Friday, March 27, 2015

My Journey by Olivia Chow

I received this book as a gift and because it is largely set in Toronto, I thought I would review it here even though it is not fiction (hey, my blog, my rules).

Olivia Chow is one of my political heroes, and a strong example of a quintessential Torontonian - an immigrant from a working-class background, very urban, very cosmopolitan, and very invested in community-based problem-solving and action. It was actually very frustrating to read her book now, after her anemic mayoral campaign, and see the kind of person we could have had in charge had she won.

I'm not generally into biographies or autobiographies, but this one was an easy enough read, with lots of intriguing anecdotes that are sure to be of interest to Toronto political junkies. Olivia basically knows everyone, so a lot of her accounts of parties and strategy sessions are a who's who of the Toronto left. I didn't find it to be irritating in a name-dropping way, however; Olivia seems genuinely interested in giving credit to the people around her for her successful campaigns.

The best parts of the book were when she talked about Jack Layton and their relationship. She manages to be emotional without being maudlin, and talks with startling honesty about her grief at his death and how it has affected her, and how she is dealing with it. She is unapologetically frank about their relationship, about both of their flaws and strengths; you can see how writing the book has been part of the healing process for her.

A lot of the issues that she has worked on through her career on city council and as an MP raised interesting discussions in my mind, but Olivia did not really get into them in the book; she talks about what happened but rarely touches on the why of it. This was my main objection to the book; I wanted to know more about why she is a progressive, why she takes the stances she does. I think that people of every political stripe decide to get into politics, so while that's an interesting thing about Olivia's development, what I really wanted was more analysis on her actual political views.

Anyway, it was a lovely book, and I would recommend it to folks as both an interesting insight into Olivia and Jack's lives, and a piece of Toronto's political history. Four CN Towers out of five.

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