- Into the Suburbs: A Migrant's Story, by Christopher Raja. University of Queensland Press. $29.99.
Unpretentious is not the most elegant word in the dictionary and it may not be the most useful, but it is the only word for this moving, sad and confronting book.
A family of three migrate to Australian suburbia from Calcutta, the father confident of a better life for his son, if not for himself.
The key, the father believes, is education, he himself is a teacher. He has not factored in the largely unspoken but pervasive racism of the suburbs of Melbourne.
Chris, the son - this book is a memoir - tries the local high school. All he wants to do is fit in.
That is, with the gang, their roughness, uncouthness, violence and horrifying rejection of the efforts of the largely cowed group of teachers.
Savagely beaten, Chris is transferred to a private school, as a scholarship boy, the school at which his father teaches.
He makes friends and does well enough at school to go to university. This seems so natural and so usual.
The trouble is the relationship between father and son. It is complex, strained and guarded.
The two drive together to school each morning and home again at night.
But they don't talk about important things on the drive. Chris sees and grieves for the way his father is patronised at the school. His father doesn't seem to notice.
The father wants his son to succeed in life the way he has not done. When Chris opts for an arts degree at university, his father is mortified.
Increasingly he argues and fights with his son who wants to carve out his own life, independently of control.
This struggle may not be unusual in families although the overlay of the migrant experience heightens the conflict, or so it seems to Chris.
With a sense of impending inevitability, there is tragedy and grief as Chris struggles to come to terms with his loss.
Where is the mother in all of this? She hovers, attempting to keep the antagonists on some sort of even keel. She returns to Calcutta quite regularly, taking neither her husband nor her son with her.
She seems to have regretted the transplantation of her life and her separation from her family, showing the immigrant's ambivalence to her old life and her new.
Into the Suburbs invites us to think carefully about the migrant experience, about the society in which we live and the difficulty that may be experienced in the struggle to become an adult in contemporary Australia.
This is a book without resolution, hence my depiction of it as confronting. It is a book of significance which will make its readers think.