Simone Lazaroo’s Eurasian Narrators
[D]oes the encounter with the Other presuppose a replaying of old identities or the invention of new ones?
Nikos Papastergiadis, ‘Tracing Hybridity in Theory’ (1997: 267)
Simone Lazaroo’s novels, The World Waiting to Be Made (1994), and The Australian Fiancé (2000), illustrate Stuart Hall’s theory of how marginal migrant voices recover broken histories, inventing new narrative forms, and define new positions from which to speak (cited in Papastergiadis 1997: 275). For Miriam Lo, Lazaroo’s protagonist Gloria in her first novel The World Waiting to Be Made is intensely preoccupied with the split in her Eurasian hybridity, so much so that she replicates anti-Asian racism. Gloria’s part-Anglo-Celtic heritage ‘acts as a troubling site of identification and disavowal’, but she achieves maturity by learning to positively value this heritage. Lo argues that it is ‘only through the construction of a hybridity in which both parts of her identity are allowed to co-exist in a positive and mutually reinforcing relationship that the narrator is able to begin to transcend the effects of racism and Orientalism’. This change in the relationship of ethnic parts ‘transcends the split that causes her to have mutually incompatible parts to her identity’ (M. Lo 1998: 40 – 3).
Lazaroo, like myself, explores the Eurasian’s exotic visuality, which is ‘inseparable from the activity of consumption and of self-commodification’ (Wang 2000: 48 – 9). Clearly, we are ambivalent with the material attractiveness of Eurasians as symbols of value and aesthetic pleasure. While making literary capital out of Orientalist stereotypes, one tries to repudiate race categories overdetermined by colonial discourses that mix disgust with desire. In The World Waiting to Be Made the narrator’s self-conscious role as fabricator of fictions can become a means for undermining racist discourses, and the self-conscious assertion of being Eurasian deconstructs the narrator’s own ambivalent investment in the difficult task of telling truths about the migrant diaspora through the means of fiction: ‘I was making events and people into something other than they were…So much for my roots’ (Lazaroo 1994: 235).
The Australian Fiancé concerns a Eurasian woman born into poverty in 1950s Singapore, the illegitimate daughter of a Malay mother and an English father. The Eurasian fits Trinh Minh-ha’s description of herself as ‘on the margin, resisting both the majority culture and that of her own group’ (cited in Yuval-Davis 1997: 202). The Australian Fiancé depicts the ways the Eurasian female migrant is exoticised by white Australians (who unfortunately fail to realise their racism). Orientalist metaphors continue to adhere to the novel’s Asian female migrant who remains vulnerable to appropriation as an attractive multicultural commodity.
Importantly, Lazaroo’s Eurasian struggles to reconcile her ethnic identity as an Asian with the fraction of her whiteness, and her mixed ethnicity is almost ‘always positioned in relation to the value of purity, along axes of inclusion and exclusion’ (Papastergiadis 1997: 259). The journey of the novel begins with her disavowal of Asianness and desire for assimilation through marriage to a white Australian. Her return to Singapore at the end of the novel seems to offer an epiphany which recoups her Asianness, but also leaves us with a rather pessimistic picture of Australian Eurocentrism.
Lazaroo’s Eurasian represents Asian women as victims of multiple colonisations and processes of dismemberment from community and family ties. The Eurasian is the “invaded space” colonised three times, by the British, by the Japanese and then by the white Australian. Her affair with an Australian pearling magnate evokes contemporary stories of poor Asian mail order brides who marry economically better off Westerners, and then migrate to Australia. As Shirley Tucker observes, these relations ‘have invariably been seen as metaphors for cross-cultural tensions on a range of political, economic and national levels’ (2000: 153). Lazaroo’s Eurasian taps a growing interest in victims of wartime rape atrocities committed by the Japanese. Julie Matthews (2000: paragraph 17) argues that due to WW2 military contact the trope of the docile Asian woman, as ‘domestic, food-focused, family orientated…docile, compliant, submissive and subordinate’ has been overlaid with transgressive images of the corrupt woman. In these military discourses ‘Asian women were presented as immoral, seductive, corrupting, diabolic, heathens and less-than-human’ (Uchida cited in Matthews 2000: paragraph 17).
