Felicity Castagna’s book is something of a tour de force: it consists of 20 stories, set in most of the Asian countries ranging from Mongolia to Laos, always with Australians or other non-Asians as the protagonists.
It’s a series of delicate sketches and the encounters are small-scale and undramatic: Pearl and her daughter Dom fall out on a trip to Dalat, in the Vietnamese highlands; an English teacher in Shanghai gets one of her students to start a diary about her daily life; two Australian women on an Indonesian island compare lovers; a woman from Sydney works as a dancer in a Macau casino; a middle-aged Anglo man returns to the house his father owned in Singapore, the walls covered in sketches of the men his father knew in Changi.
The variations on the theme are fresh more often than not and can be surprising and although the book is very quiet in tone it does create a form of suspense, because you find youself wondering whether Castagna can keep up the poise, intelligence and alertness and avoid falling into travellers’ tales cliché. (You certainly envy her the stamps she must have in her passport.)
With this kind of writing there must be a temptation to show too obviously one’s political bonafides but even when Castagna deals in material that could lend itself very easily to moralising such as in the story about a a group of male uni students on an adventure holiday, she avoids making her points too crudely. The humanism of this book is everywhere implicit and nowhere harped on.
Owen Richardson, The Age July 30 2011 p32
In this insightful collection Felicity Castagna shows why the short story is the perfect vehicle for the wide-eyed explorer celebrating the fleeting nature of their travel experience. Castagna’s fictional stories float through winding rivers in Laos, hike Malaysian hillsides and fritter away their time and money in the casinos of Macau. They convey the way travel is often tinged with melancholy; experiences are ephemeral, loves are lost, memories are forgotten. But Castagna’s tales also revel in their transience. Small Indiscretions is Castagna’s first collection of short stories, told through a kaleidoscope of ages, backgrounds and perspectives. Along the way, beauty is found, faith is questioned, risks are run and tastebuds are tested against a blooming Asian landscape. The dialogue is sensitive without being sentimental and the characters are a slice of humanity: wiry and uncertain. While this collection is perfect inspiration for those who have recently swapped suburbia for self-discovery, it will sit well with dreamers everywhere.
**** (An excellent book) Kate Stephenson, Bookseller and Publisher July 2011
Must Read if you like Graham Greene’s short stories.
If books came with smells, this one would surely tickle the nostrils with exotic Asian odours every time you turned a page. Felicity Castagna is skilful writer with a knack of being able to take you somewhere colourfully foreign while delivering a good tale … the twenty yarns deftly explore the clash of cultures, clashes between modernism and tradition, loyalty and love, loss and betrayal. All the good stuff.
These are well written stories full of wit, surprise and wisdom. Four and a half stars.
Bryan Patterson, Sunday Herald Sun, 28 August, 2011