Book Review: Coming of Age – Growing up Muslim in Australia by Amra Pajalic and Demet Divaroren

Coming of Age
Title: Coming of Age: Growing up Muslim in Australia
Editors: Amra Pajalic and Demet Divaroren
Publisher: Allen and Unwin
Rating: 3 out of 5 stars
Format and Price: E-Book at $12.36

About The Editors:
Amra Pajalic: Amra Pajalic is an author and teacher, she was born and raised in Melbourne’s Western Suburbs and where she works as a high school teacher. She shares her home with her husband, daughter and three cats. Her debut novel The Good Daughter won the 2009 Melbourne Prize for Literature’s Civic Choice Award, and was a finalist in the 2009 Melbourne Prize for Literature Best Writing Award. Prior to publication it was shortlisted in the 2007 Victorian Premier’s Awards for Best Unpublished Manuscript. She is also author of a novel for children Amir: Friend on Loan.

She is co-editor of the anthology Coming of Age: Growing up Muslim in Australia, which was shortlisted for the 2015 Children’s Book Council of Australia Eve Pownall Award for Information Books and was selected by the Grattan Institute for the 2015 Summer Reading List for Prime Minister. Amra also wrote the teaching notes published by Allen and Unwin. She has had short stories and non fiction pieces place in competitions, get published in magazines (Big Issue, Woman’s Day), journals (Etchings, The Emerging Writer) and anthologies (2004 and 2005 Best Australian Stories, Wordlines, Through The Clock’s Workings).

She is a co-author and Project Manager of What a Muslim Woman Looks Like, a government funded resource profiling Muslim women which has been used as an educational resource for cross cultural training in schools and by organisations. It is also being used by high schools to support VCE students writing on themes of Identity and Belonging. WAMWLL received wide media attention and was featured in the Herald Sun, Today Tonight, and Triple RRR.

Demet Divaroren: Demet Divaroren was born in Adana, Turkey and migrated to Australia with her family when she was six months old. She writes fiction and non-fiction and is the co-editor of Coming of Age: Growing up Muslim in Australia anthology. Demet’s writing has appeared in Griffith REVIEW, Island magazine, Scribe’s New Australian Stories, The Age Epicure, The Big Issue, and was commended in the Ada Cambridge Biographical Prose Prize 2013. Her first novel, Orayt?, was shortlisted for the Australian Vogel Literary Award for an unpublished manuscript.

Demet is the recipient of an Australia Council Artstart Grant, a Jump Mentoring Grant, a Rosebank Residential Writing Fellowship, a Varuna Fellowship for a Writing Retreat and a Glenfern Grace Marion Wilson Fellowship. She is the Artist in Residence at Deer Park Art Spaces and appears as a panellist, guest speaker and workshop leader at literary festivals, universities, and schools across Melbourne. Demet is currently writing a young adult novel titled The Lost Boys.

About The Book:
Muslim people in Australia come from over seventy countries and represent a wide variety of cultural backgrounds and experiences. Yet we are constantly bombarded by media stories feeding one negative stereotype. What is it really like to grow up Muslim in Australia? In this book, famous and not-so-famous Muslim-Australians tell their stories in their own voices.

The beard, the hijab, the migrant – these are all familiar images associated with Muslim people. But delve deeper and there are many other stories: the young female boxer entering the ring for her first professional bout; a ten-year-old boy who renounces religion; a young woman struggling to reconcile her sexual identity with her faith. These honest and heartfelt stories will resonate with all readers, providing different snapshots of Muslim life in Australia, dispelling myths and stereotypes, and above all celebrating diversity, achievement, courage and determination.

‘Coming of Age is the kind of book that will change how readers look at the world… Coloured with many shades of humour, warmth, sadness, anger, determination and honesty, it will resonate with readers from all backgrounds and beliefs.’ Bookseller+Publisher

General Observations:
~Technicality: Now, I understand that this book is a short story anthology with multiple authors (some of whom are men) and that Amra Pajalic and Demet Divaroren are the editors of this book. however as I’ve before stated, about 50% of the short stories are written by women who may have multiple heritage and personal identity labels, but the majority of them do identify with the Australian way of life (though being Australian is not the only identifier they have and that’s perfectly fine). So I’m including it in the Australian Women Writer’s Challenge.

~Basic Overview: My favourite parts were the introduction chapters, as the authors gave brief description of what their specific Islamic culture and practices, what their ethnic background, how those two identity labels worked together was and how it could separate from other people who identify with Islam and Australian. For those who are worried that is book has heavy theological discussions, don’t worry it doesn’t and while it some stories do contain references to particular verses in the Quran, it’s mostly short and explained with footnotes. So even for someone like myself, who has no knowledge of Islamic culture, the references were easy to understand.

~Narrative Elements: I’m not usually into short story anthologies but Coming of Age worked for me. All the writers had interesting but different stories to tell,they all had different cultural influences and were all in different stages of their life (you know, just like regular people). The stories were well written and engaging. This book should most certain be mandatory reading for VCE. however, there were consistent cultural differences with Australian culture and similar reactions from the authors even though they all had different experiences (though a lot of them did originate from the surrounding suburbs of Sydney in New South Wales). I have noticed that immigrants who show a talent or interest in Sports do tend to have more positive experiences with Australian culture or blend in with Australian culture easier (though it’s not always a guarantee). It did highlight things I was already aware of like how the Australian Education System does very little to help accommodate students who speak a language other than English at home and how Australians should place a higher value on academical discipline over sporting achievement. I also loved reading about the inter-generational households, the majority of my cousins and extended family lived either in New South Wales or Queensland, so I never had that inter-generational contact growing up.

~Time Marches On: With current events happening, books like these need to be written, published and read. However, with books like these, there is a risk of events like the Cronulla riots (it’s difficult to believe that it’s been over ten years since that happened) and the 2002 Bali Bombings from becoming dated. Although I know most Australians would like to think that Racial Tensions with Islamic communities are a thing of the past, however recent conflict surrounding The Bendigo Mosque and The Daily Show’s coverage of the 2013 Australian Election campaign prove otherwise.
AWWC 2016
RMFAO Genre Challenge 2016

3 comments

    • Thank you Heena, I really appreciate you stopping by, especially since I know you’re so busy. I definitely recommend adding it to the TBR pile, I’ve been meaning to read and review this for ages and have only just gotten around to it. Once again, thanks for stopping by 🙂

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