by Emma Ling Sidnam
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Pub Date 26 Sep 2023 | Archive Date 09 Sep 2023
WINNER OF THE 2022 MICHAEL GIFKINS PRIZE
Laura is tired of being asked where she’s really from. Her family has lived in Aotearoa New Zealand for four generations, and she’s ambivalent at best about her Chinese heritage. But when she’s asked to write about the Chinese New Zealander experience for a work project, Laura finds herself drawn to the diary of her great-great-grandfather Ken, a market gardener in the early years of the British colony.
With the help of her beloved grandpa, Laura begins to write a version of Ken’s story. She imagines his youth in Guangzhou and his journey to a new land—unaware that soon, spurred on by a family secret that comes to light, she will go on her own journey of self-discovery, sexuality and reckoning with the past.
A tender, nuanced novel about the bittersweet search for belonging, Backwaters marks the arrival of a brilliant new talent.
‘The past and present carry out intimate conversations in this compelling and beautiful work. The rhythms of modern city life speak with the deep histories of Chinese lives in Aotearoa in ways that give a sense of walking backwards into the future. Sidnam’s magnificent novel shows us that the past is living, evolving and all around us. It is an absolute joy to read.’—Pip Adam, author of Nothing to See
‘An exciting journey of self-discovery and connection…that will appeal to readers of Alice Pung’s Unpolished Gem.’—Books+Publishing