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Review: My Life in Pea Soup by Lisa Nops

My Life in a Pea Soup by Lisa Nops Review: My Life in Pea Soup by Lisa Nops


Ive never been able to read in a neat, linear manner, working in orderly fashion through whatever is sitting by my bed. Rather, I tend to find that each book I read in some way makes way for some other book, a book that might have been sitting on my shelf for years, or that I might finding myself rushing out to buy. I read a comment yesterday that books beget other books, and I think thats entirely true. I read for theme, for contrast, location, techniquefor anything really save for a tick-the-box march through my to-read pile.

Ive had'My Life in a Pea Soup for some time now, and Ive written several apologetic emails to the publisher for my delay in getting to it. But until I read Fishing for Tigers by Emily Maguire and'January First by Michael Schofield I didnt have the literary segue I needed to chisel it out from the worrisome quarry of my to-read pile, a pile so daunting you could probably hack out from it a reasonable replica of the pyramids and the statues of Easter Island. Maguires'Fishing for Tigers, of course, deals with ex-pat life in Hanoi, while Schofields'memoir is concerned with raising a gifted but disturbed child and attempting to find a diagnosis for her atypical behaviour.

My Life in a Pea Soup takes both of these themes, creating a tidy little literary triangle in my recently read pile. Like Schofields book, its a memoir, but utterly different in tonesomething that, if Im honest, comes as a relief,'January First having chilled me with Schofields eerie narcissism and page-turnery theatrics. Where'January First seemed at times to have taken its plotting cues from'The Da Vinci Code, Nopss memoir instead is far more like sitting down with a friend or a relative over a bottomless teapot and whiling away the afternoon deep in reminiscence. It falls a little flat at the prose level, and takes a bit of a strange swing towards the end, but overall its a compelling read.

Like'Fishing for Tigers, Nopss story is one of being an outsider, and of being between various in-groups. But where many ex-pats are able to exist in their own little culturally unanchored bubble, leading a life where most daily woes can be outsourced to locals on the cheap or left back at home in their country of origin, Nops and her family are put in a position where they need to try to engage with the places in which they find themselves. Their daughter Sally is developing at a delayed rate, with impaired speech, social and motor skills. Although Nops and her husband seem from the beginning to glean that something is different about Sally, their (dis)placement overseasinitially in Sri Lankaprovides something of a shield between Sally and the rest of her typically developing peers back in Australia. However, when Sallys behaviour and development is contrasted with the children she comes in contact with, Nops and her husband slowly begin to accept that Sally might be in need of special needs assistance.

What makes this such a fascinating memoir is the authors refreshing candidness. Nops speaks at length about her struggle to acknowledge Sallys developmental differences, and about the challenges she and her family face along the way in trying to have Sally diagnosed and in turn being offered appropriate care. Her frustration over the to-the-moon-and-back red tape regarding special needs services in Australia is painfully palpable: trying to engage with these unfamiliar, apparently arcane departments is not so dissimilar to trying to figure out how to set up a family in a foreign country. There are many parallels, and its heart-breaking to see, for example, Nops reflect on the many ways in which she and her family seem to fail to measure up against whatever arbitrary standards are in place wherever they live: the Australians who glare at Sally for misbehaving in public; the Sri Lankan maid who pooh-poohs Nops and her family for not being among the upper echelons of the competitive ex-pat ranks.

And yet, kindnesses abound, such as the neighbours who help out when Sally is struggling with particularly difficult behavioural issues, and the developers of the American Son-Rise program, designed to help autistic children and their carers alike. (Although I do feel that the chapters involving this technique felt a bit proselytising and slightly out of touch with the rest of the book.)'Its in these moments that we begin to see a turning point, an acceptance from Nops about her daughters autism and how the key aspect of the condition she has control over is how she perceives her daughters lifeand her own. Perhaps what was most moving to me about the memoir was learning about the unwieldiness, not to mention expense, of our local programs, and the way in which the public would interact with Sally: its hard not to take a good look at yourself and the way that you might damn poorly behaved kids in public without knowing whats really going on.

In addition to the above, a line that has stuck with me is Nopss reflection on the medical euphemism developmental delay, a term which she took for so very long to mean that her daughter might catch up and arrive alongside along other neurotypical children, before realising that this wasnt the case. Its a pointed reminder about the ways that we sidestep these issues, cloaking them with vague terms that arent so much euphemisms as they are a case of widespread societal denialan umbrella of invisibility under which we so often shunt people we judge to be atypical.

'Rating: star Review: My Life in Pea Soup by Lisa Nopsstar Review: My Life in Pea Soup by Lisa Nopsstar Review: My Life in Pea Soup by Lisa Nopsblankstar Review: My Life in Pea Soup by Lisa Nopsblankstar Review: My Life in Pea Soup by Lisa Nops (good)

With thanks to Finch Publishing for the review copy

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