Not so long ago, I discovered immigrant literature through a novel which completely changed the way I perceived current news about illegal Mexican immigrants. Not only had I gained more insight into their plight, I saw our own North American culture from their point of view — and it was unflattering.
With this season’s theme of cultural awareness in literature, I sought to present to the Club five fictional books which address ongoing immigrant issues in North America, written in different styles and dealing with different cultures. I had a wealth of choice, and when I had run out of time to read more, I selected these:
Environmental: The Tortilla Curtain (above-mentioned) about illegal Mexican immigrants (Author T.C. Boyle, 1995)
Suspense: The House of Sand and Fog about Iranian-Americans (Author André Dubus III, 1999)
Legal drama: The Boat People about Sri Lankan asylum seekers in Canada (Sharon Bala, 2018)
The two books below are in many categories, or perhaps defy categorizing. You will laugh and you will cry while reading their narrators’ highly quirky, often funny, recounting of tragedies.
Coming of age (the best I can do…unlike any other book I have read:)The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao about Dominican Republicans in New Jersey (Junot Díaz, 2007)
War/spy novel/mystery/comedy/tragedy… : The Sympathizer about Vietnamese refugees to the United States (Viet Thanh Nguyen, 2015)
Why search out immigrant literature? Fiction will humanize immigrants in a way news reports cannot. Novels make us more aware of the enormous challenges immigrants face and can deepen our understanding, empathy and compassion for those who hope to find a better life here.
Moorea revealed how foreign our own Canadian culture can be by sharing her study of Susanna Moodie, a 19th Century British settler, whose book about the realities of Roughing it in the Bush; or, Life in Canada (1852) was not the encouraging guide to promote emigration its publishers had envisaged!
Susanna Moodie is important historically, providing a window into what was then Upper Canada (Ontario.) For a genteel British family — who had expected to rise to the top of colonial society, the reality was not what they expected. Mrs. Moodie, who was already a published author in Britain, became a pioneer of Canadian literature, and has influenced writers such as Carol Shields, L.M. Montgomery, Timothy Findley and Margaret Atwood.
This courageous immigrant shared her experiences through the art of writing, while she adapted, not always easily or willingly, to a culture more foreign than she had expected — and which would be largely foreign to Canadians today. Link to Moorea’s insightful summary by CLICKING HERE.
[Webmaster’s addition: Enjoy stumbling upon what is almost certainlyTHE MOODIE HOMESTEAD, THROUGH THIS LINK.It is an artist’s watercolour images, someone who would have gone to enormous effort to reach the Moodie homestead shortly after the family had moved from the bush.]
It’s no wonder that the “father of geology” James Hutton was Scottish, as is the Loch Ness monster and Scottish bagpipes: What a country and culture! Cecilia opened her presentation with Wings’ Mull of Kintyre. The “earworm” hasn’t left me since (in a good way!) The opening music for the TV series, “The Skye Boat Song,” is equally haunting, with traditional lyrics telling of Bonnie Prince Charlie’s escape to the Isle of Skye.
Cecilia felt as entirely immersed in the world Gabaldon paints in the Outlander novels, as her son had been many years ago escaping into J.K. Rowling’s world of Harry Potter.
In 1988, a scientist, university professor and contributor to professional publications, decided to try her hand at writing a novel, for practice only. Diana Gabaldon by chance caught a Dr. Who episode with a compelling 18th century, kilted Scottish character. That was the catalyst for what has become The Outlander series. By using time travel, the author was able to provide modern perspectives. As a counterpoint to the fantasy, Ms. Gabaldon weaves in reality using her meticulous research of history, medical practices and medicinal plants.
In reviewing my notes from Shawna’s presentation on October 29, 2019 of prolific Turkish author Orhan Pamuk, what jumps out at me now, in this one month of physical distancing, is the book Balkon. Over a five-month period (2012-13) Mr. Pamuk took over 8,000 photos of Istanbul from his balcony (Wikipedia) resulting in this photo journal, as well as an art exhibition in 2019. Let’s hope we don’t have four months to go, but what an inspiration!
Shawna began her presentation with a quote, which I caught in my handwritten notes. In other words, this may not be word-for-word.
I ran away but I returned and will continue to tell its story. This is the best place I know. (Orhan Pamuk)
This author, who had early aspirations to be a painter, then architect, eventually painted word pictures — so well that his Turkish books are translated worldwide, and have received many prestigious awards, including the 2006 Nobel Prize.
CLICK HERE to find out why Shawna enjoys Orhan Pamuk so much and why you might too.
(A note on the image: The Turkish plate is one I received from my worldly Uncle George, who was born in Victorian times. Viewed from the back, you would see that the plate was badly broken and considerably mended, showing how much the art was treasured by my Uncle. Still is! Janet Halls)
Doloris shared with us “an author who understood the fundamental role that storytelling can play in building bridges of cultural understanding.” It wasn’t until age twenty-three that Mr. Wagamese reconnected with his own Ojibway (Anishinaabe) people. Fortunately, he gives us all an opportunity to understand them so much more, through his writings.
