Review: How to be Australian by Ashley Kalagian Blunt, by Jemimah Halbert Brewster

Title: How to be Australian
Author: Ashley Kalagian Blunt

Publisher: Affirm Press
Favourite quote: “I couldn’t do the PR application, and more urgently, I couldn’t do life. I couldn’t bear that if Steve and I managed to stay married, one of us would one day bury the other, that each day we moved closer to that inevitability, that it could strike at any moment, yet in the face of that, and so early in our marriage, we were trapped in the mundane, this endless paperwork, whose turn it was to dust, our taxes, the boring nothingness of adults. And I couldn’t bear the goodness of our lives, that we were free to move throughout the world because of nothing but the lottery of birth, and that we moved so breezily through our days, treated with friendliness and respect so often that when a single person raised her voice to us with the slightest impatience, it left me shaking, ashamed of my own existence.”

Ashley Kalagian Blunt’s debut full-length work, How to be Australian, traces her migration from snowy Canada to Sydney, Australia, with her sometimes reluctant new husband, Steve. It is a story of odd cultural misunderstandings, personal journeys and histories, and the ways we find and make homes for ourselves.

On the surface this is a story of two people migrating from one country to another and the various challenges and disasters that entails. But it is just as much a story of identity and growing up, as it is coming to terms with adulthood and settling down after the restlessness of youth. Through the story, Blunt is very honest about her struggles with anxiety and depression as she comes to terms with finding a home in one place, rather than moving away from her problems every other year. It is this arc, along with her relationship with her pragmatic but sometimes overly-stoic husband that guides the narrative into an almost coming-of-age format. Few memoirs chart the course of a person’s life from their mid-twenties to their mid-thirties, and her first full-length novel captures that era of uncertainty. It is the second adolescence when one must properly come to terms with being an adult, as reflected in the quote above.

For anyone who read her first novella-length work, My Name is Revenge, you will find a chapter about the author making an Armenian friend not long after arriving in Sydney. This meeting opened opportunities for her to further discover and research her family history and the erasure of the Armenian genocide. It is through this meeting that she draws many parallels between the displacement and genocide of the Armenian people and that of Aboriginal Australians, and it is in this context that she educates herself about Australia’s history, while also mentioning Canada’s colonial history as well. The tone of the book swings from light-hearted cultural misunderstandings to the sobering reality of a country founded on lies and genocide, so although it is a very light, enjoyable read, it is not flippant or blind to the realities of Australian history.

Recommended to anyone who enjoys a dissection of Australian culture and quirks—tall poppy syndrome, budgie smugglers, and an inability to express things at face value—or has ever wondered what it’s like to be inside the mind of an anxious, recently married Canadian expat exploring the notion of home. How to be Australian is at the lighter spectrum of inter-country migration stories, but a valuable one nonetheless.

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