Melanie Cheng

Review: Australia Day by Melanie Cheng

Our bookseller Simon McDonald reviews Melanie Cheng's collection of short stories, Australia Day.

Melanie Cheng’s short story collection Australia Day is an absorbing panorama of contemporary Australia, populated by a diverse cast, which spotlights the ramifications of such an eclectic potpourri of different races and faiths coexisting. These are 14 powerfully perceptive stories, written with love, humour, realism, and a distinct edginess. While the terrain covered might be familiar, Cheng’s take on our treasured multiculturalism feels fresh.

Some of the pieces in Australia Day have been published elsewhere, including in the Griffith Review and Sleepers Almanac, but I’d yet to sample Cheng’s work prior to cracking the spine of this collection, and in truth, through my own ignorance, I knew little about her fiction. It was only thanks to the cherished booksellers grapevine that my attention was piqued, and I’m ever-so-grateful that community highlighted another gem. Cheng’s mastery of the form seems to deepen with each story, and at various moments I was jubilant and disheartened by her depiction of our society, but constantly awed by the deftness of her prose. Most admirable is Cheng’s capacity to both indict and acquit Australians throughout her stories: she is equally scathing as she is complimentary, and neither is ever overtly expressed, always nuanced.

Australia Day is a stunning reminder of our great nation’s diversity. Regardless of our heritage, where we’ve come from, or where we’re going — race, religion, ethnicity be damned — we are all inextricably linked by the land we inhabit and share. Melanie Cheng’s short story collection is a celebration of our multiculturalism, even when some of her insights prove uncomfortable. It’s necessary reading, not only because it’s a microcosm of who we are, but because each story is a gem, and a joy to behold.