Richard Wagamese was part of Canada’s 60’s SCOOP when it was common practice to ‘scoop’ newborns from mothers on reserves, placing them with mostly middle-class Canadians of European descent. His parents, victims themselves of a residential school system that “tried to scrape the Indian out of their insides,” (Richard Wagamese) had abandoned their children. At three, he was separated from his siblings and sent to various foster homes before being adopted at nine. At sixteen, he was living on the streets, escaping an abusive home life.
Thanks, Betty, for choosing to present Alan Bennett, a perfect end to our entertaining and thought-provoking season of humour, irony and satire!
Betty read from the charming novella The Uncommon Reader, wherein Queen Elizabeth gets hooked on reading after chancing upon a mobile library van while walking her corgis. This book had been the first book Betty had read by Alan Bennett, and thereafter she was hooked. After Betty’s presentation, CWLC members are too!
Many of us had seen — if not read — The Lady in the Van, the funny, poignant story about the actual relationship Mr. Bennett developed with a true eccentric. Betty noted that Alan Bennett’s works have been said to be “too English.” Betty would argue that anyone can enjoy them.
CHECK HERE for the Wikipedia page and note especially the body of work by this actor, playwright, screenwriter and author, and the numerous awards and nominations. It is awe-inspiring to see how much someone can do in a lifetime — and is still active! .
A whole Canadian political news cycle has passed since Helle’s April 9 presentation on the singular and spirited political commentator Allan Fotheringham. Which is exactly why you will want to read or reread Helle’s comments about the author and why she says, “Today, more than ever, we could use more humour, sarcasm and irony to keep politicians and people in the public eye on their toes.” Even writing in times that were relatively easygoing compared to today’s political correctness, Mr. Fotheringham was the subject of 26 lawsuits: He only lost two!
CLICK HERE to read more of Helle’s timely presentation.
How lucky to have grown up without TV! That’s how Denise began her presentation. Her family moved to the U.S. Midwest when she was young, and it was there, listening to public radio, that she discovered A Prairie Home Companion.
Giving us a map for reference, Denise was our charming guide to Lake Wobegon. She read a hilarious passage about the founding of the town and why it’s missing on regional maps. Denise says she has met many “Wobegon” personalities, not necessarily from the Midwest. She then continued to give us so many reasons to appreciate this writer, radio broadcaster and so much more.
Demonstrating Mr. Keillor’s satiric side, Denise asked Kathy to read a parody — Kathy should be a comedienne! CLICK HERE to read “Sermon on the Mount” by Garrison Keillor.
What an opener to our literary season! Robin shared an intriguing glimpse into Wade Davis’ life as an anthropologist, botanist and ethnobotanist. Ethnobotany, in case the term is new for you too, is the study of the traditional knowledge and customs of a people concerning plants and their medical, religious and other uses. Originally, field work for Harvard and National Geographic drew him to the outermost (innermost?) reaches of this planet. Robin mentioned it would be easier to list where Wade Davis has not been in the world, than where he has gone.
He continues work in areas still almost unknown, living among indigenous communities as a member, and not merely observer. Robin decided to spare us the description of his “dysentery breakfast,” while we were sipping tea and enjoying goodies from the comfort of the Memorial Park Library! He shares his insights through writing, superb photography and speaking engagements. Robin said, “He writes with the soul of a poet.” One of his books is titled The Wayfinders, Why Ancient Wisdom Matters in the Modern World. Thanks to Robin’s talk, I suspect many of us will be wanting to learn more from this explorer/scientist/author.
How appropriate that one of Canada’s best known newspaper columnists and commentators on radio and TV was brought up in one of the oldest European settlements in North America — which also happened to be in the last province to join Confederation, and barely did!
Anita’s presentation about Rex Murphy was sprinkled generously with her own sense of humour. Certainly, Rex Murphy is well appreciated by members of the club, who know him best as host of CBC Radio’s Cross-Country Checkup, commentator for CBC TV’s The National, and journalist for newspapers The National Post and The Globe & Mail. But did you know…
Rex Murphy’s mother loved literature and learning and his father was known for “linguistic dazzle.”
Rex Murphy was politically active very young, having entered Memorial University at fifteen. He was noticed (not in a good way) by Joey Smallwood, but the students ultimately got what they wanted!
In the 1980’s, he ran for political office in Newfoundland. Although he didn’t win, he decided he was better critiquing politics and politicians anyway.
He is author of two books, Canada and Other Matters of Opinion and Points of View (Penguin Random House)
Lifelong classical literature study underpins his writing. His way with words (& quotes) is like no other.
He is a fierce defender of free speech and will jump into messy, controversial topics himself — such as defending Alberta’s and the East Coast’s oil industry, for example!