Anguli Ma: A Gothic Tale by Chi Vu: 366 Days of Writing

Set in the western suburbs of Melbourne in the 1980s, this novella draws us into a home in the Vietnamese refugee community of the time. Anguli Ma is a retelling of a traditional Vietnamese Buddhist folk tale. In the folk tale, Anguli Ma is a killer who adorns his neck with the fingers of his victims, stopping only when he finds redemption in Buddhism.

Ðào is a woman who has escaped Vietnam for the existence of a new kind of life in Australia. Her home is subdivided and rented out to others who share her predicament- an old woman who struggles with the loss of her husband and son in Vietnam, and a young woman who ponders the fate of her family left behind. Their shared understanding makes them comfortable companions until Ðào is tempted by the extra income from a newcomer. Although from the north of Vietnam, Ðào pushes aside her initial misgivings and offers the man her garage. Her judgement is quickly questioned by her tenants and her son. Soon she starts to doubt her own judgement as unusual events begin to take place, leading to terrors she couldn’t have imagined.

The characters are well developed and you get a vivid sense of their despair as they face life in an unfamiliar and sometimes hostile environment. The close quarters of the shared home and the darkness, literal and metaphorical, that permeates provides a compelling backdrop. This is balanced well as Chi Vu gives the reader an intimate experience of some of the cultural nuances and practices of a displaced Vietnamese refugee community, providing a lightness that almost lulls you into a false sense of normality.

If there is a criticism it would be that story shifts perspectives frequently, which I found at times to be detrimental to the tone and pace. I found the suspense building beautifully, enticing me into the story, only to be ripped away by a disjointed and unrelated storyline which left me feeling a little cheated. This was fleeting and rare though, and the strength of the writing quickly drew me back in again.

Anguli Ma is one of the first titles in the Giramondo Shorts series, which offers essays, novellas, pose poems, memoirs and literary criticism, and promises great things from this new imprint.

Review by Natalie Scerra. This review was originally published in the NSWWC’s Newsbite.

Natalie Scerra is a criminologist with an interest in reading and writing in the crime, mystery and fantasy genres.

 

Taking our cue from the National Year of Reading 2012, we’re having our very own National Year of Writing 2012, aka 366 Days of Writing.

Send your reviews in to us! We want to hear about great Australian books, be they new or old, fiction, poetry, plays, short stories, memoir – we want the lot! This year is all about promoting Australian books and Australian readers. Reviews should be between 200 and 400 words.

Send reviews to sbarnes(write at)nswwc.org.au

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