Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Stuff I learned about Australia from reading novels.

(This post is dedicated to my Australian friends, Joe and Alison, who may or may not read my blog.)

I have gained such a strange mental picture of Australia from reading novels. Most of the weird Australian books I've read are YA literature, probably because I used to check in with Persnickety Snark a lot for recommendations, and she's Australian. Off the top of my head, here are novels about Australia that I remember reading recently:

Does My Head Look Big in This?
If I have learned anything from these books about Australia and its people, it is that Australian youth are poor. Australian youth know/are friends with at least one person who owns/lives on a ranch in the middle of nowhere. Australian youth are very keen on camping "in the bush." They use a lot of incomprehensible slang words and don't mind throwing in the occasional American curse word for good measure. They are astonishingly independent - they seem to go places and do things without an adult ever checking in with them. They eat atrocious foods like meat pies with sauce, and tinned milk. Australian youth are tough and unemotional but don't mind a good brooding spell from time to time. They operate outside the American assumption of a nation that is populated across its entirety, with cities connected to one another by well maintained roads.

Seriously, this is what I think of Australia.

I finished A Town Like Alice the other day and more than any of the others, it reminded me of the fact that just because two countries have a shared language (in this case, English) doesn't mean they have more in common than any other two countries you compare. That really comes through to me in Australia's literary tradition. The underlying assumptions of the plots and the driving behaviors of the characters are so different from their American counterparts. A Town Like Alice puts it somewhat like this, speaking in the context of an Australian cattle herder (ringer?? or something) wanting to visit the Western United States to see how they've established that industry - "Their problems are the same as ours; they've just been at it longer than we have." I guess that's how we can be so similar, and yet so, so very different.

Tomorrow, When the War Began, specifically, is an example of a book that you might have to be Australian to really "get." I really liked the premise and the setup, but the execution was odd, and it wasn't something I could chalk up to a bad translation or easily apparent cultural differences. I think that book (and the ensuing series) is almost worshiped in Australia, which tells me that I'm missing something. I think it's a complete childhood upbringing in Australia.

What wild, sweeping generalizations about other cultures have you learned from reading novels?


AmandaStretch said...

I can't think of any sweeping generalizations I have had to combat, but I do remember that my understanding of Neil Gaiman's Neverwhere was greatly intensified after my study abroad in London, where it is set. It was a wonderful story before, but it just clicked after.

Liz Johnson said...

My experience in this genre is quite limited, but I'm pretty sure that every single person in 19th century New England was clinically (and chronically) depressed.

Suzanne Bubnash said...

I've never forgotten "A Town Like Alice." There is a dramatization made in the 70s. That's the extent of my Australian literature experience.

FYI, we have cousins in Australia--ok maybe 5th cousins, but relatives none-the-less. Due to overpopulation on the Ashe homestead in Ireland circa 1875 John Ashe / Catherine Prendiville were compelled to move away w/ their 14 children. They sent Bridget & Nora ahead to Australia to earn the $$, then the economy there went south. So the rest of the family came to the US. Bridget & Nora's descendants live in Hawker ACT. The actor Gregory Peck is descended from the part of the fam that moved to America.

Myrna said...

You are missing "Playing Beatie Bow" on your list of Australian YA books. Besides being on the reading list for schools in Australia, Canadian children growing up in Alberta will also find it on their reading lists.

I LOVED LOVED LOVED Australia. Such great people. Such good soup. Such a wonderful bus system in Adelaide. Our Australian friend gave us "Does my head look big in this?" to read on the plane on the way home...

@Amanda -- I liked Neverwhere. I will have to go to London so I can discover if I like it better after I've seen the setting.

Susanne said...

Of all the foreigners we met in Syria (this includes Americans, but not Syrians since Syrians aren't foreigners in their own country obviously), the Australians were THE BEST!

Now I wish I knew one to ask about making snot.


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