The Australian Fiancé attempts to liberate these discourses by creating a pro-active female character that goes beyond familiar tropes of the Asian femme fatale as the Madame Butterfly and/or the victimised mail order bride. This raises questions central to my novel: to what extent is Lazaroo’s Asian female protagonist complicit in fashioning herself in Orientalist ways? How is she re-sited between/within one patriarchal context or another; and how does she discover ways to resist both Orientalism and patriarchy?
Similar to how my fiction grows out of the story of my real mother, Lazaroo models her protagonist on historical descriptions of abused (Eur)asian women. In an ABC Books and Writing interview with Ramona Koval (2001), Lazaroo states that she was concerned to tell a story of how the trauma of sexually abused women forced into prostitution had created a governmental policy of forgetting that Singaporean families complied with, given the deep collective shame of such experiences and the loss of face endured. Lazaroo wanted to investigate the particular suppression by the Singaporean government of any acknowledgement of the victimisation of Eurasian women in Singapore during WW2, and the absence of reparation claims by these women. To be illegitimate and Eurasian is to be inferior to Chinese, Indian, or Malay women. The Eurasian embarrasses the totalitarian racist systems of the Japanese state and the rigid policing of ethnic boundaries set by her own family. As concubines or as servants under British colonial rule, these women were forced to move countries in search of a better life.
Peter van der Veer notes that such ‘dislocations did not constitute free movement, but a “middle passage” from one boundedness and bondedness to another’ (1997: 91). Lazaroo’s Eurasian also invokes the trope of the biblical Eve, trapped in patriarchy. Nevertheless, the end of British Imperial power in Southeast Asia, and the failure of British colonial control over its multicultural colony allows Lazaroo’s Eurasian a limited possibility of escape from colonial bondage. The fall also figures the end of Singapore’s unstable unity-in-difference and the dismemberment of the imagined community. The Eurasian’s experience of oppression is survivable. Thus, as the old British colonial structures collapse, the Eurasian narrator’s mixed race identity becomes a potentially unstable but liberating force.
In my re-writing of my mother’s personal journey from Thailand to the West, I have invested my narrator Krishna with a motivation to recuperate or re-member his mother’s lost Thainess, her life before migration to the West. Rather than submit fully to the onslaught of the West’s assimilatory modernity, Krishna sees her as an unassimilable agent for provincialising Europe, a process in which the dominance of European grand narratives of history can be changed through the infiltration into Europe of a non-European archive (Chakrabarty 2000: 42). A politics of alliance between dominant metropolitan histories and subaltern peripheral pasts can become possible (Chakrabarty 2000: 42). My mother’s journey became a diasporic process of displacement, dislocation, and relocation made possible by going against her own family’s wishes and marrying the white man, and Lazaroo’s Eurasian is likewise born out of voluntary transgression.
Robyn Morris’s analysis of how Lazaroo’s novel translates whiteness through the eye of empire is important, and could be applied to my own work. Morris shows that Lazaroo’s novels represent coloured identities in relation to a mythical white and Western norm, which pervades Australia’s dominant political and social power structures. In The Australian Fiancé Lazaroo interrogates the fixing of racialised identity through an extended photographic metaphor (Morris 2001: 86). Susan Sontag writes that photographing something means to appropriate the thing photographed from a position of power and ownership over the images which are collected (Sontag 1971: 4). The pearler, for example, photographs his experience of travel through Singapore, and incorporates the Eurasian girl into his archive. Morris rightly argues that in this novel photography is a means for the white gaze to assert its power over seeing, and determines the way non-white subjects are read. She also asserts that ‘the imperial white gaze is inherently schizophrenic in that it operates within the social as a strategy for defining, but also for resisting, categorisations of otherness’ (Morris 2001: 87). By making whiteness visible, or by reversing the gaze so that it is the coloured woman who sees the white man, Lazaroo decentres whiteness and its ideology is made visible and open to critique.
This is precisely the intention of my novel’s interrogation of my father’s documentation of his relationship with my mother. My novel re-appropriates this archive and its white gaze and turns it upon itself. I have attempted to decentre my father’s scopophilic gaze as it fixed upon my mother in proprietorial ways. My novel also asks if such a gaze was generated by his Western need to control and caption what he saw. Is it possible, also, to re-caption these images to provide a truer picture of my mother’s subjectivity, a reading that is not over-determined by the Orientalist gaze? My father’s images of my mother were sent back to his mother in Melbourne in the late 1950s, and were proof and celebration that he was to marry a beautiful Oriental, as if she had been a trophy. Like Lazaroo, I want to show that seeing and categorising others need not be Euro/phallocentric, and the meanings these photographs generate are mutable and can occur in a ‘speculative and hybrid space between the image and the caption’ (Morris 2001: 94). The Eurasian need not see only what the white man sees, but she can step out of his frame.
Lazaroo’s use of photography is particularly relevant to debates over the way Eurasian women have become particularly desirable and attractive media commodities precisely because they project the obvious visual signs of hybridity, so that Eurasian beauty is complicit with a certain amount of whiteness. Because of their complicity with the economics and ideology of a global fashion industry, Asian and Eurasian women continue to be hailed as different and exotic. Julie Matthews writes:
Eurasian and Asian images not only demonstrate that women are ‘hailed as different’, and stereotyped in a way that manages to uphold their irrelevance and marginality, but they are also implicated in the ambivalent processes of commodification and the production of desire. (2002: paragraph 22)
Lazaroo’s narrator and my own are partly white and are products of colonial métissage. They are prone to asserting their whiteness over their Asian upbringing. They are both distanced from their Asian mothers, and idealise their white fathers. Lazaroo’s narration (switching to third person mode) states: ‘This image of her father so inexact it is inexpressible. Yet it is the image she has carried longest and closest to herself, most dearly’ (38). Post-war Singapore – as well as Australia – marks her as ethnically and socially outside other, more established ethnic communities of the Chinese, Malays, and Indians. The Eurasian’s dead father was an English businessman and for her to speak his language is to resurrect his status and value and symbolises the unification of her fractured identity. Her illegitimate status puts her offside with the many Eurasian families in Singapore, descendants of Portuguese and Christianised native mixing in the seventeenth Century. In the ABC interview (Koval 2001), Lazaroo argues that the Eurasians of Singapore were sometimes uncomfortable and sometimes fortunate – interpreters and go-betweens whom Malays would exclude as not Bumi Putra (natives of the soil). The British administration could not therefore confer upon Eurasians a political right to be the inheritors or guardians of British culture and language, while economic responsibility fell largely to the Chinese.
In its initial stages, the novel suggests that the Eurasian is looking to recoup a lost European paternalism. Caught within a Catholic sense of shame, the Eurasian sees an explicit connection with her father on first meeting the Australian pearler on the docks of Singapore. In this moment of psychic transference from father to white lover, one could say that Australia’s persistent version of colonialism reclaims the orphaned Eurasian from an outdated British colonialism.
At the same time, even as Lazaroo’s narrator praises whiteness, she critiques the very hegemony of whiteness as a sign of colonial patriarchy, and leaves her own complicity with whiteness open to critique. For Olivia Khoo, the dead father represents a white sublimity and the Eurasian’s extreme aesthetic veneration of whiteness (O. Khoo, 2001b: 80). A speaker of the Singapore patois – a Creole of Chinese dialects, Malay and English – her Eurasianness aligns with Empire, and is arguably assimilated by it: ‘I believed proper English would make me complete, re-unite me with my father, give me entry into the nations that had been closed to me when he died’ (12). In other words the Eurasian daughter of a white father and a Chinese mother must reconcile the two dominant discourses that define her: her mother’s Confucian definition of a good woman, and father’s assimilationist white Christian definition of a good colonial. Whiteness is powerful because it marks goodness and purity in contrast to blackness or brownness. As a symbol of the fallen colonial structure, her father provides the standard for her aspirations, but his death means she lacks his paternity, and her part Anglo status puts her out of step with multicultural Singapore’s growing aversion to the taint of its colonial British past. Of her father, the narrator writes, somewhat nostalgically, ‘at school I was one of the brightest, one of the girls deemed most likely to succeed. Except for one obstacle, which was the obstacle of an empty space where a father should have been’ (167).
