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Yumna Kassab

‘The personal is political’ is an axiom that has become ubiquitous. Normally used within the context of feminist activism, in Yumna Kassab’s latest novel – for which it serves as the epigraph – it is a reminder of the human sacrifice of war and how every part of a civilian’s life reflects its surroundings.

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Australiana opens with a break-in. Lifting away a flyscreen, strangers climb into a man’s house, help themselves to his biscuits. The crime doesn’t feel important – it’s the fourth in a month, we’re told – but the intrusion does. It evokes the entanglements of small towns, the way in which lives intersect, physical proximity breaking down the barriers of class and culture and personal choice that can divide urban populations into subcultures. As a declaration of intent, the image of trespass is pretty clear: there is no real privacy in this town, and as readers we’re about to gain access.

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Yumna Kassab has utilised the sparse economy of short stories to craft her début collection, grounding universal diasporic themes such as generational disconnect, cultural loss, and the weight of familial expectations in the distinct Lebanese-Australian social milieu of western Sydney, where she was born and raised.

Short story collections often lack a certain cohesiveness, but Kassab’s characters each move in the same fictional yet exceedingly real world where Muslim Australians – straddling the line between being hyper-visible and invisible – are both demonised and studiously avoided. Characters with the same names recur from time to time, not always the same characters; reading Kassab’s stories requires a meticulous attention to detail to deconstruct and decipher how various individuals relate to one another.

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