Monday, 26 November 2012

Citizens Of Nowhere - Debi Goodwin

The Story...

When Debi Goodwin travelled to the Dadaab Refugee Camp in 2007 to shoot a documentary on young Somali refugees soon coming to Canada, she did not anticipate the impact the journey would have on her. A year later, in August of 2008, she decided to embark upon a new journey, starting in the overcrowded refugee camps in Kenya, and ending in university campuses across Canada. For a year, she recorded the lives of eleven very lucky refugee students who had received coveted scholarships from Canadian universities, guaranteeing them both a spot in the student body and permanent residency in Canada. We meet them in the overcrowded confines of a Kenyan refugee camp and track them all the way through a year of dramatic and sometimes traumatic adjustments to new life in a foreign country called Canada. This is a snapshot of a refugee's first year in Canada, in particular a snapshot of young men and women lucky and smart enough to earn their passage from refugee camp to Canadian campus.

A Reader's Experience...

Canada prides itself on being a multicultural nation of widespread immigration, as I feel we should. But for those who immigrate, their entire life, goals, worldview and identiry are thrown in to a flurry of change that takes an incredible amount of careful deliberation, patience, and courage in order to negotiate. Goodwin's sensitive observations and thoughtful insights give readers a much more complete sense of empathy, admiration, and hope towards not only the deeply personal plights of the 11 Somali refugees that she follows, but towards the continuing waves of immigrants the we as Canadians are sure to encounter in years to come.

Because the stories are so honest and real, I appreaciate that both the refugee camps and Canada are presented in a realistic light. Few of us will ever have to feel as out of place as these students would have, and as readers we get an appreciation for the endless adjustments that must be learned day by day - friends, homesickness, cooking, money, housing, jobs, religion, schoolwork, language, shopping... all an enormous amount of responsibility and demand, even with a system of sponsorship and support. If it were me, I know that I would have to reach deep within myself and find strength I never knew that I had, and it is clear that each of the students were compelled to do just that.

I am full of admiration for the courage and perseverence demonstrated by the students. They were all driven by the desire to become successful for themselves and for their families in order to build a life they could be proud of. Not to be famous or even rich, but to create lasting stability and security. Thinking about the fears and uncertainties they had to face, I am able to put my own percieved struggles as a student in to better perspective. These students were selected because they are the best and brightest, and we can only be richer as a country and as universities for accepting them. I admire them though not simply for what they can accomplish, but for the obstacles they must overcome in order to get there. Clearly, the students are presented as men and women of integrity and purpose. It is clear that Goodwin is profoundly moved by her subjects, as am I. We are reminded through them of what truly matters, and always will, even in the globalized, changing world - tradition and family, learning and challenge, honor and commitment, honesty, hard work and friendship.

Although some of the students remain uncertain and unstable at the conclusion of the first year, we are left with a good sense of hope. Some had to compromise their career goals to be more efficient and realistic, yet it is still promising that their chances remain better than if that had remained in the refugee camps. The sponsorship programs are still developing and expanding, and the way seems paved for more students to take advantage. If the program continues to grow, there is enormous potential to benefit the lives of Canadian students and immigrants alike through the reciprical relationship of exchange. It is heartbreaking that they face the loss and separation from their families, which is why we should feel obligated as Canadians to welcome and accomodate them and create a new sense of home without forgetting the one they have left behind. It is my hope that, without imposing our own story as Canadians upon them, we could become a part of a new story and a new beginning for the students.

Monday, 19 November 2012

Anne of Ingleside - L.M. Montgomery

The Story...

Anne is the mother of five, with never a dull moment in her lively home. And now, with a new baby on the way and insufferable Aunt Mary Maria visiting - and wearing out her welcome - Anne's life is full to bursting.

