SheReviews “One Hundred Days” by Alice Pung

September 22, 2021

 The teenage years in one’s life are frequently times of mortifying self-consciousness with some rigorous semblance of inner angst thrown into the mix. Such is the case in Melbourne writer, editor and lawyer Alice Pung’s latest novel, “One Hundred Days”. Our female protagonist – sixteen year old Karuna – is sadly in possession of abundantly greater inner turmoil than the average teenager.
In the beginning, Karuna lives with her Chinese mum (from the Philippines) and her Australian father in Melbourne. The parents are referred to throughout the novel as Grand Mar and Grand Par (Karuna is talking in the first-person narrative to her unborn baby and later born baby). Grand Par leaves Grand Mar and Karuna when Karuna is in her early teens, and he subsequently doesn’t provide any financial or emotional support for Karuna. Soon after this Karuna’s mother’s business (doing wedding make-up for mainly Asian brides) goes under. This is how Karuna and her mother are forced to move to a twenty story block of housing commission units; they reside on the fourteenth floor.
Karuna has been attending, up until things go south for her and Grand Mar financially, a private school called Christ Our Saviour College, along with her best friend Tweezer. However, Karuna finds herself being enrolled at the local state high school (Corindirk State School) by her mother when they no longer have the means to afford a private school education.

Karuna leads a predominantly cloistered and uneventful existence under the relentlessly watchful eye of Grand Mar, who has brought an abundance of superstitions with her to Australia from the “Old Country”.
Grand Mar is harshly controlling and deceitfully manipulative towards Karuna. When Karuna falls pregnant by an “older man”, Ray (almost nineteen) who she meets at a class called “Homework Help” at the local community centre, Grand Mar well and truly ups the ante in her verbal and emotional abuse of Karuna.
One day, Grand Mar goes out and takes the spare key with her; this causes Karuna to be locked in the flat. This cruel act by Grand Mar starts a long series of days of Karuna being locked alone in the flat. Towards the end of Karuna’s pregnancy, Grand Mar gets Karuna work helping out at Mrs Osman’s beauty salon, where Grand Mar now has work. Grand Mar keeps all Karuna’s earnings, despite Karuna’s diligent work ethic, and one month before the baby is born confines Karuna to the flat again.
Once the baby is born, Grand Mar is morbidly paranoid about Karuna’s and the baby’s well being. Grand Mar forbids Karuna to go outside, so Karuna is destructively stuck in the flat all day with the baby. It is with the arrival of the baby that Grand Mar’s superstitions really come to the fore. She tells Karuna that the baby will be smarter if Karuna watches the news on television, and that if she eats “cold” fruits she will have health problems. Grand Mar will also not permit Karuna to have a shower for the first month after the baby is born, and Grand Mar insists on bringing the baby up as her own.
One murderously hot day in the flat with her baby, Karuna shouts for help out the window, and dials 000. As a result of these actions on the part of Karuna, Karuna and Grand Mar are visited by the Department of Community Services.
The entrapment of Karuna is a highly effective metaphor for Karuna’s trapped and downtrodden spirit. Karuna certainly does not live in a gilded cage, but she is nevertheless cruelly caged both physically, mentally and emotionally by Grand Mars words and actions.
Karuna rarely encounters any form of kindness from adults (the soothingly caring nurses in the hospital are an exception), yet she still hopes for a brighter future for her life, and that of her baby’s. When Karuna receives a two hundred dollar cheque for submitting a story to Reader’s Digest, her confidence soars.
Themes of  the strong bond between mothers and daughters, teenage hopes and dreams, and control resonate effortlessly in this novel.  This is a superb read for women from all walks of life. Alice Pung has written with a writer’s adventurous mind, but a mother’s malleable heart.

Be the first to comment

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.