follows a young Eurasian woman, who had been kept by the Japanese as a comfort woman during the war, while she is being courted by a wealthy Australian. He lures her back to Broome with the promise of marriage, but the relationship collapses under the twin burdens of Australian racism and her traumatic past, which comes back to haunt her in devastating ways.
In The Travel Writer, Lazaroo once again focuses on the experiences of Eurasian women at the hands of white men, weaving a dual tale that shuttles back and forth in time. One strand, set in London in 1985, is narrated by Isabelle de Sequeira, whose mother, Ghislaine, is dying of cancer. Isabelle, who has a young daughter and has recently separated from her husband, divides her days between hospital visits, her horticultural job at Kew Gardens, and an ongoing yet futile affair with her middle-aged writing tutor. The other narrative thread, entitled ‘The True Body’ and occupying the bulk of the novel, recounts Ghislaine’s life and that of her parents in Malaya in the 1950s and 1960s. As Malaccan Eurasians – mixed-race descendants of the sixteenth-century Portuguese colonisers – Ghislaine’s family embodies the legacy of imperialism; they are considered outsiders by both the Malays and the white expatriates. While still at school, Ghislaine becomes enchanted by an English travel writer more than twice her age. Her father sends her off to the Cameron Highlands to escape his influence, where she is soon unhappily married to an ageing British tea planter, but the travel writer’s spell has been cast, and his words and presence will shape her life.