Years ago I read "THE LEBS" by this author when it was long and then shortlisted for the 2019 Miles Franklin Award. I enjoyed it very much especially reading about a culture living within another greater culture. I would very much like to get to this novel as well, but for now I must leave you with Nat K's wonderful review.
Review by Nat K.
Alexandria. An inner city suburb of Sydney. Only 4kms from the central business district. Lined with terrace houses. It has an old world charm. This is where the book opens. And where The Tribe lives. Part of a greater community of people who fled the troubles in Lebanon in the 1970s, to build a new life in Australia.
"There are only nine migrant kids in the whole school, and six of them are from my family."
This novella is told via three vignettes from the perspective of Bani, when he is seven, nine and eleven years of age. The important things he remembers from his childhood. The events that stuck in his head. Three generations of the family are crowded into this tiny terrace. Each facing their own challenges.
It's an insight into a clash of cultures. A poignant story which shows the world viewed through the naivete of a child, who at other times shows wisdom beyond his years. Viewing the way the men and women of his (extended) family have very specific roles. The blend of merging into a new lifestyle while retaining traditional values has its difficulties. And how all families have their black sheep, difficulties and skeletons in their closet. And yet blood is always thicker than water.
It's honest, raw and unflinching. It doesn't turn away from topics which are harder to talk about, and which may not be discussed in some cultures. Drug taking, mental health, domestic abuse. And yet there are moments of utter beauty, where the sun shines brightly. And there's lots of humour, I was smiling at some of the scenarios more than once.
In some respects moments of this reminded me of Christos Tsiolkas' Jump Cuts. That feeling of sitting between two cultures, having one foot in each, yet not completely belonging in either. It's a complicated scenario, and one that most first generation migrants and children of immigrants feel.
"I was only seven when..."
A crowded terrace house. Grandmother, brothers, sisters, Uncles, Aunties, cousins, all crammed in together. Little space, less privacy, yet strong bonds, despite differences of opinion, and degrees of lifestyle.
"I was only nine when..."
A celebration! Think the movie My Greek Wedding Eastern style. Diamantes flashing, trimmed goatees, lots of hair gel, perfume and after shave. Tables filled with food and whisky. Dancing dancing dancing. Anyone who's ever been to a massive Wedding will completely understand. Loved.
"I was only eleven when..."
The loss of Bani's Grandmother. Such a tough chapter. Someone who has been there every day is no more. The emotions which are so hard to explain and process as an adult, are compounded in one so young. Really tough to deal with this section, it opens so many wounds.
Michael Mohamammed Ahmad is also the writer of The Lebs and The Other Half of You. His other books are definitely on my radar.
Click on the picture to read my review of "THE LEBS"
Michael Mohammed Ahmad is an Arab-Australian writer, editor and community arts worker. He is the founding director of Sweatshop: Western Sydney Literacy Movement. In 2012, he received the Australia Council Kirk Robson Award in recognition of his outstanding achievements in community cultural development. Mohammed’s debut novel, The Tribe (Giramondo, 2014), won the 2015 Sydney Morning Herald Best Young Novelists of the Year Award. His second novel, The Lebs (Hachette, 2018) received the 2019 NSW Premier’s Multicultural Literary Award and was shortlisted for the 2019 Miles Franklin Award. Mohammed received his Doctorate of Creative Arts from Western Sydney University in 2017.