Tag Archives: essays

The Uncommon Feast

Collection of poetry and essays about food, love and identity

I have been following this author and poet on social media for quite some time. I am a big fan of books with recipes in them and I was thrilled to find out she has a collection filled with recipes and ordered a copy immediately. I knew it was an ideal choice for my Short Stack Reading Challenge.

Image is of “The Uncommon Feast: Essays, poems, and recipes” by Eileen Chong. The paperback book is resting on a light coloured timber bench below a ceramic spoon and next to a bowl of mushroom congee with sriracha sauce, picked radish and friend onion. The cover is red with a yellow typewriter with a fork, spoon and chopsticks.

“Uncommon Feast: Essays, poems, and recipes” by Eileen Chong is, as described, a collection of essays, poems and recipes. At the heart of this book is Chong’s upbringing in Singapore, and the rich culinary culture that underpins her family and her identity.

This is a beautiful book with a comforting, nurturing tone. Using the same care with which we prepare food for our loved ones, Chong carefully prepares her writing for the reader. I particularly enjoyed reading the recipes. Recipes are often a rather dry format, but Chong invokes her inner aunty to make her recipes feel warm, eminently readable and achievable. Unfortunately I’m mostly vegetarian these days, but the multi-part recipe in Diana’s Hainanese Chicken Rice had me salivating. I found that Chong’s poetry had a slightly different tone: nostalgic with a sense of longing for family and times past. Burning Rice was especially evocative and juxtaposes the labour of generations past with the small errors of the present. In her poems, food is shared memories and shared language with family. However, it is in the essays that Chong is more frank about her experiences living as a migrant in Australia and how through food, family and words she navigates her way through the world.

A sumptuous book that was a pleasure to read.

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Filed under Australian Books, Book Reviews, Non Fiction, Poetry

Proof of Birth

Collection of essays about birth registration and the right toĀ citizenship

I picked up book last year while I was attending the 2019 Castan Centre for Human Rights Conference. It was sitting on a table with a number of other pieces of free reading material, and as statelessness and the barriers that exist to obtaining documentation is something of interest to me, I nabbed myself a copy. Then, when I was looking for some shortish books in a desperate bid to meet my 2019 reading goal, I thought I’d better give it a read.

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“Proof of Birth” edited by Melissa Castan and Paula Gerber is a collection of essays that explore the issue of birth registration, the barriers that exist to obtaining a birth certificate and the legal and social implications of struggling to prove your identity and citizenship. The book has a particular focus on Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander experiences and how disadvantage, distance, traditional naming conventions and financial barriers can make it difficult to participate in Australia’s birth registration system. The book also investigates case studies in countries such as Nepal and Indonesia.

This book tackles an important issue that I think a lot of people are simply unaware of. A birth certificate is something that the majority of us simply take for granted. A birth certificate means that we can get other documents like a driver license or a passport. It means that we can easily reach 100 points of identity when engaging with the government or when doing a police check when applying for jobs. It means that we are counted, that legally we exist. However, for a lot of people in Australia, especially Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, getting a birth certificate means having to overcome sometimes insurmountable barriers. This is a thoughtful and well-considered book that explores this issue from a number of perspectives, and sensitively compares the challenges experienced in Australia with challenges experienced in other countries in the region.

The contributors are from a wide range of fields – community legal centres, community health organisations, academia, government and business – and share some extraordinary expertise with the reader. I think that the essays are all well-edited and get their point across clearly and quickly, using statistics, analysis and some fascinating case studies of programs that work well and unintended consequences of overly punitive systems.

I think it is important to note that this is a book that is written in an academic and legalistic style. While not inaccessible per se, the intended audience is not the people who may struggle to obtain identity documents, but rather an intellectual elite who make the policies.

Nevertheless, this is an important subject and this book is short enough in length yet broad enough in scope to be able to cover the issues quickly and thoroughly. An important and under-discussed area of human rights law.

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Filed under Book Reviews, Non Fiction