Whiteness and non-whiteness are identities subject to the narrator’s recognition and surveillance. Robyn Morris argues that Lazaroo’s depiction of whiteness places much symbolic weight on the pearler’s agency as ‘eye of Empire’ whose obsession with photography and the archiving of ‘how the natives see’ symbolises colonial control over colonialised subjects. Yet the pearler’s claim to be able to see as the Eurasian sees reveals that strong racial anxieties that underlie the pearler’s need to control the representation of the Asian other. In fact, the pearler needs to record light (as metaphor for both whiteness and knowledge) and to caption his images of Asians as dark “unreadable subjects” (The Australian Fiancé: 125). This need reveals a deep anxiety of losing whiteness as it is “overwritten” by the non-white way of seeing and recording things (Morris 2001: 88). Morris interprets the fiancé’s attraction to the Eurasian as a lapse of duty (2001: 88), an ironic failure since his role is to safeguard whiteness. According to Olivia Khoo, in a paper entitled ‘Popular Asianism in Australia’, Lazaroo’s novel confirms the dominance of heterosexuality and whiteness as a ‘seductive visible combination’, and ‘it is whiteness and the promise of marriage that seduces the Singaporean girl’ (O. Khoo, unpublished M.S. 2001). Such a seduction places the girl in a subordinate position as the grateful Asian migrant who has been admitted into Australia through a loophole in the immigration laws.
Morris and Khoo are right about the power of heterosexual whiteness in The Australian Fiancé, and the Eurasian’s investment in pursuing a place in the white man’s world (rather than rejecting it) also entraps her. If the Eurasian has any power and agency, it operates from a marginal position in white colonial society. Her effort to make herself sexually attractive is a sign that she has few better alternatives. The text states:
I stole English lipstick [and] puckered my furtively painted lips as I leaned out the window at the back of the Emporium to watch myself reflected in the eyes of the young men…’Ah, yah! Perempuan lacur! [Devil woman] What can you expect? With her background!’ exclaimed my mother’s sister, her gold cross gleaming on her chain. (11)
Malee in my novel is also stereotyped by Patrick, who writes letters from Singapore to his mother in Melbourne in the late 1950s, letters that frequently identify Asian women as especially alluring because they are off limits and not to be taken seriously as marriage prospects. Significantly, my father’s letters also reveal my father’s need to alleviate his mother’s deep-seated anxiety that her son would lose his whiteness by marrying an Oriental woman. Yet, his own desire for Orientals counter-acts his fear of losing his whiteness, an ambivalence similar to Lazaroo’s pearler. The pearler’s desire for the Eurasian suggests that the Eurasian woman under British rule was already at the heart of the colonial imaginary, highly desirable for her mystery. Lazaroo’s novel makes this point convincingly by including a Noel Coward lyric that fetishises the half-caste:
Where did your story begin?
Have you a secret heart
Waiting for someone to win?
Were you born of some queer magic
In your shimmering gown?
