Two Sparrowhawks in a Lonely Sky is a compelling and moving novel from the award-winning author of Tiger Daughter, REBECCA LIM.
Good Reading for Young Adults chatted to Rebecca about her characters and the real history behind her story!
ABOUT THE BOOK
What if you were forced to set sail for a country that didn’t want you, to meet a father you couldn’t remember?
Thirteen-year-old Fu, his younger sister, Pei, and their mother live in a small rural community in Southern China. It is already enduring harsh conditions when it is collectivised as part of Mao Zedong’s Great Leap Forward campaign that ultimately led to economic disaster, widespread famine and millions of deaths.
After tragedy strikes, and threatened with separation, Fu and Pei set out on a perilous journey across countries and oceans to find their father, who left for Australia almost a decade ago.
With nothing to guide them but a photograph and some documents in a language they cannot read, they must draw on all their courage and tenacity just to survive – and perhaps forge a better life for themselves.
An unforgettable story of family, resilience and the complex Asian-Australian experience from the esteemed author of Tiger Daughter, winner of the CBCA Book of the year for Older Readers.
Q&A WITH REBECCA LIM
I love that nothing – not loss or grief, danger on the high seas, famine, poverty or racism – will crush their spirits. They are kids who very much inhabit the moment, who are there for each other, always, and who understand acutely that life does actually ‘turn on a dime.’
They are resilient and fierce, but still filled with wonder at new things and experiences.
Fu and Pei embark on a dangerous journey to find their father. What obstacles will they face?
Without giving too much away, they will face extremes of hunger and ideology, typhoons, mistrust, prejudice and disdain. They will be forced to set sail for a country that doesn’t want them, to find a father they can’t remember.
What can you tell us about the real history behind your story?
Extended family members handed me a treasure trove of mid-20th century documents, memos and notes (including a menu), many signed by grandees from different levels of Federal and State Government with very familiar surnames.
As I was reading a deportation order signed by Harold Holt – which would have changed the history of my family if it had been enforced – I thought about the ‘secret’ and heavily circumscribed history of Asian-Australians.
Two Sparrowhawks in a Lonely Sky seeks to cast some light on mid-20th century Chinese history and Australia’s stringent anti-immigration laws from 1901 to 1958. These topics that don’t get a proper airing in school classrooms, still, to this day.
It’s a fictional examination of the practical outcomes of the White Australia Policy for migrants and refugees from an ‘undesirable’ background, and how our laws were specifically engineered to keep non-white migrants out for decades. Structural racism was actively enshrined in legislation, policy, enforcement practices and case law.
Were there any writers or books that you drew inspiration from?
I drew loads of inspiration from real life for this novel, including critical works examining the deadly outcomes of the ‘Great Leap Forward’ campaign (circa 1958 – 1962) that caused millions of deaths in China, particularly of the rural poor.
Those historical family-related documents that led me down all sorts of awful rabbit holes. High Court ‘prohibited immigrant’ cases targeting Asians or Asian-Australian,; successive, deliberate tightening of our infamous Immigration Restriction Act and what happens to the human body as a person slowly dies of starvation.
Why was it important to you to write a book about the Asian-Australian experience?
Two Sparrowhawks in a Lonely Sky seeks to show how far we’ve come as a nation, but also how much farther we have to go. We still don’t teach enough First Nations history and culture in schools. We still haven’t established treaty with our First Nations peoples. Our immigration minister still has ‘god-like’ discretionary powers. Refugees are still dying or being incarcerated or deported when they take to the seas, hoping to reach a new country in which they will be safe.
It aims to set the record straighter for Asian-Australians, but also Australians generally – we should recognise that the population of this country has always been diverse, regardless of what our laws said, or intended. There’s a kind of accepted, collective amnesia around Australia’s original founding principles. In its own quiet way, Two Sparrowhawks in a Lonely Sky is seeking to decolonise the narrative.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Rebecca Lim is an award-winning Australian writer, illustrator and editor and the author of over twenty books. These include including Tiger Daughter, The Astrologer’s Daughter and the bestselling Mercy.
Her work has been shortlisted for the Prime Minister’s Literary Awards, NSW Premier’s Literary Awards, Queensland Literary Awards, Margaret and Colin Roderick Literary Award and Foreword INDIES Book of the Year Awards. She has also been shortlisted multiple times for the Aurealis Awards and Davitt Awards, and longlisted for the Gold Inky Award and the David Gemmell Legend Award.
Rebecca Lim is a co-founder of the Voices from the Intersection initiative and co-editor of Meet Me at the Intersection, a groundbreaking anthology of YA #OwnVoice memoir, poetry and fiction.