What to Read, What to Watch, What to Listen to…

From one poor Toronto suburb to another, there are three novels you want to read which span different immigrant communities.  The latest novel I read is The Lost Sister by Andrea Gunraj.  This is an excellent novel about a Guyanese mother, father and two daughters, as well as their auntie who immigrate to the notorious Jane-Finch area, a western suburb of the city.  The family lives on the 23rd storey of a tower block, and can pay their own way.  They are not on assistance; they believe in education and hard work.  The father, resentfully, works as glorified secretary to wealthy stockbrokers. The mother stays home to raise 15-year-old Diana and 13- year-old Alisha “properly”.  The auntie attends law school, part-time at night.  One summer day, the teenage sisters visit the mall, but only one returns home.  Why that is, and what comes of it, nags the novel’s characters and the reader.  An important character is the volunteer in the girls’ school library.  A transplanted African Nova Scotian, Paula was raised in the horrible Home for Colored Children in Halifax.  The author manages to weave a parallel story through the book that connects Paula and the Guyanese family in a unique and powerful way. 

The two other novels I read before which are about Toronto’s immigrant communities are Scarborough by Catherine Hernandez, and Brother by David Chariandy.  Both take place in the poor neighbourhoods of Scarborough, in Toronto’s east end.  The ethnic communities differ from the one in The Lost Sister. In the other two books there is more desperation as there is no obvious way to ascend to the middle class.  While Scarborough is a good read, it is too nice for my liking.  The most interesting characters are the people who run the nail salon in a tumble down strip mall.  Brother is a far less pleasant  and more incendiary journey through the ‘hood.   I’d recommend reading Brother and The Lost Sister.

June’s The Walrus magazine has a good short story, Rookie, by Josiah Neufeld. Jake, like many young people, works as a tree-planter in northern Alberta.  It’s a summer job, that is tightly controlled and regulated by a forestry corporation and the government.  While people are attracted to the job because it’s outdoors, planting is competitive—so many hundred trees have to be every day and no excuses are permitted.

“…[Jake]thought he’d counted and recounted his 850 miserable trees, and he knew that, at nine cents a trees, he’d earned $76.50.  Subtracting $25 for camp costs left him with $51.50.  It was still better than his first few days, after which he’d owed the camp money.” 

There are few real rewards in the work, certainly no bonus pay, but there are a lot of penalties – for smoking (of course the risk of fire is real), for not making quota, and even for attitude.  As punishement, like in prison, planters are sent to plant alone on a ridge somewhere for days, with no contact with others.

from Irvingwoodland.com

The short story is revealing, startling and fresh.  Worth a read. Here it is: https://thewalrus.ca/rookie/

Space Beyond Language is the First Person story  by Damian Rogers in The Walrus, here . At the age of 71, the author’s mother was institutionalized with dementia.  The author was determined that knowledge was the key to her avoiding or derailing the disease herself.  In 1,000 words, Rogers writes about her fears and her reality. The dreaded visit with her mother, is not nearly as fearsome as we’d expect.

How Tim Hortons Became a Political Prop, by Max Fawcett also in The Walrus,  is great. It looks at coffee and social class.

I hate to trip Trudeau another time – especially when the WE scandal shows little sign of  winding down, but he made a faux-pas when he rejected Timmie’s fare in favour of an upscale treat.

“Trudeau, who doesn’t actually drink coffee at all, went out to buy doughnuts for his caucus meetings during a retreat in Winnipeg and made the fateful decision to support a local business rather than the nearest Tim Hortons. That small business charged $35 for a dozen doughnuts—in part so that it could afford a higher hourly pay for staff, unlike a certain Canadian institution which has attracted protests over its refusal to pay a living wage. This act of doughnut disloyalty was apparently an intolerable insult to some people on Twitter.” … Max Fawcett

Nova Scotia Strong donuts, photo by Newswire.ca

Briarpatch magazine, from Saskatchewan, always has interesting articles. Prison Unionism by Bronwyn Dabchuk-Land and James Wilt explains the historical connections between public services unions and the ‘careral left’.  The authors look at the case of the Manitoba Government Employees Union (MGEU), arguably the biggest union in the province. Prison guards represent only 5% of the union  membership, yet that 5% is a serious lobby group for propping up the police and prisons.    The article reveals details of prisoner riots, for better conditions, an end to over-crowding, and access to health care.  Yet each time prisoners protested, union members demanded more prisons, improved lock down units and even more prisons for youth. Read it here.

Our Times brings us the first person account by trade union and social activist, Carol Wall.  In Dear White Sisters and Brothers, a Letter from a Union Educator (Summer 2020) Wall, who is African-Canadian, reveals racist incidents of her Toronto childhood and from her decades in the Canadian union movement. On a personal level one event that stung was when her best friend announced her wedding.  The soon-to-be bride and Wall talked about the wedding party, and Wall was going to be the maid of honour.  One night Wall overheard another friend tell someone in confidence that Wall couldn’t be the maid of honour, because the groom’s family would not abide a black person in the wedding pictures. Wall wrote this open letter after the murder of George Floyd.

