NiTRO Creative Matters

Perspectives on creative arts in higher education

Hasina – Novel

by Michelle Aung Thin

Hasina / Crossing the Farak River is a reality-based, fictional account of the Rohingya clearance operations of 2017. It is a trade publication of around 45000 words written for a readership between 11 and 16. The work is extensively researched for factual accuracy. I also drew from postcolonial theory to situate the text for the reader. I interviewed Rohingya community members and used a Myanmar translator and cultural consultant to develop a glossary of multiple ethnic languages covered. Finally, I contributed to the cultural notes included for context.



Background My research engages with ideas around problematising the authentic and difference against a normative position within the context of postcolonial theory and asking: do writers representing in-between subjects write from ‘no place’? (Monsoon Bride, 2011) or ‘where might a migrant write from?’ and ‘how is such writing made comprehensible to a reader operating in a normative position?’ (Backtracking, 2013). Hasina extends these preoccupations by engaging with Boltanski’s ethics of writing as a response suffering as a spectacle rousing either pity or compassion. It explores these questions within a new context and for new audiences: teachers of Upper Primary and Lower Secondary students as well readers between 11 and 14 years of age.

Contribution The novel addresses the recent genocide of the Rohingya, a Muslim group in Myanmar characterised as ‘migrants’ by the military regime. It fills a gap in knowledge and the marketplace for educational material for Australian school-age readers around problems of ‘authenticity’ as it relates to spatiality. For example, Hasina remains in her home in Rakhine state despite the military threat and therefore, must negotiate the idea of being ‘at home’ (space) in a nation (place) where she does not have rights of citizenship. Hasina references postcolonialism and origins of the genocide in colonial modes of thought.

Significance Hasina was commissioned by Allen & Unwin. Rights were acquired by the North American publisher, Annick Press; in 2020 the USA and Canada version of the book was published under the title Crossing the Farak River. I wrote about the methodology of writing this novel in the journal Writing in Practice. The novel was reviewed by Children’s Book Daily and I was invited to take part in the Children’s Book Council of Australia (CBCA) Book Week. It was included in the 2021 list of Outstanding International Books (OIB) by the United States Board on Books for Young People (USBBY). In terms of ‘research impact’ this output has made a contribution to society, and culture in Australia, the UK, USA and Canada, as evidenced by reviews and responses of education bodies.


Significance Published in Australia and the UK (Allen & Unwin) and in the USA and Canada as ‘Crossing the Farak River,’ (Annick Press) the book won the South Asia Book Award; the Freeman Award; USSBY Outstanding International Books List 2021; Best International Books Award, Canadian Children’s Book Centre, was featured twice on the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (national broadcaster) website and has been reviewed extensively in the trade and education publications, including by the Association for Asian Studies in the USA.


I chose to submit two versions of the research statement because it captures how the research output has tracked in terms of its impact within the field and the readership. It was not possible to address the magnitude of the impact in the first instance of reporting this work.

The output is a long form work. It required ‘synthesis and analysis of previous research,’ such as the colonial history of Myanmar, contemporary social histories of the Rohingya, written by International Relations academics, as well as postcolonial theory. I also conducted field research with Rohingya communities for cultural accuracy. The entire project took 18 months to complete. Despite the time needed to produce long, complex works, in the ERA submission guidelines novels are compared with a single photographic image, art reviews and unrealised design projects. At my institution, this output attracted a single research point, yet required far more time to produce than most journal articles. As context, at my level, I am expected to produce 2 outputs or one point each year.  A research statement should enable the researcher to capture / report when a work is major versus minor. Changing this in the statement would allow the difference in workload to be recognised at the institutional level.

Michelle Aung Thin Michelle Aung Thin is a multi-award-winning novelist and creative practice academic teaching in the disciplines of Professional Communication and Creative Writing at the School of Media and Communication at RMIT University.

Main image: Michelle Aung Thi, Hasina 2019 (cover detail)

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