A detailed exploration of a personal journey through varying cultures and countries.
As an 80-year-old Australian born in Malaysia to Sri Lankan parents, Ratnam has a rare view of spiritual destiny, colonial politics and cultural identity. This memoir traces his childhood in Japanese-occupied Malaysia to his move to Australia and two marriages to Australian women, creating a diverse array of cross-cultural situations. From the arrogance of British colonials disparaging the Asian cultures in ’40s-era Malaysia, to the fight for immigrant equality in present-day Australia, the author examines racial and cultural divisions. He also speculates on the role that destiny places on life’s journey. As the eldest and only son in his family, Ratnam was pushed to excel, skipping grades and entering an Australian college at an early age. Immature and unprepared to do laboratory work–which had not been taught in Japanese-occupied Malaysia–he failed his courses, bringing decades of shame on himself and his family. Still, his difficult time in Australia enabled the author to write three books related to migrant settlement and sociological issues, fulfilling his destiny of bridging Eastern and Western cultures. Ratnam writes with convincing authority, and his details of Malaysian and Australian society reveal a sharp eye for cultural nuances. He writes, for example, that the Australian tendency of shortening names was regarded as a depraved habit by Asian immigrants, since personal names reflected religious affirmations and tribal beliefs that held great significance. Because the author explicates portions of his life several times, his writing can be repetitive. Still, his optimism about multicultural understanding will sustain the reader’s interest.
A fascinating account of cross-cultural insight that will interest memoir, history and metaphysical enthusiasts.