Family, frictions and finding home: Kgshak Akec on writing Hopeless Kingdom

Family, frictions, finding home: Kgshak Akec on writing Hopeless Kingdom

When you start reading Hopeless Kingdom by Kgshak Akec, you may expect a novel about migration, but what you’ll discover is a story about family, alongside the frictions they face as they find a place to call home.

Akec’s debut novel, which won the 2021 Dorothy Hewett Award for an Unpublished Manuscript, follows the journey of a family that has fled Sudan and is stationed in Egypt while they wait for their next move – to Australia.

The family settle in Sydney first, and develop an affection for their new city and the friendships and experiences it brings, before they relocate to the Victorian city of Geelong.

The novel shares the story from two perspectives: young daughter Akita and her mother Taresai – something Akec said was an intentional choice, to give the reader layered insights.

“Originally, Hopeless Kingdom was just going to be told from the mother’s perspective. But I think to honour the story, I needed to include the voice of the daughter too,” she said.

“I wanted the interchanging perspectives of a mother and a daughter because I wanted to reach that audience, and I wanted to make those people feel seen.”

Akita’s brother Santo is a prominent character throughout the book, showing the dynamic and influence of a brother-sister relationship set against a changing environment.

Then there is the father Santino, who is with the family throughout their journey to Egypt and Australia, but becomes absent later in the narrative.

Many other family characters weave in and out of the story to add colour and nuance to the relationships, and build on the strong family theme throughout the book.

Akec agrees that the story is primarily about family, and how interconnected family relationships are, with the subject of migration being more of a driver for these characters.

“Migration (as a theme) is something that’s in the background, and it’s more about each character’s connection to certain places and how each place shapes them,” she said.

Navigating friction

As with any good story, it’s expected that there will be ups and downs, and Hopeless Kingdom is no different. It is peppered with tension, trauma, and tough learnings as each character grows into their new surroundings.

Akita thrives in Sydney, as she makes new friends and falls in love with her neighbourhood, then struggles to readjust when the family relocates to Geelong. Her internal battle, while quiet and reserved, resembles a grief that is hard to reckon with.

Akita’s brother Santo is lively, rebellious and a symbol danger throughout the story. He faces his own demons which lead him down a destructive path.

For Taresai, the move to Geelong is fraught. Although her family members live there and she is keen to be closer to them again, their presence is a reminder of the hurt they have caused her.

When her husband Santino announces that he wants to return to his homeland, it leaves the family distraught. Taresai shows a type of anger not previously seen in her character as she navigates life as a solo parent. Yet, for Santino, it highlights the kind of homesickness and despair a migrant can feel overcome by.

While the story explores many frictions, it is full of insights into the human condition and the little moments in between the troubles that make life beautiful.

Kgshak Akec on writing Hopeless Kingdom

Hopeless Kingdom by Kgshak Akec.

On finding home

While Hopeless Kingdom is a deeply personal story and draws inspiration from her own real-life experiences, Akec said her book is fiction.

“As the story grew, Akita became less of a mirror image of me and Taresai became less of an image of my mother, and they became their own people. That happened very organically – and I’m glad that it did because it meant that people aren’t relating to just me when they’re reading Hopeless Kingdom, they’re relating to the characters,” she said.

“I started to think about how cool it would be to write a story about us, and let others step into what it’s like to be a minority, and what it’s like to be a first-generation Australian.”

Even though the idea for the book was something Akec said was always in the back of her mind, it wasn’t until she returned from a trip to New Zealand in early 2020 – her first trip abroad since migrating here – that she realised Australia truly felt like home.

“That’s what compelled me to write the book,” she said.

“I understood, in every part of my being, that Australia is my home. It was the first time that I cognised it and felt it.

“When I was on my flight back to Australia (from New Zealand), that felt like a homecoming. It was such a massive revelation for me.”

In this moment, Akec decided it was the “right time” to start writing Hopeless Kingdom; the journey home had been the catalyst for beginning her book.

At first, she imagined it was only going to be a short story, but the more she wrote, the more the story poured out of her. After three months, she completed the first draft.

On reflection, Akec said Australia feels like home largely because of the experiences she has had here. She migrated here at the age of six, spent a huge part of growing up in Australia, and is sentimental about “learning so many things and meeting so many people here”.

Akec considers herself a first-generation Australian, and with a growing family network based here, she feels even more connected to the place.

“My relationship to Australia is because of the people, but also the culture, and it has had such an influence on the person that I am today,” she said.


Purchase a copy of Hopeless Kingdom by Kgshak Akec here.

Sharon Green, editor

Sharon Green

Sharon Green is the founding editor of SHE DEFINED.

An experienced journalist and editor, Sharon has worked in mainstream media in Australia and the United Kingdom.

Forever in search of a publication that confronted the real issues faced by modern women, Sharon decided to create her own.