The Other Side of the World

Written by Stephanie Bishop
Review by Jo Ann Butler

Becoming a first-time mother can be difficult, especially with a fussy baby. Despite a scholarship to the Royal College of Art, in 1963 Charlotte rarely has time to paint. When she does stand before a canvas, her mind goes blank. Her daughter, Lucie, is still nursing when Charlotte becomes pregnant again, and Henry, her husband, wonders if a mother can be sent mad by her child.

Born in India in 1934 to an English father, Henry is sent to England at the age of eleven by his Hindu mother, who fears for her mixed-race child’s future. She promises she and his father will soon follow. They never do, and Henry is left to wonder who he is and where he belongs. Another unbearable Cambridge winter is closing in when a brochure advertising free emigration to Australia slides through Henry and Charlotte’s mail slot. “Come over to the sunny side!” Charlotte is reluctant, but weighed down by depression, she agrees to Henry’s plan to go. Unfortunately, Perth is not the tropical paradise the couple hoped: Charlotte is further stressed by her second daughter and Perth’s climate extremes, and Henry finds that prejudice is even more prevalent in Australia than in England.

The Other Side of the World explores race and identity, nostalgia and the sense of belonging. Ms. Bishop has a delightfully keen eye for atmosphere and internal dialogue, but Henry’s detachment and Charlotte’s Sylvia Plath-like desperation weighed me down, and at times I was reluctant to continue. Fortunately, The Other Side of the World has a redemptive conclusion, and there is hope for Charlotte and Henry.