A Second Coming, Canadian Migration Fiction
Edited by Donald F. Mulcahy, Guernica, 348 pages
One of the best stories included in the twenty-four chosen by Thomas Mulcahy, editor of this intriguing anthology, has the chilling title, “Mephisto in the Land of Ice and Snow.” Written by Eileen Lohka who was born in Mauritius and who teaches French and Francophone literature and cultures at the University of Calgary, the story vividly captures the running theme of this anthology: that there is an emotional and sometimes physical consequence for emigrating, for leaving behind the familiar home country.
Canada is a land of opportunity, a multicultural space that welcomes immigrants, though the more financially comfortable life they may build can come with a cost. Kamla, the narrator of the story, arrives in Alberta as an 18-year-old from her native village, after reading a want ad for schoolteachers. She proudly becomes a Canadian citizen and changes her name to Camilla. Eventually, the “frozen prairie” becomes her inner landscape, and she remembers her village nostalgically: “I catch myself dreaming about cascading bougainvilleas, pulpy lychees, sensuous mangoes, turquoise seas and the spicy aroma of the Grand Bazaar we call the Port Louis Market.” She reflects further: “Memories assault me, paralyze me. I wonder why my children seem so bland to me, so much like everybody else. Why they never ask about my childhood.”
This kind of feeling of not being at “home” even with one’s children or relatives seems to be a shared experience with some of the characters in the stories of this anthology. Although the longing to be reunited with parents, grandparents, cousins and the original place of birth overwhelms the characters, it does not defeat them.
Another story that stands out is “Fantastic Falafel” by Veena Gokhale, a writer from Bombay who came to Canada on a Journalism Fellowship in 1990, and eventually settled in Montréal. The main character, Keshav, a retired engineer living in Mississauga with his wife and daughter, bumps into Vaman, an old friend who is also a retired engineer, while having his morning coffee at Tim Horton’s. They renew their friendship, and Keshav is flooded with memories of his childhood in India. Though Keshav is satisfied with his life, he finds that his born-in-Canada daughter, Veena, tires him as she criticizes his old ways. He wonders if she is a product of the Canadian education system that promotes critical thinking. Eventually his old friend Vaman reveals a secret to Kheshav that makes this story touching.
A more spare and haunting story is “Leokadia and Adam” by Ron Romanowski, a writer and poet from Winnipeg. Leokadia’s son is at her deathbed with his father Adam and his sister Basia and brother Wojtek. He reflects on his mother’s life and how she had published a book of poems in college back in Poland, but in Canada, had put aside her dream of being a poet in order to earn a living for her family. She had become the owner of a Winnipeg deli that sold kielbasa and sausage. In her last moments, her son recalls the Polish mystical legend of the snow white mountain goat, the Bialy Baran that appears only to the dying to ease their passage to the other world.
“Nick and Francesco Visit Canada” by F.G. Paci, author of 13 novels, is a humorous story that relates how a retired Canadian teacher with a smattering of Italian from his childhood in Italy, agrees to shepherd two eccentric men from Italy, invited to appear on a CBC game show. How they react to Canada is part of the whimsy of this story.
Other interesting stories are “The Motorcycle” by Licia Canton, previously published in an Italian journal, Rivistalunaspecie; and Michael Mirolla’s quirkily nightmarish tale “Above El Club El Salvador” that appeared in an issue of the literary magazine, Event.
Mucalhy explains in the Introduction that the anthology was also meant to include essays, memoirs and creative non-fiction on the subject of emigration/immigration. However, the abundance of material available made it a necessary to create two volumes: this anthology of fiction and a companion volume of non-fiction, also edited by Donald Mulcahy, Coming Here, Being Here.