Is there something strange and tragic
Deep, deep down? (141)
The Noel Coward song echoes the essentialising perception that Eurasians are abnormal or “queer” products of illegitimate sexual unions. Coward’s ‘queer magic’ codes for sex between racially different bodies, and because it is erotic, it must be secretive and hidden. Lazaroo’s Eurasian is abnormal from the moment she is conceived from a union of English colonial father and her Eurasian mother. This imposes the hallmark of miscegenation’s disgrace. Her desire to whitewash herself is also a desire to escape her culturally determined identity through alternative postcolonial modes of behaviour and dress. Her status is already marked as inferior by her own community’s suppression of both sexuality outside of wedlock and sexuality between ethnic groups. We could interpellate the pearler as a Noel Coward figure who continually affirms the stereotype of the Eurasian’s mysterious and secretive nature. Playing hard to get at the beginning of their relationship, her evasiveness reveals her self-conscious and ironic awareness that being Eurasian is a double-edged sword. The pearler, smitten but unaware of the Eurasian’s ironic take on her appearance, asks what kind of Asian she is, and she replies ‘I am a Eurasian’ and she says this is how she would like to be seen. The pearler, reaching for a stereotype, says ‘Ah, Eurasian. East meets West. Like in the Noel Coward song’ (28). It seems the language of racial categories is inescapable and actually facilitates their desire.
In a quite colonial way Lazaroo’s plot fulfils the fantasy implicit in the question, ‘were you born of some queer magic / in your shimmering gown?’ Yes, Lazaroo’s Asian is destined for wealth (the shimmering gown) and her magic is her erotic power to attract. In the early stage of the novel, she plays tour guide and interpreter for the pearler, and her beauty works for her in this respect, as the Australian is generous with food, clothes, which become alternative means of payment for services. But the Eurasian is conscious of being marked down as fake, the “cheap” trophy of wealthy white men who like to rescue prostitutes. The Eurasian fulfils the Noel Coward performance by learning to make herself an ornament attractive to the pearler, and to other white males, even if that means turning herself into the loathed stereotype of her own community, the Malay devil woman or perempuan lacur.
The pearler, as fantasist, fulfils his role as the eye of Empire, as Morris argues when he pursues the Eurasian object of fantasy. If the Eurasian female had been a threat to the pearler’s white dominance, her dangerous potential to catalyse miscegenation and lead white men astray is neutralised when the pearler transforms her into his ornament. For both coloniser and colonised, the Eurasian woman is alluring in her racial and moral ambiguity. The pearler’s desire for the Eurasian as a prohibited commodity reveals the hypocrisy of colonial propriety and reveals the mix of desire and disgust inherent in colonial miscegenation.
Australia’s multicultural dystopia: Lazaroo’s “Elsewhere”
For Lazaroo’s lovers the potential to live together in a non-racist multicultural context is partially provided in Broome, where the pearler’s home is situated. Hoping to assimilate, the Eurasian attempts to transform herself from refugee to citizen, and tries to forget her previous life and trauma. While she relies on the white Australian as patron and the guarantor of her acceptability to Australia (without him she has no Australian identity) her relocation offers her some assurance, as Broome is a mini Asia-within-Australia of tropical weather; ‘Johnny Chi Lane’, the satay vendors, the Asian market gardeners, providores, cooks, and pearl divers. Some Aboriginals have intermarried with Indonesians and Makassans. It also seems that the Australian pearler is comfortable with the porosity of his environment, with the fishing, and with taking non-white lovers.
The Eurasian is promoted to the dusty, yellowed ‘bed of the Empire’ (88). The fiancé’s estate (named ‘Elsewhere’), with its plush furniture and Victorian chandeliers, reinforces the Eurasian’s alienation. Beyond the Eden of a watered green garden another elsewhere begins: infinite space, stillness, exotic birds and animals, but also the origin of weeds that threaten the garden.
The events in Broome and in the pearler’s mansion suggest that in a multicultural model of Australia, non-white ethnicity marks inferior class, but also gender and race are imbricated in the maintenance of white dominance over both Asian and Aboriginal ethnicities. Significantly, the Eurasian learns that she is not the pearler’s first experience of interracial desire. Although he is under enormous pressure to stay within the white milieux, he has in fact taken his Aboriginal housemaid as a secret lover before. The Eurasian and the housemaid overcome obvious racial differences when they realise they share a common status as concubines of the white man, and together they share an understanding of how to extract concessions from men of power. Interestingly, in a narrative that is otherwise saturated with the discourse of race as a marker of social difference and status, this scene shows how gender can override race when the common experience of subaltern coloured women is their sexual exploitation by white middle class men. I make a similar move to ally Malee with Albert Namatjira at the end of my novel in order to show that migrant hybridities can be strengthened if alliances are made with other discriminated groups in Australia.
