The following book review was done by Belinda Calderone and was originally posted on The Monash Fairy Tale Salon webpage
“Last week we sat down to chat over Skype with T.D Luong, author of the short story Refugee Wolf. You may recognise him from our ‘Academics and Writers’ page. Given that our theme this year has been ‘Old and New Fairy Tales’, we have been interested in fairy tale adaptations, so we were very excited to sit down to talk about this book.
Inspired by “The Three Little Pigs” by Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm, Luong’s short story deals with the serious issue of refugees seeking entry into Australia, but through dark comedic satire. As the front cover cautions: “WARNING! This is a dark and comedic, futuristic fairytale about the terms of the asylum seeker and refugee debate in Australia. It contains mild coarse language, biffo, beer, pork and a lot of hot air.”
Playing around with the plot of “The Three Little Pigs,” Luong has his central character, Big Bad Ben, escape from Earth on a rusty space shuttle to seek asylum. He first arrives at the Planet of Straw, then the Planet of Sticks and, finally, the Planet of McSpaceMansions. At each planet, the wolf encounters obstacles to being accepted as a refugee.
Indeed, from beginning to end, Refugee Wolf is a wacky ride, even featuring a three-headed pig robot!
After chatting with Luong, we gained a lot of insight into his short story. The themes in Refugee Wolf are very close to the author’s heart. Born during the Vietnam War, Luong came to Australia as a refugee with his family on 20 June 1975, shortly after the war ended on 30 April 1975. Thang’s father, Hai Ngoc Luong, was a persecuted journalist during the war (1945-1975) and died, at age 91, on 2 February 2006. Since that time, Thang has reflected on the impact of war on his family.
An important aspect of the story that we picked up on was that the wolf, Big Bad Ben, is depicted as a true blue, fair dinkum, ridgy didge Aussie. Luong could have easily written a tale about a Vietnamese refugee seeking asylum in Australia, but decided to have an Australian wolf seek refuge on other planets. This is an element I see as so integral; it urges Australian readers to identify with the wolf, and imagine themselves on his journey.
The fact that Refugee Wolf is based on a fairy tale also makes it accessible to younger readers, and provides an introduction to an important matter in our country. And indeed, Luong’s book has already been accepted into the library of a NSW high school.
Another key issue we talked about was the idea of using comedy to start a conversation about serious issues. There are some subjects that many wish to avoid talking about. The taboo breeds silence. And silence can be dangerous. Comedy can galvanise a topic some may wish to avoid, it can spark a discussion, get people laughing, and then considering the deeper implications. I feel that this is exactly what Refugee Wolf achieves.
We thank the author for taking the time to chat with us about this exciting book!