The Yellow Papers
Transit Lounge, $29.95 pb, 348 pp
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 The Analects 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.