Thursday 11 October 2018

Our Homesick Songs

Our Homesick Songs
Our Homesick Songs
  By Emma Hooper

The Connors live in Big Running, Newfoundland where, for generations, people have lived by the ebb and flow of the cod fishery.  The sea is their lifeblood.  Emma Hooper masterfully depicts the culture of small town Newfoundland in Our Homesick Songs.

Parents Aidan and Martha can remember when fishing nets used to come up from the depths overflowing with fish, and when the village fishing boats were laden to the gills.  They also remember the first time a net came up only half full.  Now, it’s 1993 and all the fish are gone – completely.  The town of Big Running has been slowly depleted until only six houses are still occupied.

Desperate to maintain their deep connection to home, Aidan and Martha come up with a plan to take turns working out of town.  They go where everyone else does – to the oil patch in Alberta – convincing themselves that this family separation is their only hope.

But fourteen-year-old Cora and ten-year-old Finn feel each parent’s absence keenly.  Each comes up with their own plan to save the family.  Strong-headed Cora decides she must earn her own money in a way that will divide the family even further.  But Finn, steeped in the magic of Big Running, decides he has no other choice but to call the fish back, and devises an elaborate scheme to do so.

This part of the story is interspersed with tales from the past.  Hooper tells of Aidan and Martha in the 1970s as they meet and fall in love.  Life in Big Running at that time is full in every way.  There are plenty of people in town and still plenty of fish in the sea.  No one can imagine that their robust way of life can ever end.

Contrast this with the yearning and desperation of the Connors in 1993, as they cling to a lifestyle that is quickly disappearing.

Our Homesick Songs is filled with the mysticism, stories and music of Newfoundland.  Hooper’s writing is lyrical and poetic. But her biggest triumph is her depiction of a family that must make some very hard choices, but continues to love each other unconditionally.

Highly recommended!

Friday 5 October 2018

Things Are Good Now

Things are good now tells poignant and thought provoking stories of immigrants and refugees to Canada from East Africa and the Middle East.  From a female ex-freedom fighter struggling with her new reality of cleaning toilets and hospital sheets to a newly adopted young Ethiopian girl facing the horrors of her first Halloween in Canada, the characters portrayed all show the struggles faced by people trying not only to acclimatize in a new land, but also balance their intense longing for home. 

While this book is a collection of individual short stories, there is a thematic connection that ties everything together beautifully. No character reappears in another story, but you can feel a connection between each tale through the tone and experience of the characters. At times this tone is a bit dark; however, there is a lot of hope in the stories as well.

Many of the stories focused on immigrants and refugees from Ethiopia during the Ethiopian Civil War in the 1970s and 1980s. During this conflict, the traumas experienced by civilians, rebel groups, and military personnel alike aren’t easily forgotten when moving to a more peaceful place. Be it survivor’s guilt, or spending too long in circumstances of extreme stress, each character is faced with these hidden struggles while also trying to ‘fit in’ to their new home. 

Djamila Ibrahim is the perfect voice to share this experience. An immigrant from Addis Ababa, a former adviser for Citizenship and Immigration Canada, and a masterful storyteller in her own right, Ibrahim brings forward the struggles one faces when trying to assimilate while also staying true to ones traditions, values, and upbringing.  

If you enjoy reading about the immigrant experience, this collection of short stories is a great read that hits close to home.