13 May 2013

We are all different

“Have you ever considered writing something that isn’t multicultural?” I bristle a bit when people ask me that. I imagine them having a conversation with Tolstoy, “I loved Anna Karenina,” they might say, ” but have you ever considered writing a novel where the characters aren’t all Russian?” Now I’m not suggesting my writing is in a class with Tolstoy, but I am suggesting it may be enjoyed by people who don’t have an Aunty Soula, Voula or Agape. After all I relate to Amy Tan’s characters and the arguments they have with their mothers, and I’m not Chinese American; and I adored A Suitable Boy by Vikram Seth but didn’t grow up in India. 
A good story, well told, with believable characters is worth reading whether those characters are Syrian, Lithuanian or Lilliputian. I think my stories of Greek Australian families have everything any good story has, as well as an extra layer. The multicultural aspect, I believe, gives them more depth. Of course people with a similar background to mine might relate more to the characters, understand them better; but then again readers who haven’t grown up in Australia, from within a Greek family, might find learning about “us” interesting. My stories are often about love and relationships, but behind most of them is the backdrop of displacement and the search for identity. I grew up feeling “different” but then I know many others who grew up in “Australian” families, like my husband, who did too. The truth is, we are all different, unique; and isn’t every story, in some way, about being “the other”? The unfaithful wife, the hunchback in the belfry, the mad scientist, the shipwrecked sailor, the unpopular kid at school. 
Difference is fascinating. Some people who question my writing about multicultural themes are concerned that I’m limiting my readership. They think that mainstream readers will be put off, and perhaps they will be. Even my publisher asked me to write some stories outside of the Greek Australian community, and I did. One is about a middle-aged widow who becomes obsessed by a family after inspecting the home they are selling, another is about an annoying flatmate who has the house crammed full of electrical gadgets and power cords; both of those are included in my book. My publisher said he didn’t want me pigeon holed so early in my writing career. Then, a couple of weeks ago, I found out that my book has been shortlisted in the 2013 NSW Premier’s Literary Awards—in the multicultural category. You may wonder if that worried me in any way. Hell no! “It’s a thrill just to be nominated,” I said. “You’re not at the Oscars yet,” replied my husband.

3 comments:

  1. Congrats and good luck Hariklia!

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  2. First of all, I can not wait to hear that you won. And even if you don't, I'll still love you!

    Second, I think that many people spend too much time focusing on what makes us different and not enough on what makes us that same. If they did, they might see that we are more alike than we think...and the "cultural" aspects of the story are just really cool to learn about. I mean, I could probably share a few about my Polish grandma and the neighborhood she grew up in...never a dull moment. And so different from the neighborhood I was raised in...and that's what makes it interesting. AND, I also enjoyed putting together how alike we could be....it still makes me smile. Anyway, don't they say "write what you know"?

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    1. Well said Melanie - so much better to focus on what makes us the same.

      And thank you for your lovely words. I've missed you!! x

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