The Saturday Paper

Books: Sarah Malik’s Desi Girl: On feminism, race, faith and belonging.

- Vyshnavee Wijekumar

Sarah Malik’s Desi Girl could have been ripped from the pages of my own life. Her story is almost parallel to mine, growing up in Western Sydney, attending an academical­ly focused selective high school. Cultural consumptio­n of such fare as Jane Austen and Sweet Valley High novels defined our self-perception and aspiration­s, and we each developed our own relationsh­ip with our culture and community after moving out of home.

Tonally, Malik’s memoir mirrors others’ texts in this genre, such as Mindy Kaling’s

Why Not Me? There are moments in this collection of essays that feel Sydney-centric, vividly describing signature landmarks such as Flemington markets, with the hustle and bustle of fruit and vegie vendors, and Central Station, a hub that connects the arteries of the city’s outer suburbs and punctures the class divide.

Stories such as “Hijab Days” and “Love Marriage” explore the broader conflict that most non-anglo first-generation millennial­s feel in upholding cultural customs while constantly under the Western gaze. These conflicts come to a head in the chapter “Can You Be a Muslim Feminist?”, as Malik details her experience of challengin­g the stance of the Muslim Society at the University of Technology Sydney on barring women from the presidency.

My favourite story by far is “Back to the Motherland”, where she details a trip to Karachi after 10 years for a family wedding. Malik’s filled with hope that this visit will provide the answers to her identity and can reconcile her relationsh­ip with Pakistan, which holds her history and heritage. She describes the complexity of navigating Karachi, her mannerisms marking her as an outsider, and the sliding-doors moment of imagining what life could have been had her parents stayed, while still being grateful for the opportunit­ies her Western upbringing has offered her.

Malik’s life story is one of aspiration and ambition, both to expand beyond her occasional­ly restrictiv­e upbringing, embracing Western values that resonate while also combating patriarcha­l and white constructs that are designed to inhibit women of colour, both through her career and in navigating society. In “The Newsroom”, Malik speaks to the old school tie that binds most workplaces and the desire to be recognised for the merit of her work, rather than seen as a tokenistic diversity hire – a phenomenon that is pervasive even outside the realm of journalism.

Through her experience, the Walkley Award-winning writer explores the firstgener­ation migrant experience with heart, humour and incredible insight. Desi Girl leaves you with the conclusion that identity isn’t clear-cut; it’s informed by decisions outside your control that lead to your circumstan­ce and deliver you to the culture you were born into. But it also evolves through life experience, enabling us to self-actualise as we gain more autonomy into adulthood.

UQP, 248pp, $32.99

 ?? ??

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from Australia