Reviewed by Gretchen Winters
I enjoyed reading Felicity Castagna’s latest novel. Felicity won the 2015 Prime Minister’s Literary Award for Young Adult Fiction for her previous novel, The Incredible Here and Now, that was also adapted for the stage by the National Theatre of Parramatta. Felicity’s work has appeared on radio and television and she runs the storytelling series, Studio Stories.
The author stated in one of her interviews that she ‘thought of place as the main character in her work.’ Parramatta, where the author now lives is the geographical centre of Sydney, is a multi-cultural suburb juxtaposed by remnants of buildings and institutions that hark back to Australia’s colonial past.
Australia has always experienced racial tension of varying intensity from colonial times to the present. The story in this novel is mild material compared to the violent gang wars currently taking place in Sydney and Melbourne between migrant groups. The unfolding drama in this novel has been triggered by a single incident in 2001 – the 496 captive asylum seekers on board the Tampa. The protagonist in No More Boats, Antonio, is distressed by the nightly bulletins on TV highlighting the political dilemma that was faced by John Howard. The Prime Minister’s statement “we will decide who comes to this country and the circumstances in which they come” plays on his mind repeatedly. Antonio is an immigrant who has settled in Parramatta with his family but he feels that these latest immigrants are somehow different from the migrants who settled in this city in the sixties and seventies.
Antonio has also suffered a work injury in which his best friend Nico dies. The loss of his job coupled with his physical injuries, prescription drug dependency and increasing emotional distance from his wife and children are causing him to feel redundant, disoriented and angry with the situation in which he finds himself. After a drug-induced conversation with his son late one night Nico’s ghost instructs him to paint ‘No more boars’ on the cement front lawn of his Parramatta house. This act of desperation now impacts on the multi-cultural and political sensibilities of the neighbourhood that includes migrants, ‘the Italians and Greeks (acceptable) and the Vietnamese (tolerated).’ As a result of the turmoil around him Antonio in a final act of desperation takes matters further and involves a gun, and a Parramatta ferry loaded with people from diverse cultural backgrounds.
Felicity Castagna’s own experience as a migrant in a new country obviously comes into play here and her writing is an acute observation of the feelings of both younger and older Australians to the ‘flood’ of this century – Muslims and terrorism. Castagna reminds us how fear of the other impacts on contemporary society and perhaps encourages the reader to reflect on our current Prime Minister’s statement that ‘Australia is the most successful multicultural democracy in the world’.
By Felicity Castagna