Sikh Writer Among Australia’s Best Novelists

“Inheritance” by Balli Kaur Jaswal

CHANDIGARH, Punjab—What began as a short story has become won her a major ‘Best Young Australian Novelists’ award. Cutting across the expected narrative of success among migrant communities, comes Inheritance, the story of a Punjabi migrant family whose dreams, of a certain kind of success, remain unfulfilled. Now in its 17th year, the award goes to writers [aged] 35, or younger, when their book is published. This is given by one of Australia’s oldest newspapers. Some past winners include acclaimed Australian writers Andrew McGahan, Gillian Mears, Mandy Sayer, and Christos Tsiolkas.

Jaswal traces her roots to Phagwara. Her father was born in Punjab but migrated to Singapore at a very young age. Jaswal was born in Singapore, and brought up in Japan, Russia  and the Philippines. She studied creative writing in the United States. In an email interview, Jaswal said she decided to write Inheritance in 2007 when she received the David T K Wong Fellowship at the University of East Anglia in the UK. “I had written the first chapter thinking that I was going to leave it as a short story, but then more characters, and plot lines appeared, and it became impossible to contain the story in just a few pages,” she said.

The book was released last year. Balli calls Inheritance an expected narrative of success in migrant communities. “In the Indian diaspora in particular, stories of families overcoming odds and achieving success in their adopted countries forms a benchmark by which everyone else is measured. I wanted to tell the hidden story of expectations unmet. Inheritance is largely about a Punjabi migrant family whose dreams, of a certain kind of success, are unfulfilled. I feel that this is the more common story of migrants, yet we hear less of this version because it’s full of conflicts,” she added.


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