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Emma Ling Sidnam

  • awardWinner, Michael Gifkins Prize, New Zealand, 2022
  • Laura is tired of being asked where she’s really from. Her family has lived in Aotearoa New Zealand for four generations, and she’s ambivalent at best about her Chinese heritage. But when she’s asked to write about the Chinese New Zealander experience for a work project, Laura finds herself drawn to the diary of her great-great-grandfather Ken, a market gardener in the early years of the British colony.

    With the help of her beloved grandpa, Laura begins to write a version of Ken’s story. She imagines his youth in Guangzhou and his journey to a new land—unaware that soon, spurred on by a family secret that comes to light, she will go on her own journey of self-discovery, sexuality and reckoning with the past.

    A tender, nuanced novel about the bittersweet search for belonging, Backwaters marks the arrival of a brilliant new talent.


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    Emma Ling Sidnam
    About the Author

    Emma Ling Sidnam is a Wellington-based writer and lawyer. As a fourth-generation Asian New Zealander, she is passionate about representation and ensuring that all voices are heard. She is an award-winning slam poet and her work has been published in the Spinoff, Capital, Newsroom and the anthologies A Clear Dawn and Middle Distance. In 2022, she...

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    26 September 2023
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    Praise for Emma Ling Sidnam

    ‘The past and present carry out intimate conversations in this compelling and beautiful work. The rhythms of modern city life speak with the deep histories of Chinese lives in Aotearoa in ways that give a sense of walking backwards into the future. Sidnam’s magnificent novel shows us that the past is living, evolving and all around us. It is an absolute joy to read.’

    ‘An exciting journey of self-discovery and connection…that will appeal to readers of Alice Pung’s Unpolished Gem.’

    ‘A warm and funny novel about disappearance, discovery and learning how to live, as well as an intriguing exploration of love, family and secret histories in Asia and New Zealand.’

    Backwaters is a brilliant book that encompasses the often forgotten and trivialised immigrant experience. Sidnam weaves the stories of Laura and Ken with aching delicacy and tenderness, with humour and wit. Every one of us will find comfort and familiarity in this book, from the very beginning until the bittersweet end.’

    ‘A warm read, full of characters who are flawed and loveable in their humanity…Sidnam has constructed a carefully layered narrative, showing us her vision of a family as an unfolding series of boxes, each generational layer adding insight, yet also complexity.’

    ‘Sidnam’s pen is delicate and precise, but rarely overdetermined. She shows us that even if Laura is unsure of her cultural identity, she’s still capable of experiencing the full range of human emotion—she’s both growing and full-formed.’

    Backwaters is rich in inquisitive thought…The novel is rich in content and thought about all kinds of individual and collective identity.’

    Other editions ofBackwaters
    • Backwaters
      ISBN: 9781922791542
      26 September 2023
      Buy ebook