Friday, January 3, 2014
The Swinging Bridge by Ramabai Espinet
This is another immigrant story, as so many Toronto books are. Mona, our heroine, is a Trinidadian woman of Indian descent, living in Montreal and working as a film researcher, who finds out that her brother is dying of AIDS (it's set in the early 1990s) and comes to Toronto to see him and the rest of her family, which brings back a rush of memories and ultimately sets her on the path to her own film about her great-grandmother and the other indentured women who came to Trinidad from India.
I feel like if you ever need a representation in fiction of the intersectionality of racial and gender-based oppression, this is a great novel to use. Talking about her youth as an Indian girl in Trinidad, Mona's life perfectly demonstrates how her treatment as a girl was inseparable from her treatment as an Indian, and how both oppressions have followed her through her life and affected who she loved, where she went and what she did.
The author does a great job of portraying the complex members of Mona's family and how tradition, poverty and cultural expectations dictated their choices and reactions. At one point Mona's brother tries to force Mona to forgive their father for some of his ridiculous abuse, and she tries, but she can't. And yet it's clear that she loves him. The relationships we have with our family are so often the most complicated, which is encapsulated perfectly in that chapter.
It is a good book, and well written, but there was nothing really and truly special about it - I don't believe it will stay with me for long. If you're looking for a great book that deals with the Caribbean immigrant experience in Canada I would sooner recommend The Heart Does Not Bend by Makeda Silvera or More by Austin Clarke. Still, this one has its moments and is worth a read.
Three CN Towers out of five.