Cultural resonances

Cultural resonances

The Yellow Papers

by Dominique Wilson

Transit Lounge, $29.95 pb, 348 pp, 9781921924613

The three parts of Dominique Wilson’s story are linked together by racial prejudice, of Australians towards Asians, and of Chinese, Koreans, and Japanese towards Westerners. She picks up this well-worn thread in pre-Federation Australia and weaves it in and out of the narrative, tying it off when China is in the throes of the Cultural Revolution. During the twentieth century, her three men – two Chinese and one Australian – are afflicted by racism to different degrees. How strange, then, to call her book The Yellow Papers, without explaining the significance of that loaded adjective. What papers? Wartime telegrams, ancient documents, or something else?

In a blurb, Brian Castro – Chair of Creative Writing at the University of Adelaide, where Wilson received her doctorate – praises her impeccable research and unforgiving realism. Wilson’s reading has evidently included TheAnalects of Confucius and Eric Rolls’s work on Chinese sojourners, and she may well have based Chen Mu, the first of her men, on the cook in Mrs Aeneas Gunn’s We of the Never-Never. Her observations of Shanghai, Hong Kong, and Adelaide are evocative, and Umberumberka, now Silverton, a mining town in Mad Max country near Broken Hill, is photographically presented.

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Published in August 2014 no. 363
Alison Broinowski

Alison Broinowski

Alison Broinowski has lived, worked and frequently travelled in Japan. She was Australia's cultural attaché in Tokyo in the mid-1980s and has recently contributed a chapter, with Rachel Miller, on the history of the Australian Embassy, to a book on Australia–Japan relations edited at Deakin University.

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