But in this 50s romance, the white male leads. The lovers isolate themselves on a boat in Broome Harbour. When her nostalgia for wilderness wells up, she expresses a desire to go back to Singapore, but he dissuades her: ‘But we can’t live there either’ (114). The boat on the bay becomes a trope for a pleasurable but temporary state of exile, and another prison. There she learns to swim, and together they enjoy their short-lived Eden, ‘a place in which she might find the ‘body of pleasure as hers forever’ (122). Fulfilling the role of border patrol officer protecting white Australian manhood from contamination, the pearler’s father arrives to evict them from their paradise. For the girl this interference replays her trauma during the Japanese invasion of Singapore, a time when she lost her father, her virginity, and her childhood innocence. This also invokes the worst of the girl’s memories of enforced prostitution and the violence inflicted on girls’ bodies by the military. In the face of this racist opposition from the pearler’s parents, the couple fail to marry.
Broome in the 1950s illustrates Trinh T. Minh-ha’s observation that ‘women can only situate their social spaces precariously in the interstices of diverse systems of ownership. Their elsewhere is never a pure elsewhere but a no-escape elsewhere’ (2002: 5). But the putative alliance between the Aboriginal maid and the Eurasian shows that despite white male regulation of non-white concubines, white Australia can not eradicate these alliances; they do in fact proliferate in multicultural enclaves such as Broome.
The affair collapses and the Eurasian returns to Singapore. The novel gestures towards the possibility that the Eurasian can escape her function as an ornament of white male desire and forge a new identity outside of racist structures, but this alternative identity is proscribed within a dominant heterosexual trope emerging in the latter stages of the novel, where it is revealed that the fallen woman is a version of Mary Magdalen. As the Eurasian’s relationship disintegrates, her relatives in Singapore send her hitherto unknown child. This (re)turn in the narrative allows the Eurasian to identify herself as the fertile woman, and the nurturer of innocence, roles which both the community in Singapore and the white community of Broome have denied her. With the birth of a child, she can say: I am a creator, a mother. Like Magdalen, the Eurasian is forgiven and can assuage her guilt: she explains to the pearler the Malay term of abuse she suffered: perempuan lacur: both prostitute and mistaken woman, and this allows for the epiphanal moment when the Eurasian re-members herself. After the death of the child, the pearler finds a photograph of the child standing on a beach in Broome. This revelation marks the moment when the lie the Eurasian has kept from the pearler is released, and she confesses that the child was illegitimate. The photograph functions as the moment when the past is confessed and forgiven, and provides historical proof for her claim to being a real mother. She now owns that child and can then possess herself. In other words, the photograph reveals a hitherto buried truth about abused comfort women.
Though the child returns, she drowns in Broome’s tidal waters. The Eurasian moves through grief and the healing process that involves a growing restoration of that Singaporean ethnic part of her identity. If we read the novel as a kind of Old Testament allegory, Lazaroo’s Eurasian is clearly a kind of saintly figure who is given grace through suffering, though I read the return of the child as a trope for both the fertility of the hybrid, while its death allegorises the cultural infertility of a white Australia.
The perpetual doubling of the Eurasian subject
The Australian Fiancé generates sympathy for the Asian female migrant in need of Australia’s acceptance; but she will only accept charity on her terms, and refuses to lose the identity invested in her diasporic links, even when those links are painful. Ien Ang argues that the white Australia policy once excluded Asians because of difference; but now multicultural debates include Asians because of difference. The image of the Asian migrant is now included because it is a feminine one that still bears the trace of Orientalist othering (Ang 2001: 139). According to Tucker, the Asian woman is still the ‘desired other’ premised on the male heterosexual subject. But now the Asian woman asks ‘to be recognised for her difference from both her original and Australian cultural identities’ (Tucker 1999: 8). There is an assumption that Asian-Australian authors are more adept at better, less Orientalist representations, when in fact they are complicit in perpetuating these representations.
