Drowning inside as an Illegal Asylum Seeker

“On Fragile Waves” by E. Lily Yu is a book about illegal immigrants coming to Australia – putting their trust in the wrong hands, risking their lives to run away from horrors, being welcomed like criminals in detention centres where they are stripped from their last shred of dignity and then after endless suffering from the nation they sought asylum from they are expected to integrate seamlessly.
It is a heart wrenching, sad, very humane tale. It deserves to be told. I can’t believe people think they are allowed to bar people from safety just because they have the privilege of having being born into the right country… and never known anything else. The system is deeply flawed, the suffering is ignominious. People don’t leave their home and everything behind if they have a choice. In fact people often endure a lot to stay in the familiar no matter how tough.
The book is necessary for Australia’s growth, an eye opener for many I would guess, but I am a little taken aback by the format. While the writing is very lyrical, almost poetic, I find that it takes away from its approachability. This is not an easy book to read, it has a specific pace forced on the reader by the very way it is written and instead of taking you into the lives of the family it portrays, the style, a bit like an epic tale poem, kept me alienated the whole time. I think this is the type of important and emotive subject where readers should be put in the boots of the characters, and not kept at bay.
I seem to be in the minority not having liked the book. I guess I enjoy things that are more direct and the beauty of the use of language here kept me from really experiencing the book. I am one of those readers that likes to be immersed, thought I suppose in this case it wouldn’t be too nice of an experience.
I liked the magical realism, I’m a sucker for that kind of thing, and the main character, the daughter was wonderfully sympathetic. The book addresses topics that interest me, particularly in Australia, so I really wanted to love that book. I felt instead that the novel was too intellectualised and more of a stylistic experiment. But this is a very personal opinion. I do believe lots of people who love language, poetry and experimental writing will love it, but while I do believe it is worth reading, I could not enjoy it myself and think a more straightforward writing style would support the cause a lot more.

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