The Australian Fiancé is Simone Lazaroo’s second novel. I borrowed the book from a professor after Simone’s lessons and read if right after The World Waiting to be Made because the writing was so good, I wanted to see how the author’s style developed.
In 1949 a young Eurasian woman who survived the Japanese occupation of Singapore meets the son of a privileged Australian family and accompanies him to Broome. Captivated by this life and his photography, she comes to see herself anew, but is the image true? Themes of the novel are the aftermath of war, prejudice and alienation. Author was born in Singapore and lives in Fremantle, Western Australia.
Although I am a crime fiction fan, sometimes I feel like reading other kind of stories and those usually center around a young woman’s life. Simone Lazaroo’s The World Waiting to be Made was partly autobiographical and explored what it mean to be Euroasian in Australian during the 1970’s and 1980’s. However, after the novel being conceived as totally autobiographical, Lazaroo decided to do some research and write a historical novel always keeping the focus on the Eurasian community and their history. The Australian Fiancé came as part of that research.
The unnamed narrator struggles to live in Singapore with her mother and her little sister after the Japanese occupation of the city. The family is having a hard time covering even the basic needs and they usually suffer from hunger and horrible living conditions. However, one day the narrator finds an Australian tourist who wishes to be guided through the most interesting parts of the city to take pictures. Or maybe he wants something more. Lazaroo explores how being a woman changes completely how others see you and how the prospects of making a living out of your body become a real danger. The narrator struggles to define what kind of relationship she has with the Australian tourist who, as you might have guessed, becomes the Australian fiancé on the title.
I did not enjoy The Australian Fiancé as much as I did The World Waiting to be Made. The style is more ornate and the reader does never really get to know the narrator. However, the novel explores how racism intersects with being a woman in a post-war context. I was very glad – and sad – to learn about the Japanese occupation of Singapore. Lazaroo compares the British and the Japanese occupation as colonial enterprises that oppressed people with a hardest take on women. Lazaroo made a great effort to inscribe a forgotten period of our global history in Australian literature.
The Australian Fiancé is then the perfect reading for anyone interested in women’s representation in fiction and history. Word War II has been explored from very different points of view, but almost usually from a European or American one. This novel presents the reader with a different historical and social perspective and it does a great job of letting us know that WWII also happened in a part of the Pacific that was not Pearl Harbor.