Book review: Root and Branch, Eda Gunaydin

Twelve essays explore inheritance, family, identity and place through the lens of Turkish-Australian culture.

In Root and Branch, author Eda Gunaydin muses: ‘I have come to see that I am an argumentative person who is frequently convinced that my angle, my take, on a matter, is the right one. This kind of delusional self-belief is not rewarded in many other spheres of social life, so I write essays’. Root and Branch consists of 12 essays, covering topics ranging from mental health and trauma, to brunch and nights out in Sydney. The content of each essay is often intensely personal but equally well-considered and analytical. Quotes from theorists such as Foucault sit alongside snippets of conversation between Gunaydin and her parents, written in the original Turkish.

Root and Branch’s is subtitled Essays on Inheritance, a common thread uniting the topics of each essay, as Gunaydin meditates on what she has inherited from her Turkish culture, her upbringing in Western Sydney, her volatile family relationships and her experiences growing up in today’s increasingly fraught modern world. 

Root and Branch features an eclectic mix of tone and style – in an essay entitled ‘Shit-Eating’, Gunaydin draws on her academic background to describe the concept of brunch as if it was being discussed in a scholarly journal article. In another, she reminisces on her satisfying victory over a racist on the bus, reflecting on the power of a well-timed insult to take control of a situation. Gunaydin’s essays are multifaceted and engrossing, combining sharp wit and insightful commentary in a depiction of modern life – life as an academic, as a millennial, as the child of migrant parents and as someone just trying to get through it all.

Peppered throughout are occasional snippets of Turkish, sometimes translated but often not. The untranslated portions recreate the sense of being adrift and missing chunks of a conversation. This use of language forces the reader to consider and empathise with the experience of Gunaydin’s parents upon first arriving in Australia, but also the writer’s own experience, living a life narrated in both English and Turkish.

Read: Book review: The Tricky Art of Forgiveness, Meredith Jaffé

The theme of family crops up frequently in Root and Branch. Gunaydin’s raw and honest discussion of her complex, and often fraught, family dynamics provides an intensely emotional background to the more light-hearted or academic portions of her essays. Sharing such intimate details of her personal life makes Root and Branch read almost like a conversation with a close friend, as though we have been adopted into Gunaydin’s personal circle. This is coupled with frequent changes in tone to keep the reader engaged. Portions of casual, chatty discussion and quick humour offset academic theory to ensure readers don’t feel like they’re being lectured.

Together, the essays provide thought-provoking insights into wide-ranging issues Navigating trauma, mental health issues, family, class, and the importance of place and belonging are all united by Gunaydin’s distinctive voice and sharp commentary. Funny yet intellectual, and occasionally heartbreaking in equal measure, Root and Branch isn’t a light read, but absolutely one worth taking on.  

Root and Branch by Eda Gunaydin
Publisher: UNSW Press

ISBN: 9781742237312
Format: Paperback 
Pages: 288 pp
Publication Date: May 2022
RRP: $29.99

Elena Perse is a Master of Professional Writing and Publishing student and book lover. Her work has been published by Pelican Magazine, Westerly Magazine and FRINGEWORLD.