Is "Love and Vertigo" mainly a novel about whiteness or a novel about immigrants?

Hausarbeit, 2003

13 Seiten, Note: 2+



1. Introduction – What “Love and Vertigo” is about

2. “Love and Vertigo” - mainly a novel about whiteness or a novel about immigrants?
2.1. The problems of not being white
2.2. The problems of being an immigrant

3. Summary

4. Bibliography
4.1. Primary literature
4.2. Secondary literature

1. Introduction – What “Love and Vertigo” is about

The novel “Love and Vertigo” is about Grace Tay, a Chinese woman, who returns after a number of years from Australia to Singapore to her mother’s wake. It is a place with uncountable memories for the protagonist Grace and there, in Singapore, she wants to tackle with the life of her mother Pandora and the history of her family. Grace talks about her problems being in a new country, about migration and culture gaps. Does she has problems because she is not white or because she is an immigrant and therefore an outsider? Or both? That is the main question I am asking in my homework and I will try to find out.

I worked with some essays that deal with the themes of being white – being non-white in addition to the novel to find out what the novel is really about.

Hsu-Ming Teo, the author of the book, was born in Malaysia and immigrated as well – like the characters in her story - to Australia with her parents in 1977. “Love and Vertigo” is her first novel and she is the Winner of the Australian Vogel Literary Award 1999.

Migration, racism and the problems that come with a new life in a new country are the main events in the novel. Hsu-Ming Teo gives an inside look at three generations of one family. History – for example the Japanese occupation and the anti-Chinese riots in Malaysia in 1969 – and political events are employed to situate the stories in their historical backgrounds. At the same time the gap between the mother's and the daughter's experiences, expectations and the gap between the different generations and cultures are mentioned and told in a realistic way with realistic characters as well.

I liked to read the book a lot because it is an interesting and fascinating story, which is based on historical events. I will try to take a closer look at the story in my homework and try to find out if Love and Vertigo is a representative story of immigrants or more about the problems of not being white or both- a story about coloured immigrants. I will examine some scenes from the book that seem to be important to me. Unfortunately, racism is still an important topic all over the world and will probably always be. That is why Hsu-Ming Teo’s novel could actually have taken place all over the world, although, in this case, events that really happened in the past in Malaysia, Singapore and Australia are mentioned and play a role in the novel. But the way Teo describes the life of immigrants and the problems of a family that has to deal with cultural and generational gaps seems to me timeless and therefore so interesting. I’m sure that a lot of Chinese women and immigrants can see themselves in the story of Hsu-Ming Teo.

2. “Love and Vertigo” - mainly a novel about whiteness or a novel about immigrants?

2.1. The problems of not being white

I will try to go to the bottom of the question if Teo’s novel is mainly about the problems of immigrants or about the problems of coloured people on the basis of some essays on being white - being non-white and on extracts from the book “Love and Vertigo.”

The globalisation of the world economy has primarily meant an ‘Asianisation’ for Australia and therefore Australia feared about their resources and was anxious of the rising power of Asia in cultural and psychological terms as well, as Ien Ang says in her essay “Racial/Spatial Anxiety: ‘Asia’ in the Psycho-Geography of Australian Whiteness”. The Tays begin to feel all that as they come to Australia. But they were also confronted with racism in Asia before, when Pandora’s first child, her son Sonny Tay, was born during the riots in May 1969 in Malaysia. These bloody riots broke out after an election on Peninsular Malaysia because of tensions between the Malays and the Chinese. Malaysia was a multi-racial country with a mix of people from many different races and cultures. The Malays controlled the government and agriculture, while the Chinese dominated 90% of commerce and industry. That was why tensions were built up between the Malays and the Chinese and it came to racial violence in 1969. Hsu-Ming Teo describes the racism that begins to explode in that time in a sarcastic way: ” …organised to a precise café colour scheme: after susu (the milky white Chinese) then kopi (the coffee-coloured Indians).” (Teo, Hsu-Ming: “Love and Vertigo”, p.130) Pandora’s husband Jonah and a friend of his go on a trip for ‘Durians’ and expose themselves to danger. They seem to be totally naïve or just not interested in politics, because they did not know anything about the dangerous riots going on and Jonah comes back home, after being in danger of his life, when Sonny is already born. That is the point for Pandora when she begins to wish that Sonny “grows up in a country where he never has to worry about something like this happening.” (Teo, p. 138) She threatens Jonah: “If you won’t emigrate, then you won’t have a family either.”( Teo, p. 139) Pandora did not have a real family when she was born. She was rejected by her mother after her birth, lived for some years with her aunt and was just then ‘allowed’ to return to her mother and to grow up with her brothers and sisters. I think that is a reason she wants to a have a real and steady home and a family for her own son.

Another reason for Pandora to emigrate is that she wants urgently to distance herself as much as possible from her traditional Chinese mother-in-law, who has been dominating Pandora and Jonah all the time.

Sydney in 1978 was still white, although “The White Australia Policy had been phased out and Australia was in need of medical and dental professionals”( Teo, p. 140), as Grace describes the beginning of their new live in Australia. The family members try to deal with the situation and the racism in different ways. For Grace, ‘racial hatred’ (of her own kind) and assimilating to ‘Advanced Australian Fairness’ with its ‘clean whiteness’ was the only hopeful option. One scene that seems to me to be very significant is the “Elastics” scene (Teo, p.158) in which Grace experiences racism herself. Grace’s best friend Niree is the “class captain and the prettiest girl” (Teo, p.164) in the class, but unfortunately Niree is not Grace’s best friend either. She doesn’t seem to respect her at the beginning and calls her “Poo”. (Teo, p.164) That is because Grace’s ‘real’ name is Pui Fun Tay, but because everybody seems to be too ignorant and stupid to pronounce it correctly, she has to be called Grace. How strange must that be for a little girl to get a different name, just because her classmates can not pronounce her own name correctly and begin to call her “Poo Fun!Poo Fun!Poo Fun!” And so they made her hate her Chinese name. (Teo, p.164) The girl Niree tries to threaten Grace and fools her in an unrespectable way. But at the end of the scene, when Grace plays elastics with her and makes a mess in her pants, Niree is the only one who helps her to master the situation and doesn’t make fun of her, like the boys who don’t stop shouting “Poo’s done a piss.” I think from that scene one can conclude that the problem of being an immigrant is intensified because of the fact that Grace is Chinese. Children are often cruel to people who look different and that would not have been the case if Grace was a white girl. Possibly, she would not have a “strange” name then either and therefore the kids would have no reason to make fun of her.


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Is "Love and Vertigo" mainly a novel about whiteness or a novel about immigrants?
Freie Universität Berlin
ISBN (eBook)
512 KB
Double spaced
Love, Vertigo
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Charlotte Diez (Autor:in), 2003, Is "Love and Vertigo" mainly a novel about whiteness or a novel about immigrants?, München, GRIN Verlag,


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