“Please don’t make the mistake of taking comfort in thinking these issues aren’t “as bad” in Canada. I would also ask you to read an article from the Toronto Star by Jason Miller: “Why the Black struggle in Canada has all but been erased. Two historians explain our blind spot.” That both Ford, Premier of Ontario, and Legault, Premier of Quebec, dismissed the reality that systemic racism exists in their provinces speaks volumes to the denial and dismissal of anti-Black racism at the highest levels of provincial governments.” Carol Wall

Excellent. Read it here.

photo by Joshua Berson, in Our Time

What to Watch…

Martin Himel is a seasoned filmmaker from Hamilton, who lives in Toronto.  His latest film is The Arrest, which you can watch on TVO here.  This feature length documentary (1hr, 18 min.) shows what wrongful arrests actually do to people of colour.  In Ontario, in 44% of cases, the crown drops the charges. But what happens to the people who have been charged and often incarcerated. The suffering they undergo includes job loss, family break-up, cycles of poverty, depression resulting in serious illness – this is what happens to the wrongly arrested.  Himel follows lawyer David Charney, who while at university was wrongfully arrested when he was demonstrating for others’ rights.  That drove Charney to become a force for good – and fight wrongful arrests.  While there are organizations such as Innocence Canada to fight for the wrongfully convicted, Charney is trying to stop wrongful arrests.  A  spell-binding film.   And if you want to catch an 18 minute interview with Himel, the filmmaker, it’s here.

It seems everyone is watching Normal People on GEM.  I liked the first three episodes and didn’ t like the rest.  Two emotionally repressed Irish teens fall in love in high school.  That part is interesting.  Then they  wade in and out of each other’s lives at university and beyond.  I guess I’m not into character studies.  If you call it that. The girl is from a wealthy family of alcoholics.  The boy lives in row housing with his mother who works as the rich family’s cleaner.  Someone told me it was romantic. Well judge for yourself!

I would run from Fortitude, also on GEM.  Actually the first episode of the series is rather amusing.  Filmed in remote areas of Iceland in high winter, the series is supposed to be about a tiny community, Fortitude, in northern Norway. I boasts a huge scientific research facility (how can that be?), a frozen harbour, and a wild nightly disco.  There is the professor of something or other who ends up on a floor with his chest slashed wide open – who knows why.  There is the 10 year old boy who is first thought to have the mumps, but then is rumoured to have Polio.  Who knows why.  Oh, because the father fought in Afghanistan, and then moved to Fortitude.  Who knows why. That’s the explanation.  There are the “baddies” who look sinister – and carry a hand-gun instead of a rifle when they are in polar bear country… the list goes on.  What Fortitude is is a tourism come-on.  In order to attract visitors to Iceland in the winter, this series makes the place look frozen, mysterious, barren and beautiful all at once.  I’ve been to Iceland in the summer and near winter – and it’s worth a trip – someday!

       I’m now watching a series on GEM called Young and Promising.  Three young women, who live in Oslo in high summer only it seems, are trying to get on with their lives – one is a writer, one is a comedienne turned supermarket clerk, and one is trying to get into a prestigious theatre school.  The dialogue is snappy, witty and funny.  The characters are believable and frankly-drawn.  The summer in Oslo looks glorious.  Delightful.

from Scandinordic.com

What to Listen to…

Again, my favourite podcast is Canadaland with Jesse Brown.  Canadaland was the first to air WE’s  dirty laundry in a three part series in 2018.  It’s here and you must listen

In July, Brown updated the WE scandal and was the first to break the story about WE’s connection to the Trudeaus.  Frankly Brown didn’t get enough accolades for all the work he and his gang did in showing the corruption of Liberal high flyers and the WE charity. Please subscribe to Canadaland for a mere $5 a month – then you get the podcasts ad-free! Today’s segment looks like dynamite: https://www.canadalandshow.com/morneau-family-flew-to-we-charity-kenya-compound/

Another favourite podcast is the Hidden Brain with host Shankar Vedantam.

This podcast comes from NPR in the US and has wonderful half hour segments that range from psychology quick or not so quick fixes, to politics to economics. One I just heard was Romeo & Juliet in Rwanda looks at how to change people’s behaviour.

And, like many others, I highly recommend Tim Bousquet’s first podcast with CBC’s Uncover series called Dead Wrong. Here’s the trailer

Bousquet doesn’t go in for sensationalism, yet in 8 episodes he shows us how Glen Assoun of Dartmouth NS was wrongly accused, wrongly tried – he was tried for second degree murder for which the judge permitted him to defend himself! – and wrongly convicted.   Assoun was jailed for 17 years, and under house arrest for another four before being exonerated a little over a year ago.  Bousquet proves the connivance between the RCMP and the Halifax Police who refused to see that they had the wrong man.  Apparently, there were 5 possible suspects but none was seriously investigated.  And when a top RCMP police profiler did come up with evidence to prove that Assoun was innocent– the contents of his filing cabinets, all his notebooks, and his interview data disappeared from his locked office, in a locked area, of a locked police station.  Investigative journalism at its best.

Feature painting at the top: Green Painting by Dorothy Knowles (1983), Han Art

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