|Jul/Aug 2015 Reviews & Interviews|
From India with Love
Allen and Unwin. 2015. 214 pp.
ISBN 978 1 74237 773 5.
The publicist's phrase "heartwarming story" on the cover of this book was almost enough to put me off. Then the gushing description in the Prologue of first seeing the Taj Mahal and Agra Fort nearly made me stop reading there and then. But I am glad that I persevered. This is no romantic family saga, nor is it your usual tourist's view of India. In fact, it is the thoughtful and honest autobiography of an intelligent, articulate woman who was adopted from India into an Australian family when she was eight months old.
Much of the book is set in Australia and describes a very Australian childhood, in a family of eight children, in a country town in New South Wales. Country child she may have been, but since her earliest years, Latika Bourke had been unusually interested in the news and current affairs. By the time she was a young teenager, she had decided she wanted to be a journalist, and she was particularly interested in politics. The university in her home town offered a highly-regarded degree in Communications, so she enrolled there, but she also managed to persuade the manager of the local radio station to give her part-time work (as unpaid work-experience) for a few hours each week.
Her first task was to write local news stories and 17-second introductory clips for news reports. She became an avid listener to radio news bulletins and immersed herself in the weekend newspapers, looking for stories she could mimic. Eventually she was hosting the morning show on the local radio station. By the time she graduated from University, she had enough experience to land a job with a much bigger radio station in Sydney.
She went on to become an award-winning political journalist in Canberra and, as one of the first to use social media to blog about federal parliamentary news, she scooped a particularly dramatic opposition-party leadership spill.
This book, however, is not just about Latika's journalistic career. It begins with her adoption story, which is itself complicated, intriguing, and full of drama. It goes on to describe life in a family of eight country-bred Australian children (two more of whom were adopted from India); and it tells of her belated interest in India and her eventual visit to her birthplace in the impoverished Indian state of Bihar.
As a journalist, Latika Bourke knows how to tell a good story, and she has plenty of unusual and interesting material to work with. She, personally, has never had any issues about being adopted. She is Australian and she feels Australian. But she is glad to have learned about the country from which she came, and to be able to accept (after long rejecting it) that India is part of her and that this is a rich and valuable heritage. At the same time, she is clear-eyed about the poverty there and the religious and social constraints governing, in particular, the lives of Indian women.
Latika's story is, as the book's cover blurb says, about "family, love, and finding your place in the world," but it is also about adoption, roots, and identity, and as such, there are many who will empathize with her and be glad to share her thoughts and experiences.