The Colour of Things Unseen
by Annee Lawrence
- A finely written novel about the intense romance between a young Indonesian artist, of Muslim background, who travels to Sydney to study, and a modern young Australian woman.
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About the Book
When Adi leaves his village in Indonesia to take up an art scholarship in Australia, he arrives in the bewildering Sydney art world, determined to succeed. Following his first solo exhibition at a smart art gallery, Adi dares to reveal his true feelings for his outgoing friend, Lisa, and a passionate relationship unfolds. But will their differing expectations of one another drive them apart?
This is a deeply felt love story between people — of different nations, cultures and religions – and the unseen impact of local and global events on individual lives.
In the wake of a tragedy, a young Indonesian man discovers renewal in art and struggles to find love in an unfamiliar land in this debut novel.
When Adi is only 8 years old, his mother, Suriani, suddenly dies, a loss the Indonesian boy finds emotionally hobbling. He is filled with “burning rage,” and in response to his chronic misbehavior, his father, Totot, sends him to live with his aunts. Eventually, Adi takes art and English classes from Pak Harto, a teacher who is impressed by the student’s “naïve and driving curiosity” and storehouse of natural talent. Pak arranges for Adi to move to Sydney, Australia, for three years, where he can earn a degree in art—the school waives its tuition fee and a charitable foundation pays for the young man’s living expenses. Adi is mesmerized by Sydney and, in particular, by Lisa, a nude model who poses for one of his art classes, a “young woman with pale mask-like skin, green eyes and full deep-red lips.” Lisa is taken with him as well, but Adi is hesitant to pursue her, held back by the cultural chasm that separates them and by his poverty, a condition he believes makes him an ineligible bachelor. Lawrence sensitively portrays Adi’s wonderment at his new life—both his art and his vision of the globe expand in response to a world of novel possibilities: “Something was changing inside him, and he sensed the sink holes that were opening up, and through which everything he felt or discovered was flowing right on into his art making.” The author poignantly depicts Adi’s burgeoning identity crisis—he feels neither Australian nor even fully Indonesian and wrestles to find himself within an existence made rootless by the premature death of his mother.
Lawrence avoids any didactic moralizing—in the place of some sententious lesson, she crafts a beautiful, complex love story. At the heart of her tale is a moving paean to the power of art to recast one’s view of the world, to generate a “new sensibility, a new way of seeing.”
A touching story that intelligently explores the potential for art and romance to bridge a cultural divide.”
— Kirkus Reviews
“Lawrence astutely blends this disassociation, this sensory overload with a strong sense of place: the vertigo-inducing skyscrapers, the unfamiliar tang of sea water and the impressionistic painting that is Sydney Harbour in sunlight. The same discombobulation happens to Lisa when she visits Adi’s homeland …beautifully captures the interfering ties we have to relatives (blood-linked or otherwise) and to other countries in our neighbourhood. It is here where we see the colours of things unseen.”
— Thuy On, The Australian
“Adi falls in love with Lisa, a young Australian woman from a conservative upper middle class family. Lisa is independent and has ambitions towards an academic career in the fine arts. Through their relationship, Lawrence explores the bumpy terrain of intimate crosscultural relationships – misunderstandings, the limits of second languages, and clashes in cultural values about family and gender expectations. Both Adi and Lisa take journeys that challenge them to revise the ‘things unseen’ that sit between them… Lawrence subtly weaves the personal and the political, individual and national histories, as Adi grows as a man and as an artist. She is unhurried in her meticulous establishment of Adi as a fully developed character. As she builds Adi, layer by careful layer, I found an empathy for him that, once established, remained unshaken through the book. And then again with Lisa, who must undertake her own reckoning journey.”
— Jenny Bird, byronwritersfestival.com
“Lawrence’s flair for evocative, communicative writing and her skill with narrative are everywhere in evidence, even as her story ranges widely in time and place. It deals with the most intimate personal experiences and the largest questions of cultural identity and political and religious conflict.” — Professor Nicholas Jose, Novelist and Editor of Macquarie PEN Anthology of Australian Literature.
“In telling the story of [Adi’s] journey from Indonesia to Australia and back, and his maturation as an artist, the novel offers a compelling portrait of the rich cultural and political ties between these two countries as well as an acknowledgement of the silences and gaps that haunt their relationship.” — Dr Shameem Black, Australian National University, author of Fiction Across Borders.
“Details of both Sydney and Java are delightfully described through an artist’s viewpoint (“freckled patterns of blue-grey green in the roadside bush, the sun-split muddy yellows and subtle hints of red and pink”). This story of love and art impresses in its portrayal of the characters’ hard-won success at bridging their cultural differences. ”
— Publishers’ Weekly
“I’ve found much to enjoy in the way the author allows the story to evolve slowly so that it becomes so much more than Adi’s life story, and whilst its focus is about love, relationships and family, it’s also about trying to belong in a place where you feel out of step with those around you.” — jaffareadstoo.blogspot.com
About the Author
Annee lives in Australia and has an interest in exploring cross-cultural connection and the way identity shape-shifts in an unfamiliar place and culture. She has close friendship and family ties in Indonesia and was the recipient of an Asialink Arts’ inaugural Tulis Australian-Indonesian Writing Exchange in 2018. As a result, she had a six-week residency at Kommunitas Salihara in Jakarta and was invited to the Ubud Writers and Readers Festival.
Prior to becoming a tutor in literary and cultural studies at Western Sydney University in 2014, Annee worked as a writer, editor and community development worker in the areas of women’s health, human rights and social justice. Two of her publications include: I Always Wanted To Be A Tap Dancer: Women With Disabilities and (with Nola Colefax on her memoir) Signs of Change: My Autobiography and History of Australian Theatre of the Deaf 1973–1983. In 1981 she was founding editor of Healthright: A Journal of Women’s Health, Family Planning and Sexuality.
Annee has published articles in New Writing, Griffith Review, Hecate and Cultural Studies Review.
The Colour of Things Unseen is her debut novel.