The phrase 'must see TV' is one that is bandied around quite regularly - often for TV shows that are pure entertainment but are must see because so many people are watching and it therefore becomes the water cooler topic.
This week on TV here in Australia, we got to see what truly was must see TV. The show was called Go Back to Where You Came From and it was raw, confronting, emotional, challenging television and the TV channel that showed it deserves many, many kudos for showing it! I cried so many times whilst watching this shows but more than just being emotionally affected to the point of tears, I was also shocked, outraged and humbled by the show. The station that showed it is SBS which is the multi cultural mainstream broadcaster here in Australia showing TV shows, news, movies, sports events etc from around the globe that the other more commercial channels would not normally be interested in showing.
Before you wonder why on earth I am talking about TV in a Sunday Salon post that is meant to be about books, I will get to books I promise.
Go Back to Where You Came From was amazing TV - reality TV at its best. It took six ordinary Australians with quite strong opinions on the question of immigration, and in particular about the boat people who arrive illegally in Australia and sent those six people back through the journey undertaken by refugees. They started by spending time with people who have been settled here in Australia and learnt a bit about their stories, then doing the boat trip that causes so much emotional reaction in the Australian media, back to places like Malaysia, and then further back to camps in Africa, and then further again to the very source countries for many refugees - countries like Iraq and the Congo. There were varying reactions amongst the six to what they experiences, and quite strong reactions to the participants on the social media sites as the show was airing to some of them.
Here is a link to the first episodes (sorry, I have no idea if it is geo blocked or not). Here's the trailer, which I don't think is blocked.
I have moved countries twice in my life. Both times it was willingly - because I could, not because I didn't feel as though I had any other choice - and it was to a country where I knew the language. Despite that it was difficult to leave behind family, friends and possessions.
Now, I will confess that I don't have strong objections to the idea of Australia increasing it's refugee intake, mainly because I have always been compelled to think about how difficult life must be for someone to leave behind everything they own, friends and family, to spend years in refugee camps, to risk your life in a boat that is unseaworthy, and then further years in a detention centre and that is a better option than staying where you were. I am reminded of a series of photos that I saw over at The Big Picture a few weeks ago on immigration, which illustrates just how desperate people are to escape from their current situations.
I agree that there needs to be a process that determines who are legitimate refugees, but that the current process which can take years whilst leaving people languishing in detention centres is wrong. I don't know what the answer is, but I do know that this isn't it!
For me, this show wasn't one that changed my opinion, but it was one that made me want to do something. I am not sure what, but I want to find something.
Maybe I am a bit of a bleeding heart when it comes to this issue, but I have always found the immigrant story to be a compelling one. It may not necessarily be appropriate to ask the question to my neighbours or casual acquaintances of how they came to be here, or what they escaped from. When authors are brave enough to put those experiences into books enables someone who is lucky to have been born where I was, at the time I was, someone like me the chance to understand, to empathise, which was pretty much the point of making a show like Go Back To Where You Came From. Even after getting to the new country there will be many struggles - starting again often in low paying jobs, dealing with different cultures, particularly after the children get older and are caught between two cultures.
I have enjoyed reading these kinds of immigrant experience books for many, many years. Among the earliest I can recall are novels like Amy Tan's The Joy Luck Club, and the more recent Shanghai Girls by Lisa See dealing with Chinese families immigrating to America, to non fiction/memoirs like Ishmael Beah's Long Way Gone about boy soldiers from African wars and Alice Pung's Unpolished Gem about a Vietnamese family's new life in Melbourne, Australia.
There are so many other books I could mention here, but I wanted to ask you what are the best immigrant experience novels you have read? Do you have a must read novel recommendation? Do you like reading these kinds of books and why or why not?