Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Barnacle Love

Loved,  loved, Barnacle Love by Anthony De Sa and loved the lecture, too.

Promoted as a series of 'linked stories' the book really reads more like a novel, with the first half focusing on the tale of Manuel's journey to Canada from the Azores and the second half told from the point of view of the Canadian-born son.

I wondered how the young idealistic man of dreams in the first half of the novel degenerated into the bitter, drunken father of the second half.  There is not much explanation in the book itself, which is why the lecture was so interesting.

Tonight the author read from his paper, The Need to Look Back, and provided some personal insights into the immigrant experience that helped explain Manuel's transition.   Consider the pressures of being among the first wave of immigrants from the Azores to Canada in the mid 1950s:  not having the luxury of a 'little Portugal' retreat to speak with bankers and grocers in your mother tongue; the sheer politics of needing to choose the order of the relatives you are sponsoring to come to Canada; and the deep fissures that could erupt when you picked your mother-in-law over siblings.

Sponsorship was a deep, long-term commitment, you needed to provide food, shelter and help the newcomers establish themselves over several months, and then the cycle would begin again.  Until all the family members are brought over.  You're working 2 or 3 jobs to meet financial obligations, going without so others can prosper.  It would be natural to feel that all the sacrifice would be recorded with the expectation of a debt to be repaid.  Yet this feeling of entitlement often alienated the people that were sponsored. The feeling of indebtedness and guilt could separate generations.  In the end the people that made these sacrifices for their families were often left isolated, unappreciated and the object of scorn.

De Sa has had other second generation Canadians tell him the story rings true from their family experience, too.  So in that sense, the story is not just limited to the Portuguese experience of the 1950s/1970s, but the immigrant experience in general.  I'd say the theme of indebtedness from one generation to the next is pretty universal.

There was also the mention of married people that would leave families back home, come to Canada with the intention of working here and then sponsoring their wives and children, but along the way they fall in love and start second families in their new country.  What could happen when those worlds collide?

Even without the backstory,  the book itself is well worth the time spent.  I'm looking forward to the next one, Carnival of Desire  and reading the author blog about his progress as the due date approaches.

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