Winner, Victorian Premier's Literary Award for an Unpublished Manuscript, 2016
Australia Day is a collection of stories by debut author Melanie Cheng. The people she writes about are young, old, rich, poor, married, widowed, Chinese, Lebanese, Christian, Muslim. What they have in common—no matter where they come from—is the desire we all share to feel that we belong. The stories explore universal themes of love, loss, family and identity, while at the same time asking crucial questions about the possibility of human connection in a globalised world.
Melanie Cheng is an important new voice, offering a fresh perspective on contemporary Australia. Her effortless, unpretentious realism balances an insider’s sensitivity and understanding with an outsider’s clear-eyed objectivity, showing us a version of ourselves richer and more multifaceted than anything we’ve seen before.
About the Author
Melanie Cheng is a writer and general practitioner. Of Chinese-Australian heritage, she was born in Adelaide, grew up in Hong Kong and now lives in Melbourne. In 2016 she won the Victorian Premier’s Literary Award for an Unpublished Manuscript. Australia Day is her first book.
'This is a theme that Cheng's stories revisit again and again. All of her characters-a diverse cast of difference races and faiths-are searching for connection or a sense of belonging, and coming up short. Despite its title the focus of this collection is not explicitly on that increasingly controversial public holiday. Rather, it is on the struggles, internal and external, that occur when people from different backgrounds meet by chance or are brought together...Australia Day is a bittersweet, beautifully crafted collection that will be much admired by fans of Cate Kennedy and Tony Birch.' * Books + Publishing *
`Melanie Cheng is an astonishingly deft and incisive writer. With economy and elegance, she creates a dazzling mosaic of contemporary life, of how we live now. Hers is a compelling new voice in Australian literature.' -- Christos Tsiolkas
`What a wonderful book, a book with bite. These stories have a real edge to them. They are complex without being contrived, humanising, but never sentimental or cloying-and, ultimately, very moving.' -- Alice Pung
`In each story, Melanie Cheng creates an entire microcosm, peeling back the superficial to expose the raw nerves of contemporary Australian society. Her eye is sharp and sympathetic, her characters flawed and funny and utterly believable.' -- Jennifer Down
`Melanie Cheng's stories are a deep dive into the diversity of humanity. They lead you into lives, into hearts, into unexplored places, and bring you back transformed.' -- Michelle Wright
`The characters stay in the mind, their lives and experiences mirroring many of our own, challenging us to think how we might respond in their place. An insightful, sometimes uncomfortable portrayal of multicultural Australia from an observant and talented writer.' -- Ranjana Srivastava
`Australia Day is an absorbing panorama of contemporary Australia...These are 14 powerfully perceptive stories, written with love, humour, realism, and a distinct edginess. While the terrain covered might be familiar, Cheng's take on our treasured multiculturalism feels fresh... It's necessary reading, not only because it's a microcosm of who we are, but because each story is a gem, and a joy to behold.' -- Simon McDonald
`If only the PM might pick up a copy, even by mistake.' * Saturday Paper *
`A wonderful feat of storytelling...Melanie Cheng is an exciting new writer.' * Readings *
`A sumptuous collection of fourteen short stories, which are disparate but with modern Australia or Australians at their heart, exploring issues of racism, infidelity, grief, parenthood, children and ageing. Despite the brevity of some of these stories (one is just eight pages), they are heartfelt and Melbourne-based Cheng paints the characters beautifully.' * Herald Sun *
`A panorama of contemporary multicultural Australia that explores each and everyone's desire to belong.' * Book Bonding *
`A diverse, captivating collection of short stories.' * Better Read Than Dead *
`The happy surprise of Cheng's work as a collection lies in her resolute grasp of the absolute normalcy of a culture that not so many years ago was divided and dually suspicious. The census gives us the facts but it takes fiction to make reality three-dimensional.' * Sydney Morning Herald *
`The author's empathetic eye and easy facility with dialogue make the anthology a strong debut, with the longer stories in particular offering breadth and depth...It feels like Cheng has taken a wide sample from the census to craft this inclusive portrait of contemporary Australia.' * Big Issue *
`A stunning debut that takes its place among Australian short story greats.' * AU Review *
`Cheng's work is polished and affecting. Australia Day is that thing we all chase: a complex, engaging and timely read.' * Lifted Brow *
`Cheng paints a holistic snapshot of Australian life, with the result being a collection of stories that are simultaneously cynical and hopeful...The ambiguity inherent in labelling something "Australian" is also manifested in Cheng's characters, prompting the reader to interrogate their own definition of what it means to be Australian.' * Kill Your Darlings *
`Melanie Cheng writes prose that gets straight to the heart of the matter and tells it how it is...The more I sit here and reflect on each story in this collection, the stronger and more powerful they become.' * Sam Still Reading *
`Melanie Cheng's voice is strong, compassionate and embracing in these 14 stories that reflect the diversity of Australians and the starkness of human frailty. The recurring theme in all these stories is the ability to re-form lives that, at first, might seem to be shattered beyond repair.' * Good Reading, four stars *
`The different cultures, the intriguing characters all left me wanting more. I'd love to see some longer fiction from Melanie Cheng in the future but I'll happily accept anything and everything she writes. A fantastic talent who has nailed the art of the short story.' * Sam Still Reading *
'The book bears witness to the author's empathetic eye, multicultural characterisation and easy facility with dialogue...This short story collection explores what it means to belong, to be Australian; its insight from different vantage points and its photo-realistic narrative make it an exciting and impressive debut.' * Judges' Report, Victorian Premier's Literary Awards, 2018 *
`Wonderful.' * Christos Tsiolkas, Sydney Morning Herald's Year in Reading *
`Melanie Cheng's Australia Day brought this prodigal reader of short fiction back into the fold. And what better return than through Cheng's creation of illuminated characters of colour-young, old, rich, poor, married, widowed, Muslim, Chinese...Cheng's Australia Day explores the density and difficulty inherent in being culturally and physically different and serves to remind me that when our six families of adopted children from China gather in Queenscliffe on Australia Day each year, raising two flags on the pole instead of one that we, like all of Cheng's characters, are restoring belonging from our individual and collective loss.'
-- 2017 Favourites * Wheeler Centre *
`The stories are unpretentious, diverse, and a lot of the time, disconcertingly real. Cheng's characters are just as well realised; they live on in your head long after you've put her book down.' * Lifted Brow, Favourite Books of 2017 *
`Offering a fresh viewpoint on modern Australia, debut author Cheng is a significant new voice on the literary scene.' * PS News *
'[Cheng's] individual characters suggest the ways in which we might move forward...Australia Day imagines a tomorrow where we can love our communities, our celebrations and our food, without leaving behind critical good taste.' * Sydney Review of Books *
`Her [Cheng's] effortless, unpretentious realism balances and insider's sensitivity and understanding with an outsider's clear-eyed objectivity, showing us a version of ourselves richer and more multifaceted than anything we've seen before.' * Book Muse *