Australia is a wonderfully multicultural country, and as any Australian knows, the Greeks and the Italians represent a major chunk of the ethnic statistics. Generally speaking, if you have an Italian heritage you’ll most likely live in Sydney and if you’re Greek you’ll probably end up in Melbourne.
Tsiolkas’s novel, which I recently heard has been made into a television mini-series by the Australian Broadcasting Commission, focuses on the Greek community in Melbourne and investigates the way in which multiculturalism has impacted on modern day life in Australia. It’s a fairly lengthy and complex novel, with each chapter being devoted to a single character and showing events from their perspective.
At a family barbecue hosted by Hector, of Greek descent, and his wife Aisha, of Indian descent, the obnoxious child of two Australians is slapped by Hector’s cousin, Harry. Using the slap as a catalyst for his story, Tsiolkas provides us with a rare glimpse into what happens when cultures clash, re-group and transmogrify into something unique, progressive and so utterly Australian.
As events unfold in its aftermath, the slap has a peculiar, cathartic effect on all those involved. Individuals are forced to examine their own values, beliefs and expectations, and to re-define their loyalties.
Tsiolkas certainly pushes some boundaries, exposing the ubiquitous, murmuring undercurrent of racism in Australia, and the slow, cumbersome, and often clumsy steps towards racial and ethnic tolerance on all sides. The book shows Australia as a place in transition, with fourth and fifth-generation children with an ethnic heritage assimilating into, transforming, and modernising Australian cultural norms.
At times overly crass, language-wise, and with some pretty awful sex scenes, The Slap has received both positive and negative reviews. Personally, I found it fascinating, being Australian myself. Plus, Tsiolkas’s analysis of people’s lives and the motives that drive them is so in tune with our ever-changing society; where gender roles, child–rearing and an increased focus on self have re-defined how we live.