The Glory Garage: Growing Up Lebanese Muslim in Australia
by Nadia Jamal & Taghred Chandab
Published by Allen & Unwin
192 pages, 2005
Exactly the Same Only Different
Reviewed by Sue Bursztynski
There is a largish Muslim population in Australia, ranging from those who have been in the country for several generations to those currently being held in detention centers after arriving in boats as refugees from Afghanistan and other countries torn by war. In the last few years three main issues have put them on the front pages of Australian newspapers. Firstly, there were the events of September 11, the most obvious, which left anyone "of Middle Eastern appearance" vulnerable, especially women in their all-covering clothes and veils. Secondly, there have been the asylum seekers in their leaky boats, who have been the subject of enormous controversy, with supporters and detractors alike having their say on a daily basis. Thirdly, there was an incident a few years ago in which a gang of young Lebanese men committed a pack-rape in Sydney, meaning Lebanese in general are often perceived as thugs and gang-members.
The two authors of this book, young journalists of Lebanese background, attempt to address these problems with a positive presentation of Muslims in Australia. Starting with reminiscences of their own teenage years as girls growing up Muslim in Anglo-Christian Australia, they add the experiences of other girls of their background whom they interviewed as part of their research; we never actually find out who these young women are and the introduction tells us that some names have been changed. Presumably this is to "protect the innocent," though it doesn't seem to be necessary; all their interviewees are good girls, who might have once done something naughty like going to the school formal without asking Dad's permission, but later understood that their parents only had their best interests at heart. If they interviewed any real rebels, these didn't make it into the finished book.
The early stories are very readable and entertaining, especially those told by the authors, one of whom had the "glory garage" of the title. Apparently, while other ethnic groups are satisfied with a glory box to help prepare for marriage, Lebanese girls need an entire garage full of goodies for their future domestic bliss. Mother and daughter go shopping together and become true experts in the art of bargain-hunting. The author, who is still addicted to shopping, admits that her brother might have a point when he asks her what she's going to do if she never marries. Since the usual practice is to live at home until marriage, this could become a problem, although a mother's friends will start nagging her about when her daughter is getting married as soon as she finishes school. One can feel real sympathy for girls caught between their parents and their friends, in a country where ethnic customs are hard to keep. Ironically, one of the stories mentions a mother who visited "the old country" only to find that Lebanon had moved on and was more relaxed in its customs while those living in Australia were still behaving as they did at home 20 years before.
Much of The Glory Garage could easily be the story of almost any migrant group and could, as such, be enjoyed by anyone who had to live differently from their neighbors and friends in a country with a predominantly Anglo-Celtic culture, who had to unwrap an exotic lunch at school or explain to school friends why they weren't celebrating Christmas.
The last few chapters, though, concentrate on adult women who have chosen to live a Muslim lifestyle, and how Islam works. For me, at least, this section jarred: it didn't seem to connect with the rest of the stories and was not about "growing up" Muslim. I really didn't feel these chapters fit properly into the fabric of The Glory Garage, as the background of Islam and how it works was a part of the stories, and I would have preferred to read some more teen stories and perhaps more about the authors themselves. I would also have liked a bit more information about the making of the book and how they went about choosing their interview subjects.
However, The Glory Garage is easy reading and doesn't take a lot of time to get through. I suspect that when this book hits my own library shelves, it will be picked up by our Muslim girls, who should enjoy reading about others facing challenges similar to their own. | August 2005
Sue Bursztynski is a children's and fantasy writer and librarian based in Australia.