A beautiful evening opened as friends and family gathered around Cher for this important night. The book, the characters, and Cher herself have had an interesting evolvement. The result is a cross-cultural darkly funny story that will introduce you to the layers of complexity that immigration to this country can create.
It’s not often that you can read a story about the challenges of émigrés that are written with warts and all. It is even less likely that as the reader you will be enticed to become involved in the course of the story. But this is the joy and the value in Cher’s book, for she is neither indulging our sensibilities as readers nor is she keeping us out of the discussion.
As you read you may find that your feelings are aroused, you also may take up a point of view and shift your attitude.
This is such a valuable experience to have and it makes the book a great vehicle for group discussion. Get hold of a copy, read it and pass it on to friends. This is the way we can help to make a difference.
Written by Del Nightingale
*** Cher will be interviewed on ABC radio, Life Matters with Ellen Fanning,
Monday 5th December at 9.40am ***
Review of Ken’s Quest by Dr Alison Broinowsk
Dr Alison Broinowski has studied and written about Asian Australian fiction since the 1980s.
Cher Chidzey, Ken’s Quest, Melbourne: Threekookaburras, 2016
The earliest account we have by a Chinese man about his time in Australia is dated 1860. It was followed by many more, in fact and fiction, recording the gold-seekers’ hopes and disillusionments. With individual variations, the pattern is so consistent that it almost seems they wrote what was traditionally expected of Chinese far from home. A boom-time for Chinese diaspora novels of a different kind came when the ‘Tiananmen students’, who stayed on in Australia, tried with varying success to make new lives here. Yet more than a century after the gold rushes, many still wrote as their predecessors had about their struggle to survive, make money, and bring honour to their families and to China. Several expressed distaste if not contempt for Australians, and resentment that their superiority as Chinese ‘intellectuals’ was not acknowledged.
Wei Da’s name means greatness, and that is what he seeks in Melbourne. He is ‘on a mission to fall in love, get married and obtain permanent residency.’ His wife has died, he has left his two children with his mother, and when Cher Chidzey’s story begins, he has 180 days of his Australian visa left to realise his dream. Now called Ken, his engineering qualifications from Shanghai are not recognised and he is reduced to driving around Melbourne’s suburbs fitting security doors with a cynical Australian called Red and his dog, Fu Manchu. Ken learns that Australians of several backgrounds don’t welcome his advice about improving their lifestyle, so most of the time he keeps it to himself, while his workmates keep their distance from what he brings for lunch. It’s as if he is shut out by the very security doors that pay his wages.
At weekends, Ken wanders around Melbourne and its scenic countryside, increasingly accompanied by big Julia, a TESOL teacher with a taste for exotic lovers. But she has sworn off marriage, so they have to explore other options to keep Ken living in the style to which he is increasingly becoming accustomed, even as pressure mounts for him to go back to take responsibility for his disabled daughter and gay son in Shanghai. The real action, though, takes place in Ken’s mind, as his conditioned traditionalism pits him against the laid-back tolerance of people he has surprisingly begun to love.
In this second book after her autobiographical The House With 99 Doors, Cher Chidzey flicks deftly back and forth between Chinese and Australian prejudice and never takes sides. Ken is a pain to begin with, but becomes less so; crude, argumentative Red eventually shows his vulnerable side; and tough, self-assured Julia turns out to have her own dilemmas. The result is funny as well as poignant – a polished satire on the clash of cultures.
Cher knows from experience how hard it is to break out of one culture and into another. She has lived in Australia for more than 40years, has taught mathematics and has run workshops for TAFE teachers. A couple of decades ago, she decided to reinvent herself as a writer, and her efforts have at last been rewarded with the publication of this novel. She further develops her creativity with playwriting and painting, and even takes film roles as a extra. She volunteers for asylum seekers and homeless people. Anyone with doubts about multicultural Australia should look at Cher, and read her too.