Claims for recognition by Asian-Australian authors may lead to a powerful (re)conceptualisation of community’ (Chow 1995: 14). But for me, Lazaroo’s Eurasian remains a muted victim: unacceptable to the Broome community of whites and to the government; but acceptable as a sexual commodity to the pearler. How then can Lazaroo’s text be read in terms of a strategic hybridity? The Eurasian speaks for real female victims of war – but the text refuses to settle the question of where the Eurasian belongs, and rejects grounding myths of authentic ethnicities. Instead, we get a sense that the Eurasian is victim of both white racism and colonial abuse and intra-Asian cultural differences within Singapore. Furthermore, Lazaroo risks framing hybridity in terms of Judeo-Christian definitions of the Self and Christian myths of redemption in which the sinner must forgive herself before she can be “whole” again. This move sits uneasily with Lazaroo’s intention to portray the Eurasian as a survivor of colonialism. Certainly Lazaroo, like my self, struggles to give her Asian protagonist an easy way out of the structures that racialise her body and being, and this illustrates the difficulty of promoting hybridity as a way of overcoming racist discourse, without hybridity itself becoming complicit in racist structures of identity.
Despite the limits set by its own rigid binary of the Eurasian and Australian (as metonyms for opposed ethnicities), The Australian Fiancé confirms that Eurasian femininity may seem erotic to white men, while ugly and shameful to others. In defining the migrant’s experience of displacement and the value he/she places on ethnicity and race, we must consider how the links between nation, place and identity involve a negotiated and open-ended ‘settlement’ of meaning. Bhabha writes that ‘Identity always presupposes a sense of location and a relationship with others…attention to place does not presuppose closure, for the representation of identity most often occurs precisely at the point when there has been a displacement’ (Bhabha 1994: 184). The Australian Fiancé may reveal ‘possible configurations between one body and another’ (Papastergiadis 1998: 176 – 7), but the actual configuration remains vague, perhaps improbable.
The Australian Fiancé demonstrates, nevertheless, that whiteness enjoys a disproportionate privilege of power and invisibility compared to others. Lazaroo’s novel reveals the ways non-white women unmask whiteness by interacting with it and by acknowledging that they too wear the mask of whiteness in order to attract white men. They too are complicit with whiteness by giving white men what they want to see in the form of ‘ornate lies’ (O. Khoo 2001b: 79). However, if Eurasian women hold aesthetic powers of attraction, white men dominate non-white women in the economic sphere.
Lazaroo has made the hegemonic pairing of whiteness and heterosexuality visible in order to deconstruct it, not to reinforce it (O. Khoo 2001b: 77). The Eurasian is an example of Bhabha’s concept of the split screen of the hybrid, whose ‘self and other is split, only to be grafted back together in a perpetual doubling act’ (Bhabha, cited in Papastergiadis 1998: 178). This doubling act is precisely the work of the novel as a performance, as a hybridising discourse on migration, border-crossing, exile and return, illustrative of those processes that generate incessant global movements and fluid reconfigurations of identity. Hybridity is a metaphor for the paradox of a split subject who believes that he or she might transcend this split, though Lazaroo’s bi-cultural subject is highly conscious of how the transcendence of the racially defined nature of bi-culturalism needs new strategies. The value of ethnicity is constantly re-negotiated in a world where race and ethnicity won’t go away. Zygmunt Bauman writes ‘today’s stranger’s are by-products, but also the means of production, in the incessant – because never conclusive – process of identity building’ (1997: 54). Lazaroo’s novel continues to ask for answers to the conundrum: not ‘how to get rid of strangers, but how to live with them – daily and permanently’ (Bauman: 1997: 55).