There is something incredibly pleasurable and gratifying when you pick up a book, or in this case a collection of new work by emerging writers, and find familiar place names that remind you of home. Sweatshop Women: Volume Two reflects the locality of Western Sydney in this way. Narratives of suburban life, at times stretching into the enclaves of the inner city, the streets and architectures are detailed across the collection and create a sense of arrival in their immediacy.
This arrival runs parallel to a shift we’re currently experiencing in Australia’s literary culture, intimating a space where geography and locality – intersecting also with gender, race, class, ability and sexuality – can’t be separated from contemporary debates on cultural identity.
In Shirley Le’s Train God, you are transported to the tight claustrophobia of a train carriage hurtling towards Bankstown. The unwelcome attention of a mother who finds a appropriate suitor for her daughter takes place at home in Lakemba, in Meyrnah Khodr’s Everything is Ayb.
At times, the collection offers vivid moments of reprieve and reflection snatched between housework, uni work, and childrearing. At others, the writer details life from a different point of view with stories of high school bullying and gendered roles at home as young women. The writing is sharp and honest, reflective in the way it loosely pulls together the first-hand experiences and memories of the women it represents.
Lieu-Chi Nguyen’s Ghost Skin stands out as a surreal telling of the bond between sisters that continues beyond death and exists in prayer.
Nguyen delicately addresses miscarriage through Chi Thu, the daughter who did not survive, but who continues to watch over her sister Cho. She writes, ‘I imagined becoming a baby like Cho, being able to touch Ma, cry to her and drink her breast milk. But I could only float on the family altar, grow full from the scent of fruit and the family dinner when Ma remembered to call me.’
In stark contrast, Tinder Scheme by Abeny Mayol is short and memorable, leaving the reader wanting more from Mayol and her sharp sense of humour.
She wields it deftly with these lines for her imagined Tinder profile: ‘I may be worth 150-300 cows depending on my family’s mood.’
‘Anyways, going for 150-300 cows isn’t too bad.
I remember how Brian proposed to Sarah
with a 3.18 carat diamond ring worth $50,000.
That’s only equivalent to 100 cows.’
Overall the collection stands up to the reputation of its predecessor, Sweatshop Women: Volume One. The writers anthologised in Volume Two continue to deliver exceptional work as emerging voices in Australia’s literary scene.
Rating: 4 stars out of 5 ★★★★
Sweatshop Women: Volume Two Edited by Winnie Dunn
Publisher: Sweatshop Women
Release Date: May 2020