Review: The Permanent Resident by Roanna Gonsalves

Judging from its cover, I first assumed this book was the tale of a modern migrant who finally calls Australia home. Instead, The Permanent Resident by Roanna Gonsalves is a collection of 16 short stories that detail the lives of Catholic Indians from Goa, India now living in Sydney, Australia. This is her first book.

In every story, characters grapple with various issues such as domestic violence, doomed marriages, miscarriages, alienation, racism and the dramas of being an Australian permanent resident. They all have this in common: dreams of a better life in their home away from home.

Many of Gonsalves’ characters, though well described, are laced with stereotypes, which unfortunately for Indians like myself, can be true representations. I loved the matter-of-fact writing style and she can be funny when she wants to be.

Take the story of ‘Curry Muncher 2.0’. I heard the phrase ‘curry muncher’ only in my second year in Australia. I thought what a hilarious, but weird insult to pay an Indian, because how on earth do you munch a liquid curry? And it was the same thoughts of Vincent’s friend who narrates this story. Young Vincent works two jobs to send money to his family in India whilst paying for his ridiculous university fees.

One night after his restaurant shift, Vincent gets mugged and bashed by juveniles in a train station, calling him a curry muncher. He does not make a police report or  agree to an ambulance offered by his friend, but says instead: “This is my last semester. They will do a police check for permanent residency applications, no? Why simply get a bad name? So much I have struggled, now at the end I don’t want trouble.”

Besides racial attacks, domestic abuse is another reality in some parts of India presented in this book. The first story, ‘Full Face’ is about Gloria, whose eyebrow beautician ends up dead and on the news, no thanks to her abusive husband. Gloria arrived in Sydney with husband Anil, but decided she was better off alone than to stay with a man who never wanted children and was unsurprisingly a lousy father to their new daughter. High-five to Gloria!

As a migrant myself, I found this book strangely relatable. You’re always going to feel slightly out of place even if you’ve been a permanent resident or citizen for years. I also liked that for a short story book, I was able to symphathise with the plight of some characters.

If you are a fan of short stories, interested about migrants of the 21st century and/or like reading about the same topic played in different scenarios, this book may be for you.

Elsa Samuel

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