A short essay on race relations, presented as an intimate letter to Chariandy’s 13-year old daughter. Chariandy’s family is mixed race; an especially poignant chapter entitled The Incident describes when his young son is confronted with the n-word on a school playground. This is very fine intelligent, thoughtful and introspective writing about a topic that remains critically important.
This book is subtitled “A Daughter’s Memoir”, and chronicles the last years of her parent’s lives after relocating from their home to London to a seniors residence in Ottawa. Ms. Hay’s wonderful prose describes her aged mother: “her loose skin hung off her like silken parchment … (her) bare arms were as pitiable as a ballerinas”. The decline in the health of her parents is described in depressing and brutally honest detail, proving once again that growing old is not for sissies. Ms. Hay’s relationships with her parents (and her siblings) is examined thoughtfully, carefully and critically, in particular her often fraught relationship with her tempestuous father. This is very fine writing, introspective and compelling.
These three graphic novels tell the story of Congressman John Lewis, an iconic hero of the American civil rights movement. The narrative is provided by Aydin and the evocative black and white drawings are by Powell. Volume 1 covers Lewis’ youth in rural Alabama, leading to the struggle to de-segregate lunch counters in Nashville. Volumes 2-3 cover the intense period from 1963 (the Birmingham church bombing) to the Selma March and the Voting Rights Act of 1965. The controversial politics of the civil rights movement is detailed, especially the rivalries and debates over the extent of non-violence to be utilized by the protestors, and the participation of white protestors. The stark black/white drawings are very striking when illustrating the horrible abuse and violence subjected by the authorities towards the civil rights movement. This is powerful storytelling, and timely.
Previously, I used the words “brutally honest and uncomfortably candid” to describe Camilla Gibbs’s memoir This Is Happy, and the same descriptors can be applied emphatically to this memoir by Roxane Gay. Gay is subjected to a brutal sexual assault at age 12; she discusses being both a survivor and a victim. There are two dramatic aspects to the aftermath: her silence and her reaction to eating, to become fat and undesirable in order to be safe. Gay vividly describes living in a wildly undisciplined body as she becomes categorized as morbidly obese. The cruelty of public opinion of her appearance (i.e. fat shaming) is tragic. Her own analysis of her psychology is self-loathing. This is a deeply personal memoir that is often disturbing but occasionally comic as she describes how much she hates exercise. An amazing story.
Camilla Gibb is a very fine novelist (Sweetness In The Belly, for example). This remarkable book is a memoir that is brutally honest and uncomfortably candid. There are heartbreaking descriptions of loneliness and alienation leading to profound depression and suicide attempts, of feelings that she does not deserve happiness. Single motherhood provides an incredible challenge. The adage that “it takes a village to raise a child” is proven true as single mother Gibb constructs a unique extended family to help her care for her daughter: this is a compelling story.
Davidson usually writes gritty guy-books (e.g. Cataract City) that are fiction. In contrast, this new book is non-fiction, an account of a year spent driving a school bus for five special-needs kids in Calgary. There are some very funny parts, such as the perils of substitute driving a school bus at Halloween, but Davidson takes a thoughtful look at how people with disabilities are viewed by the non-disabled, in school and in society in general. The book also includes an introspective examination of himself as a struggling writer at the time – overall, a very worthwhile read.
Aguirre previously wrote “Something Fierce“, about her revolutionary life in South America after the Chilean coup that killed Allende’s socialist revolution. Something Fierce won the CBC Canada Reads competition in 2012. This new book travels back and forth in time between South America and Vancouver, so both before and after her first book. But the central focus of this book is on the aftermath of a brutal and horrific sexual assault in Vancouver when she was 13 years-old. Her rape was a violent and degrading act of power and aggression, not a sexual act per se. I had the privilege of seeing Aguirre act in an ATP play in September 2013. What I learned from this book is that she had attended a parole hearing for her rapist during the run of this play (he was being held in Bowden Prison). This is an extremely powerful and at times profoundly disturbing book and is not for the faint-hearted, but Aguirre eloquently outlines her path to forgiveness (of herself) and reconciliation.