Maria Katsonis and Lee Kofman (eds.), Rebellious Daughters. Ventura Press 2016. RRP: $32.99, 232pp. ISBN: 9781925183528
Containing an assortment of short biographical tales from sixteen Australian female writers, Rebellious Daughters considers what it means for women to defy the many, varied expectations placed on them.
Having just recently finished reading Rochelle Siemienowicz’s memoir Fallen (2015), I started with her story. Called ‘Resisting The Nipple’, it focuses on the relationship between mother and child; specifically that of Rochelle and her religious mother. This at times strained dynamic (which features in greater detail in ‘Fallen’) is explored within the context of Rochelle becoming a mother herself. Naturally mother/daughter dynamics are a major theme throughout this collection of stories. Lee Kofman’s entertaining ‘Me, My Mother and Sexpo’, covers similar ground to her memoir ‘The Dangerous Bride’, Jane Caro’s ‘Where Mothers Stop And Daughters Start’ is a candour-filled breezy read about raising two headstrong daughters, and ‘A Man Of One’s Own’ by Susan Wyndham is as much a reflection on her self-discovery as it is touching love letter to her mother. Grandmothers also make appearances, with Krissy Kneen’s fairy-tale obsessed, papier-mâché-dinosaur-making grandma vividly presented. And Eliza Henry-Jones’ recollections of the tumultuous relationship with both her dementia-afflicted grandmother and her unwell father in ‘Just Be Kind’ makes for a moving and powerful read.
Different generations of women are well represented in Rebellious Daughters. Marion Halligan looks back on her life in the 1950s and 1960s, a time when she fought to convince her dad that higher education opportunities for girls weren’t a waste of resources. Caroline Baum tells of the late blooming of her defiance against her parents, something which only came to the surface in her forties. Cultural expectations can give birth to rebellion, with numerous stories making this point. When Silvia Kwon’s family migrated to Australia in the late 1970s, she found herself kicking against the Korean societal ideals her parents still clung to. Maria Katsonis’ and Michelle Law’s charismatic tales ‘A Spoonful Of Sugar (Or Not)’ and ‘Joyride’ are similar in the way they examine these expectations while illustrating the most charmingly feeble acts of defiance: making a terrible cup of coffee and a covert expedition to a crush’s house. ‘Pressing the Seams’ sees Leah Kaminsky rejecting the traditional ways her holocaust survivor father espouses even while reflecting on his influence in her life, resulting in a sensitively written and very touching story.
The variety of perspectives shared within Rebellious Daughters makes for an engaging collection; the compilation well-balanced and easy to read. With ‘The Stella Count’ (run by ‘The Stella Prize’, a literary award celebrating Australian women’s writing) recently reporting that work by female writers is under-represented in Australian media, books such as Rebellious Daughters should be getting the attention they so deserve.
Samantha Allemann is a Melbourne based writer, educational content developer and occasional 3RRR radio announcer. Follow her on Twitter (@sam_allemann)