Bruce Lee is credited with the famous advice “research your experience”. Tracey Lin researched her own experience for her debut novel All that’s Left Unsaid to show the emotional complexity of Vietnamese refugees and immigrants in Australia.
Lien was raised in South Western Sydney and spent her childhood in Cabramatta in the 1990s, which is where this enthralling mystery takes place. She received her Masters of Fine Arts from the University of Kansas, and was a reporter at the Los Angeles Times.
Review: All That’s Left Unsaid – Tracey Lien (HQ Fiction)
A ‘model minority’ and drug crimes
The novel opens with Ky Tran returning from Melbourne, where she is a cadet reporter, to Cabramatta, for the funeral service of her beloved brother Denny Tran. Denny Tran, wearing his “Most likely to succeed” sash and celebrating his graduation from high school, is killed in Lucky 8 restaurant while wearing his sash. Everyone in the restaurant on that particular night must have witnessed the murder. They all told the police that they were in the bathroom or kitchen at the time and did not see anything.
Denny’s parents refuse to order an autopsy because it will not bring their son to life. Ky insists that she investigate. She asks the constable for the list of Vietnamese witnesses and then uses her knowledge of Vietnamese culture and language, combined with her fledgling journalistic skills, to interview them.
Lien is good at fictionalising journalism. Cabramatta, a “paradox” of “gorgeous, sick, dangerous, and comforting, but home to the best pho”, is personified.
Cabramatta is historically associated with drug-related crime and has been the subject of politicised media rhetoric regarding the resettlement Vietnamese refugee. Their arrival coincided in the late 1970s with Australia’s transition to multiculturalism from the White Australia Policy.
Inherently contradictory, so-called “perfect” people and nations are paradoxical. Denny Tran portrays the guilt and shame that a refugee group feels when they try to conform to the ideal of being a “model minority” in Australian multiculturalism, i.e. studious, hardworking and compliant.
Denny’s death has led to the assumption that he was crushed by the school and caught in the heroin pandemic. The police don’t question the silence of the witnesses, but they want you to believe that.
The witnesses themselves have stories to share and hide. The book is filled with complex characters of Vietnamese people who explore their luck and bad fortune in Australia. Flora is my favourite character, as she sings at the wedding in the restaurant.