Still, Mrs. Doctor can't think of any place she'd rather be than her own beloved Ingleside. Until the day she begins to worry that her adored Gilbert doesn't love her anymore. How could that be? She may be a little older, but she's still the same irrepressible, irreplaceable redhead - that wonderful Anne of Green Gables, all grown up. She's ready to make her cherished husband fall in love with her all over again!

A Reader's Experience...

Now that Anne has children and has built a large, bustling family life, readers come to experience Anne's legacy of laughs, tears, and imagination all over again.

Montgomery's sense of humor shines in this story. The amusing, chattering gossip of the Ladies' Aid. Little Nan's "bargain with God", and her gullable innocence at believing she was switched at birth in a case of mistaken identity. Rilla's  cake delivery mishap. Anne's matchmaking disaster with friends Alden and Stella. What I love about these stories is that I can picture the children as adults looking back on such stories with amusement. Like Anne's own adventures in the very first novel, they capture the naivety and pure, unwavering convictions of childhood.

The story provides a balanced dose of reality, however, with it's share of worries, challenges, and fears. Friendships are betrayed, such as that between Di and her manipulative chums Jenny and Delilah. Anne questions Gilbert's loyalty and fears that he is bored of her. Jem mourns the loss of a trusted pet. Anne and Gilbert both succomb to bouts of serious illness. The encouragement and hope for the reader comes through when personal character and family ties are strenghened and come to triumph in the midst of their struggles. The stories of Ingleside renew faith in the tender and enduring spirit of family.

Also renewed is the spirit of adventure and imagination that Montgomery in infamous for writing. The children explore Rainbow Valley and transform into fairies and pirates. Walter finds his way home to Ingleside from the Parkers. Nan discovers the true nature of the "Gloomy House". The enchanting magic of the world around them not only form unforgettable childhood memories but also remind us that we don't have to go far in order to experience something brand new and exciting. Once we have lived in the world of dreams, the world of reality becomes that much more spectacular as the magic then follows us everywhere. As a reader, I feel that Montgomery challenges us not to lose the magic, but to hold on to it as a most treasured heirloom carrying us through what would otherwise be the most dull and lifeless of days. Material things come and go, but dreams will remain.

Monday, 12 November 2012

Anne's House of Dreams - L.M. Montgomery

The Story...

Anne's own true love, Gilbert Blythe, is finally a doctor, and in the sunshine of the old orchard, among their dearest friends, they are about to speak their vows. Soon the happy couple will be bound for a new life together and their own dream house, on the misty purple shores of Four Winds Harbor.

A new life means fresh problems to solve, fresh surprises. Anne and Gilbert will make new friends and meet their neighbors: Captain Jim, the lighthouse attendant, , with his sad stories of the sea; Miss Cornelia Bryant, the lady who speaks from the heart - and speaks her mind; and the tragically beautiful Leslie Moore, into whose dark life Anne shines a brilliant light.

A Reader's Experience...

Once again, I find it exhilerating and inspiring as a reader to be transported through new key stages of Anne's life, as if I were living them right along side of her. This time, she has gone from childhood to college, from working girl to wife and mother. As a result, this book now carries with it an entirely new tone and significance. There is an added moral and spiritual depth, profoundly shocking revelations, and life altering changes.

On a moral level, readers grapple with the history and dilemmas of Leslie Moore. Ultimately, Anne follows her own conscience in befriending her, despite her harsh past and cold resistence, and untimately, Leslie goes through with a decision that, while controversial among the inhabitants of Four Winds, was very much hers to make. I wonder if I would have been brave or bold enough to do the same thing, and am reminded that we need to learn to trust our own judgement and accept the (most often unpredictable) results of such decisions as they unfold.

Although I like to read a story that realistically flows forward, I also love an element of unanticpated shock as a reader. In this story, Dick Moore isn't really Dick Moore - and I honestly didn't see it coming. Then follows the delicious moment when most everything becomes clearer, and a character like Leslie has a clean slate with which to re-think her past and future course. Cornelia's engagement is yet another instance where we are surprised by what is revealed about a character and must re-think our assumptions as readers, and we can vividly appreciate and picture Anne and Gilbert's "kerflummexed" reaction - priceless.

