2012 Australian Women Writers Challenge Review: Unpolished Gem by Alice Pung

Logo of a silhouette of a steampunkily-dressed woman in a hat carrying an umbrella. In white text on the silhouette is '2012 Australian Women Writers Challenge'.

Unpolished Gem by Alice Pung
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Blurb from Goodreads

This is an original take on a classic story – how a child of immigrants moves between two cultures. In place of piety and predictability, however, Unpolished Gem offers a vivid and ironic sense of both worlds. It combines the story of Pung’s life growing up in suburban Footscray with the inherited stories of the women in her family – stories of madness, survival and heartbreak. Original and brave, this is a girl’s own story that introduces an unforgettable voice and captures the experience of Asian immigrants to Australia.

My review

First, a bit of background to my reading of this book. I grew up in a part of Sydney where there were many people of Asian descent. Those who were my age had often either been born in Australia to parents who were recent immigrants, or had come to Australia as children. Many of my friends were of Asian descent, from a variety of ethnic and cultural backgrounds. I tended to see the similarities between my friends and me – they were, after all, my friends – and I often did not understand why they reacted to certain things so differently, especially in relation to their interactions and relationships with their families.

In the years since high school, I have grown to understand much more. Unpolished Gem allowed me to take another leap in my understanding of some of my friends. At the very least, this means that if Ms Pung is writing for the wider Australian audience, to give them an insight into the life of a certain section of the Australian community, she has nailed it. (I am quite curious to know if she has nailed the audience within the section of the Australian community she is writing about.)

Ms Pung’s writing is impeccable. By this I mean not that her sentences and paragraphs are well-structured and grammatically correct, although they are that, too, but that Ms Pung’s narrative allows the reader to step inside the book and, to a significant extent, empathise with her. The reader is, accordingly, able to understand Ms Pung’s emotional reactions to the situations she describes. It was this which allowed me to come to a much better understanding about my friends than I had before. It is not that I think all – or, even, any – of my friends had precisely the same experiences as Ms Pung, but that, by understanding the background in Ms Pung’s story, I was able to better imagine what might have been happening for my friends in similar situations.

Such an understanding is important to me personally, and may be important personally to many others. It is also important socially. Ms Pung’s family has much in common, in terms of experiences and background, with many other Australians and their families – not only those who came to Australia at around the same time as, and in similar circumstances to, Ms Pung’s family, but those who are coming to Australia now. In order to ensure that we can be an Australian community, as many of us as possible from as many parts of Australian society need to have some insight into other parts of our society. Unpolished Gem will help to increase the level of insight between communities.

Finally, this book is also an excellent story, rather than merely a piece of writing about what happened. As a result, this book is likely to be quite an enjoyable read for those who, like me, do not normally enjoy non-fiction and memoir writing as much as fiction.

This is a review for the 2012 Australian Women Writers Challenge. You can see my full list of books here. You can find a full list of my reviews, and other posts relevant to the challenge, here.


Categories: arts & entertainment, Culture, gender & feminism

Tags: , , , , , , ,

1 reply

  1. I bought this book today, and when I finish, “The Last Unicorn” then I intend to read this book. The excerpt from The Age the other day convinced me that I had to read this book.

%d bloggers like this: