Reviewed by Clare Brook
Jesse Sutanto’s debut novel Dial A for Aunties was such a hilarious success that its sequel – Four Aunties and a Wedding – has been keenly anticipated. Aside from the riotous comedy Sutanto provides the reader with interesting cross culture experiences in both novels. In Dial A for Aunties, Sutanto explores how Meddy copes living within two cultures; being immersed in the western values of her adopted country, America, while being loyal to the cultural expectations of her much-loved Asian aunties who firmly adhere to their Chinese/Indonesian cultural norms. Whereas in Four Aunties and a Wedding, Sutanto illustrates how every Asian diaspora is experienced differently in that there are many individual ways of ‘being Asian’. To my mind, those differences can be understood via issues of class distinction.
If readers have not already met the aunties in Dial A for Aunties, they might feel as if turning up late at the theatre, needing to be caught up. Sutanto does refer back to the previous plot which continues in Four Aunties and a Wedding, although readers might not appreciate the aunties in quite the same way, so given that the debut Dial A for Aunties is most entertaining, it is recommended as a prerequisite read.
A brief catch-up: Meddy, although living and working in San Gabriel, California, remains captive to Asian culture regarding respect for elders and loyalty to her nearest and dearest. She must defer to the four sisters in a family that is devoid of men. Staying loyal to her culture and relatives leaves little room for realising who she is in the world. This, of course, affects her relationship with the love of her live, Nathan. Much of the comedy relies on the relationship between the sisters, one of which is her mother, Ma, and then there is Big Aunt, Second Aunt and Fourth Aunt. Big Aunt, as the eldest, holds authority over her sisters. Big Aunt has a combative relationship with Second Aunt, and Meddy’s mother is constantly in competition with Fourth Aunt. In both novels, the competitive nature between the aunts, language confusion, and the uncompromising observance of cultural rules, regardless how dire the situation, provides material for a hugely funny plot.
Four Aunties and a Wedding celebrates the marriage of Nathan and Meddy. It is going to be the perfect wedding in an ideal English setting – Christ Church College, Oxford. Nathan’s parents, Asian born, live in England and have seamlessly assimilated into English life. In preparation for the wedding and their time in England, the aunts’ attempt to study British culture and ways of speaking, but it seems their ‘coach’ is only fluent in cockney slang, which is strangely mixed with a few ‘cheerios’ and ‘toodle pips’. This concoction of English language is paired with a very non-English way of dressing. Their wedding outfits are the: “… most aggressively purple dresses … as if flamingo pink and electric-blue had a baby and then that baby snorted a line of coke and proceeded to punch you in the face.” This is topped off with head wear featuring ten-inch-tall Komodo dragons, each one representing the personality of its owner. Second Aunt is a devotee of Tai Chi, her dragon follows suit. Ma’s dragon drinks tea. Meddy is beside herself, knowing how Nathan’s middle-class parents will react. And then the Mafia infiltrate the wedding…
Whereas not quite as hilarious as its prequel, Four Aunties and a Wedding has the same fast-paced outlandish scenarios that keep the reader reading and laughing.
By Jesse Sutanto
Harper Collins Publishing Australia
ISBN: 978 000844 589 8