Most parents will say (although I can't personally speak to the matter) that becoming a parent changes everything, and for Anne this would be no exception. The pure, raw emotion and tender, loving instincts which she feels towards her first two children are touching and natural, and I believe that Anne's entire world view is shifted. Nothing is more real or important to her as the child she lost after a short time and the child she was raising. It seems that Anne will only now understand the past experience of Diana and other friends who became mothers before her. Just as Leslie Moore is able to start life over again with Owen, so do Cornelia and Marshall, as well as Anne and Gilbert as they upgrade to a brand new home. Such new changes are all about real adult freedoms and responsabilities, and I can truly feel the rewards and fulfillment of starting over and moving on.

Monday, 5 November 2012

Anne of Windy Poplars - L.M. Montgomery

The Story...

Anne Shirley has left Redmond College behind to begin a new job and a new chapter of her life away from Green Gables. Now she faces a new challenge: The Pringles. They're known as the royal family of Summerside - and they quickly let Anne know she is not the person they wanted as principal of Summerside High School. But as she settles into the cozy tower room at Windy Poplars, Anne finds that she has great allies in the widows Aunt Kate and Aunt Chatty - and in their irrepressible housekeeper, Rebecca Dew. As Anne learns Summerside's strangest secrets, winning the support of the prickly Pringles is only the first of her delicious triumphs.

A Reader's Experience...

Now that Anne has completed college, it is a real pleasure for me to be meeting her as an accomplished, independent, working adult. Once again, she stays true to the character built up in the previous novels - wise, intellegent, imaginative, and charming. While Green Gables remains her dear, forever home, it is touching that her heart remains open and continues to grow with new dreams, new adventures, and new friends around every bend in the road. As a reader, I am gripped by every amusing surprise, touched by Anne's ability to charm and forgive, and inspired by her relationship with Gilbert through a challenging separation.

I love the surprise outcomes to which Anne finds herself responsable for, both unexpected and unintentional. Somehow, she provides the missing link to solidify and mend a great number of relationships, becoming in word and action exactly what each dilemma needs to become ironically resolved. The Taylor Family of Cyrus, Trix, and Esme are a good example of how Anne brings out the uncharacteristic side of the former, to the benefit and amusement of his daughters. The Nelsons are another, Hazel Marr another, and Franklin Wescott and his daughter yet another. Then there is the more sensitive case of Lewis Allen and Jim Armstrong, affected by tragedy and brought together through chance, as well as Elizabeth's reconciliation to her father - another touching instant of hope and promise which truly affects Anne throughout the novel. Anne has a knack for bringing about the desired effect, although certainly not in the way in which she intended, and she repeatedly risks her own embaressment in order to help others.

Anne also posesses the attitude, charm, and skill to win over even her worst and most resistent enemies. The Pringles as well as Katherine Brooke and Mrs. Gibson are prime examples, not to mention the widows and Rebecca Dew who she lives and bonds with for her three years in Summerside. Anne's sensitivity, gentleness, and carefree zest for life work to bring out the best in those around her, and she never gives up on people when she feels in her bones that she has what it takes to affect them. She is bold and courageous in this sense, and it is inspiring how she is willing to look beyond how others appear on the surface and get to the heart of the matter.

Through Anne's letters to Gilbert, we get the sense that the childhood sweethearts have blossomed in to adult commitments. Although engaged, they both put off marriage in order to persue a career and keep their relationship alive over time and space. Their dreams of making a life together and vision for their future are sustained, and Anne seems to realize that their marriage is worth waiting for. They are content to develop seperately before developing together, and the anticipation keeps them both going. I think their case lends truth to the proverb "absense makes the heart grow fonder". I also think that it allows the reader to anticipate their union in the coming novels.