Drawing together musings on feminism, race, and religion, Canberra writer Zoya Patel’s debut No Country Woman explores her experiences as a Fijian-Indian migrant. From the stereotypes that followed her family, to her attempts to rebel against her heritage, and to the months she spent in Scotland examining things from afar. No Country Woman is a well crafted, and accessible series of essays from one of Australia’s rising voices of colour.
This collection of memoir essays is filled with thoughtful anecdotes, vibrant social commentary, and a surprising amount of humour. Authentic and powerful, Patel dissects both her own behaviour and the behaviour of others, exploring the various forms of displacement she feels as a Fijian-Indian-Australian. Some is self-inflicted, like her desire to seem more Australian and fit in at school, while some is forced upon her by Australia’s systemic racism. But all leave Patel juggling the various aspects of her identity, trying, seemingly in vain, to balance them out. It’s an action that leaves her isolated in some way, from each, as it becomes difficult to embrace one without putting a wall up against another.
Intelligent and thought-provoking, there’s something in No Country Woman for everyone – something which might seem incongruous given that the tagline for this book is “a memoir of not belonging”. But there’s definitely a universality to the book, with any reader likely to find themselves on one or more of the pages, whether it’s in Patel’s reckoning of personal privilege, her need to push back against the traditions of her family’s religion, or in recognising the micro-aggressions towards people of colour we’re all occasionally guilty of – and need to stop doing!
For me, as a (white) migrant to Australia, my connection primarily came from Patel’s exploration of her parents’ sacrifice. It had never really occurred to me to consider what my mother gave up in bringing us us here. I rather took it for granted that we’d all come here to make a better life for ourselves and that we were all succeeding in doing so. But the story of Patel’s parents really struck a chord, and in particular how the decision they made to move the entire family would not necessarily be felt by them, but by their children. Patel’s career path, her shift away from religion, her relationship – they are what her parents’ can measure the success of their move by, in the same way my mother can point to my degree, my mental health, and my dog (we’re very proud of him) as measures of her own. I hope Patel takes the fact that I called my Mum and cried, a lot, as the compliment I intend it to be!
At its heart, No Country Woman asks us to do better – Patel herself included. Whether that’s by examining our privilege, policing our language a little better, or just acknowledging what our parents have done for us. We could all do with thinking before we speak, and embracing a little more empathy in our lives. Powerful and heartfelt, Zoya Patel has crafted a debut that issues a challenge to us all: to see each other as more than the sum of our parts. Our heritage is just one aspect of who we are – isn’t it time we explored the rest?