Art With a Twist Presents: Twisting the Art of Memoir with Katherine McCaughan
Katherine McCaughan was born in Shanghai, China to Russian parents who fled to Australia in 1950 after the Communist Revolution. She was five-years-old when her parents were forced to leave their home in China, and her memories of that journey are scant. McCaughan eventually moved to the United States with her husband in 1977 and then to Hong Kong in 1993. During those years her father passed away and she realized that she needed to record her history. She wanted her children to know what her family had endured during those years. “I encourage everyone to write down their family stories because when my father passed away I didn’t have the answers to all my questions from the past.” She decided to fictionalize the story in her coming of age novel, Natasha Lands Down Under.
The narrator in Natasha Lands Down Under is ten-years-old, and like McCaughan, emigrates with her family from China to Australia. Their perilous journey by boat from China to Hong Kong is described in gripping detail. After 3 months waiting in Hong Kong for a boat to Australia, Natasha’s family finally arrives at their destination and she is thrust into a new world where she feels isolated as she struggles to fit into this foreign community. There was a large Russian community in Australia when McCaughan’s family arrived, and like the author, Natasha’s family continues to speak Russian and maintain Russian customs in the midst of an Anglo-Saxton Australia. The only one in the family who can speak English is Natasha’s mother, and while she struggles to understand the words around her, life eventually gets easier as Natasha assimilates.
McCaughan describes the research process as intense and says she spent time re-reading her father’s memoir and talking with her mother to gather the facts. The result is a captivating story that illustrates a significant time in history through the eyes of a young woman. The compelling characters and vivid descriptions transport readers to another time and place.
Today, McCaughan lives in Florida and frequently visits middle schools to speak about her book and to introduce the idea of isolation to the young students. For the first several minutes in each class she speaks to the students in Russian and asks them to reflect on how it feels to not understand the language. She asks for a show of hands to see how many children have come from another country, or how many have parents who have come from another country. These conversations open students eyes to the wider world around them.
Join us for an eye-opening discussion and book signing with Katherine McCaughan on January 12 at noon.
Location: Charleston Library Society
$20 members, $30 Non-Members (box-lunch included)
To purchase tickets please visit gibbesmuseum.org/events
—Amy Mercer, Marketing & Communications Manager
Published January 5, 2015