Any of us who have been teenagers know well what it feels like to be alone in a crowd. So that would be all of us. Show me someone who has never felt the outsider, and I’ll show you a liar. We have all felt “the other” at some point, even if it was just once at the Spring Formal where everyone else was wearing a skirt and we wore pants.
Piece by Piece: Stories about Fitting into Canada, goes beyond the experience most of us have had. A compilation piece showcasing the immigrant experience in Canada, it starts with Svetlana Chmakova’s drawn story “Red Maple Leaves”, of integrating in high school, ending with Ting-Xing Ye’s “Permission to Work“, on her experiences on starting over after life in Communist China, and trying to find work. Between these two women are stories of varied experiences of arrivals from Iran to England, with the corresponding suffering, confusion and glee at finally being in Canada.
I personally love reading stories like these. Those of us who are generations in, born to Canada tend to take for granted how blessed we are, how a simple thing like dissenting freely is truly a gift. Piece by Piece is targeted to a young adult audience, and the brevity of the essays shows that. However, it’s an interesting and sometimes insightful read, allowing a view into a perspective many of us don’t imagine. The wonder of snow after growing up somewhere warm. The unconscious breath let out once safe on Canadian soil, where no one will rape or torture you for speaking out. How something as seemingly insignificant as a different name can have such an impact on who you are, and who you are perceived to be.
As someone will a relatively obscure name, I related particularly well to Mahtab Narsimhan’s “What’s In A Name?”, her story of coming to Canada and having to “become” someone else, her name complicated for many native english speakers. We all have preconceived notions of who people are, especially when dealing with others over the phone. Her supervisor tells her to change her name to something easier “something more Canadian”
For many of us, it begs the question of what exactly Canadian IS, since we are, for the most part, a country of people “from away”.
This is a quick read-at least for those of you who, unlike me, don’t read 10 books at the same time. I’m looking forward to reading many of these stories to my daughters, and keeping this copy around for them to help illustrate how complicated our mosaic really is-the Canadian experience tends to be portrayed as all puppy dogs and peaches, when in reality, it’s a muddled, frightening mess, with the occasional glimmers of hope and happiness. The stories in Piece by Piece end well for the most part, but provide a good window into the experience of a newcomer.
Piece by Piece is published by Penguin Canada, and my copy was provided free for review.