Book Review – The World Waiting to be Made by Simone Lazaroo
“The World Waiting to be Made” is Simone Lazaroo’s TAG Hungerford Award winning first novel. Of the four Hungerford winners I’ve now read, I contend this to be the best. The book appears to be a bildungsroman tale of Lazaroo’s own life, although there is a note in the front saying that some things have changed. There is nothing especially interesting about the structure of this book, but Lazaroo has had an interesting childhood, and this is an interesting read. One notable thing is that there is an abundance of titles strewn throughout the book. As well as having named chapters (which seems to be less and less common these days), “The World Waiting to be Made” has named sections within chapters.
It’s hard to pin down exactly what is so appealing about this book. I have been reading it attentively, soaking up the details of the writer’s early life experiences (stealing an expensive dress from K-Mart, losing her virginity to a dodgy guru named Max, taking up a teaching post in the Kimberley) and I can’t quite get a handle on how this book works. Born of Singaporean and Australian parents, Lazaroo’s family emigrated to Australia (“the world waiting to be made,” as several Singaporean characters describe it) as an infant. Lazaroo writes in a strong, though not overly literary style. This is good. She provides interesting details. This is good too. And the story never drags. This is the best thing. I would imagine that it would be hard to write the story of one’s life in such a way as to make it uniformly interesting, but Lazaroo appears to have achieved this effect here. The book seems effortless. But it has its own kind of confidence and insistence, too. It is as if it is saying: “This is an important story. You must read me.”
There are a few things here that remind me of my own life: upon coming to this country as a child, being disconcerted and confused by the children around me; working as a teacher in a remote town; parents divorcing and remarrying. But there is a difference. I myself am English, thus there is no real cultural dislocation in coming to Australia. For Lazaroo, this divide must have been a wide gulf indeed. By the time we get to the part where the protagonist (I was going to write ‘Simone,’ but I don’t think that name is ever used in this book) returns to Singapore to visit her family, three quarters of this book has already passed.
The most intriguing meeting in Asia is with the much-famed Uncle Linus, who is (or at least was) some kind of holy man, or bomoh. He says something about how ‘people came to the world waiting to be made because parts of themselves were unrealised.’ And there is the essence of this book. It’s about a person’s identity coming into being, about becoming ‘realised,’ if that makes sense. But there is a sense of ambivalence, of loss of identity, here too. For a fairly sunny book, “The World Waiting to be Made” has a brooding conclusion. Like life, it eludes neat categorisation.