Posted by: Lisa Hill | August 18, 2017

Melbourne Book Launch: The Historian’s Daughter, by Rashida Murphy

20170817_194003Last night I had the pleasure of attending the Melbourne launch of The Historian’s Daughter, by Rashida Murphy.  I’m not often tempted to attend launches, I would mostly rather stay home and read a book, but this one was linked to celebrations for the 70th anniversary of India’s Independence, and there were scrumptious Indian nibbles on offer as well as the chance to meet an author whose work I really admired.  (See my review of The Historian’s Daughter if you need any convincing).

Alas, it was way across town at the Eltham bookshop, but thanks to a very kind offer from my son’s in-laws, I enjoyed the hospitality of a bed for the night so I didn’t have to drive home afterwards, and thank goodness for that because Melbourne dished out some of the worst weather we’ve had in a while and the traffic was foul, thanks to all the impatient fools who caused accidents and traffic chaos.  A journey that normally takes an hour took two, and a very stressful two at that.  I made it to the event with one minute to spare!

The thing about indie bookshops is that they are just that: they do their own thing, and as owner Meera Govil explained, this bookshop has a focus on Asian titles so they have a distinctive range of books.  I could easily have spent a small fortune there, but (on account of two extravagant #NationalBookshopDay spending sprees at Benn’s Bookshop in Bentleigh) I contented myself with just three books, two by Elif Shafak and Barbed Wire and Cherry Blossoms by Anita Heiss – who is of course not Asian at all, but Indigenous, and one of Australia’s most engaging public intellectuals.  She writes serious books, but also what she calls ‘choc-lit’, and this one looks interesting because it features a Japanese POW who escapes from the Cowra POW camp and is given refuge by a local Aboriginal.

Anyway, proceedings were introduced by the Indian Consul in Melbourne, Ms Manika Jainan and then there was a short intro by Meera Govil.  The notable thing about this was that both ladies had read the book they were launching, and as we all know, this is not always the case, so I was impressed.  Then it was over to Iranian-Australian Sanaz Fotouhi, from Asia Pacific Writers and Translators, to ask the questions…

Sanaz (whose field of study at Monash University is the Iranian diaspora) noted that the book is rich in themes: identity, memory, migration, mother-daughter relationships, and truth and lies.  When asked about the inspiration for the book, Rashida said that it was partly autobiographical, and that she was fascinated by the way siblings remember the same events differently.  (And we can all relate to that, eh?)

She said she was also interested in writing about taboos, because silence suppresses the truth about some things which need to be dealt with.  She felt that that there were silenced women in her own family, women who were hidden away or discarded – sometimes just because they were feisty women who didn’t conform to Indian traditions about womenhood.  But her novel is also about loss: about her grief that – although she loves Australia and cherishes its freedoms – in raising her own daughter here in Australia she did not have the support of strong matriarchal women that she would have had in India.

She also spoke about the sense of displacement and alienation that comes with migration.  She said (and I personally know this to be true) that there is an assumption that it’s easy if the migrant speaks English.  It’s still not easy because there is still a sense of isolation, of having no roots, and of missing the elders who would normally be available for advice and support.

Most poignant of all was the revelation that Sobrah, an Iranian character in The Historian’s Daughter who inexplicably goes missing, is based on a real student who lived with Rashida’s family for a decade until the Iranian Revolution, and then disappeared.  Despite efforts to trace him, she still doesn’t know where he is, or even if he is alive.  So in a way the novel is a kind of closure: she doesn’t know what happened to him, so she has ‘made it up’.

I was very pleased to hear that Rashida is already hard at work on a new novel which sounds rather intriguing.  It’s about old churches and Indian bandits called dacoits, who were occasionally a sinister presence in her family’s garden in India.  ‘Don’t worry about them’, her father would say, ‘I’m defending them in court!’

A most enjoyable night, and then a delicious meal at Nongkhai Thai Eltham. Thanks to Lyn for being great company and such a thoughtful host:)

Rashida’s novel is available from Fishpond: The Historian’s Daughter and all good bookstores.

PS Bad weather or no, I am delighted to report a harbinger of Spring: the very first flower has bloomed on the jasmine outside my library window!


Responses

  1. A new book AND food. Sounds perfect. Pity about the weather – I can imagine the route from the Bay to Eltham perfectly, in the dark and the rain. Reminds me why I live in Perth. Glad you had somewhere to stay.

    • Ha, better than me then, because – having no sense of direction and only having been there once before with The Spouse driving, I could not imagine the route and relied on the Navman. Which took me on at least one bizarre detour, and would have taken me on others if I had let it. Thank goodness The Offspring had given me a Large Print edition of a Melways to set me straight!

  2. How sad they dont know what happened to that student. They probably imagine the worst…

    • I feel the same, though for different reasons, about my only cousins. My mother kept touch with their mother after her divorce from my uncle, and then she remarried, changed their surnames and were lost to us.
      It’s different to ‘imagining the worst’ but perhaps the sense of loss is the same.

  3. I’m so glad you enjoyed Rashida’s talk, Lisa. She is such a warm, engaging speaker, isn’t she.

    • Indeed yes. Her husband is a lovely gentleman too, we sat next to him and he introduced himself as The Navigator, which made sense later on when Rashida explained that her sense of direction still feels upside down and she gets lost all the time. (I understand this of course. I always feel as if the world is the right way up when I’m in England, even after all these years in Oz).

      • Oh yes, Mike is lovely :-) I have a shocking sense of direction, too, but I don’t have any excuse for it.

        • Oh you never know, you might have northern hemisphere citizenship to account for it!

  4. I have put this on my library wishlist. Glad you got to the launch safely. Also my daffodils in our back yard are gone all ready. I need to move them to the front yard so I dont keep missing them each year.

    • Honestly, it was the worst drive I’ve ever had in my life, even worse than a stop-start Easter drive up the Hume before it was widened, because then at least the sun was shining.
      There are daffodils up the street on the north side of a garden, but mine in a pot on the south side have had enough too. Right now it is bucketing down and the wind is Arctic so my one bloom on the jasmine might well be retreating in dismay.

  5. I too loved and devoured this book Lisa. I enjoyed your review of it too!

    • That’s great, thanks for your generous comment:)

  6. Lisa, thank you once again. It was a joy to meet you and your recall is phenomenal! Yes, that’s what I said, and you were able to succinctly make sense of it. I thought I rambled on a bit. I had such a good night. I love bookshops and writers and readers and this felt right … we had just flown in that afternoon and if not for Mike who knows which bookshop I’d have wandered into? x

    • Well, Rashida, I hope you’ve had a bit of sunshine while you’ve been here!

      • Sunshine? A bit today. It snowed in Trentham! x


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