The Permanent Resident: A Review

Iris CF Gomes

Roanna Gonsalves’ first book The Permanent Resident comprises of 16 short stories based in Australia, her adopted home. The stories weave their way through shattered dreams, disillusionment and the reality of surviving in an alien culture. The book was first published by UWA Publishing in 2016 and its reprint was published by Goa, 1556.

Making her way to Australia as a student, Roanna has garnered accolades that are completely justified by her writing. Aside from earning her doctorate from the University of New South Wales, Roanna is a recipient of the Prime Minister’s Australia Asia Endeavour Award. The Permanent Resident has been incorporated in the syllabi of a number of Australian universities and is being studied in particular in the areas of Australian Literature, Postcolonial Literatures, and Creative Writing. Merely ruling her a skilful writer would be understating her genius. Her words traverse the pages with fluidity that leaps up to greet and refresh the reader at every helping.

The stories in The Permanent Resident are a revelation of greener pastures not living up to expectations, but Roanna’s light-hearted telling, which simultaneously pokes fun at and lays bare the perversity of human nature, sets the reader up for a jolt as some of the stories reach their climax.

As much as you may try and leave behind the culture you have been born into, it follows you no matter where you go. In 'Full Face' the façade of adopting the Aussie way wears thin as the main protagonist learns more about the life of her uncle’s ex-girlfriend. The focus, however, is Sheetal, the Punjabi beautician, and the universal problem of spousal battering. The spectre of the caste system shadows Indian immigrants and is transferred onto Australian Aborigines.

'The Skit' is a humorous exploration of the reasons offered to smother creativity with the view of protecting one’s interests, a very Indian/Goan line of thinking. Although 'The Skit' appeared first in the Mascara Literary Review in 2014, it seems pertinent in 2017 with the beef ban controversy as one of the Hindu students is shown relishing beef roulade in Australia.

The trials of an Indian student in Australia are recorded in 'Curry Muncher 2.0' as Vincent struggles to cope with family woes and financial worries. Racism rears its ugly head and we find out that even wonderful Australia can sink to the depths of Indian apathy when it comes to migrants. Nevertheless there is the redeeming realisation that good and evil coexist and no race is entirely wicked.

The sinister implications of the last few sentences of 'Christmas 2012' were unexpected, having sprung from the setting of a Christmas in Sydney. The domineering Martha holds sway in the household and as she discusses the Delhi rape case, deriding her homeland in the jubilation of having moved to Australia, little does she realise that the depravity she is condemning has made its home with her.

'First Person' is unusual as short stories go. It reads more like poetry. At the first instance, there is an awareness of the author’s aim of directing the reader’s attention to the true natives of Australia, who for the most part seem to merge into obscurity in the vision of the white skin obsessed Indian. Roanna explains that the words are a random composition of text taken from tourist information websites.

Paedophilia in the Church and the strange bonding Catholics share the world over, is visited in 'In the Beginning was the Word'. When Angie, who had given up her Catholic faith, returns to church in order to confront a priest with links to paedophile priests, she finds her resolve weakening under the sentimental effects of the ceremony. Perhaps it is this peculiar relationship with the Church that has allowed its sins to proliferate.

The rest of the stories in The Permanent Resident are equally engrossing and convey the underlying message that no corner of the Earth is free of suffering. In our endeavour to grasp at a better life, we forget that the type of trouble may differ, but it is there nonetheless. It is our perception and ability to face challenges that will enable us to thrive in any circumstance.

*The book is available through Goa, 1556 and Golden Heart Emporium, Margao, at Rs 200.

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