Open Book Toronto “Overlooked Book List”

Thanks to all of you who nominated Stealing Nasreen for the Open Book “Overlooked Book List”! Thanks to you, Stealing Nasreen made it on the list! Go to www.openbooktoronto.com to see the full list. Perhaps you’ll find some great 2008 reading suggestions there.

Solstice

I spent yesterday afternoon skating at Harbourfront with my sister and nephew. It was my first time on a rink this year. I tottered onto the ice, my body having forgotten what to do at first (why does that happen every single year?) and then, after a few minutes, I was almost gliding with the crowd, not falling, or bumping into anyone else. An hour into it, with James Brown on the sound system, my skating legs were almost completely back as my body relaxed and I moved with the music. What fun!

The day before, I was out in Bolton, cross-country skiing with a friend. The conditions were perfect: packed powder, zero degrees, groomed trails with only a few other rosy-cheeked people out.

I’m being intentional about getting out and enjoying the season (the only way for me not to be miserable during the cold months). I actually appreciated the cool weather the past couple of days, admiring the ice and snow, playing in it rather than avoiding or simply trudging through it.  A great way to celebrate the change of seasons.

holiday thoughts

After today, I will be on vacation for 10 days. It comes at a very good time. The past summer and fall have been busy and exciting for Stealing Nasreen and for the slowly developing new novel (page count 204 today!). I look forward to a break filled with friends, food, and self-care.

I don’t celebrate Christmas. My family are mostly assimilated (to some degree) Muslims who do like celebrating Christmas, but I’ve never really gone in for the consumer driven nature of it.  In my most Grinchiest moments I think that most people (with the exception of people who really do celebrate the Christian holiday that comes at this time of year) should be wishing one another “Happy Shopping” rather “Merry Christmas”.

Did you hear about the news reports of children receiving nasty Canada Post letters from the “North Pole”? Although I don’t think anyone should receive abusive letters (especially kids), what was with all the righteous indignation that parents expressed about Christmas being ruined for their children? They’re the ones lying to their wee ones about a fictitious bearded man who flies around and delivers gifts based on a merit system (and we all know that Santa really delivers based on a class-based system). 

What I do love about this time of year is that people seem a little happier. In general, people seem to look forward to a celebration, a few days off. There is a sweet generosity in the air (except if you are in the malls). This week, I ate marvelous cookies baked and gifted to me by my lovely neighbours and friends. I have plans to go skiing, to movies and out for dinner with loved ones. All good stuff.

So whatever you celebrate (or don’t), be it Hanukkah, Kwanza, Eid, Christmas, Shopping, Solstice or Festivus, have a great time!

festivus video

For Aqsa

I was very saddened at the news about Aqsa Parvez. I thought about how very vulnerable 16 year old girls can be, especially when they resist their parents, when they try to run away from fathers who frighten them.

You may have noticed that I haven’t mentioned words like “culture clash” yet. Instead I want to speak of power and control, and abuse and violence against women and children. Because that is what this is really about.

Children and parents clash all the time about all sorts of issues. Most negotiate, get frustrated even, some yell. And then some choose control, abuse and violence. Culture clashes don’t cause deaths. Abuse and violence do.

The media has been using terms like “traditional” vs “modern” to describe Aqsa’s choices. But this dichotomy is a false one. Perhaps a better description would be “non-dominant” vs. “dominant” choices for this culture. Is a hijab really “traditional” and an uncovered head “modern”? By whose standards?

The hijab has turned out to be this society’s embodiment of fear of difference. Not so long ago it was the Sikh turban.

I do believe that girls (and boys) should be able to make informed choices about what they wear, what they believe, and which religious practices to follow. Especially teens, who are in the process of finding their own places within their families and their societies.

May Aqsa rest in peace. May abuse finally end. May fathers stop murdering their girls.

The Census and 49.9% of Torontonians

Today’s Toronto Star  front page feature on “The Rainbow City”, its report on this year’s census data, was of huge interest to me. It’s pretty amazing that just under half of our city’s population was born outside of Canada. 

 Of course, this is something most of us experience every day. Each time we walk along a downtown (or suburban) street, or enter a classroom, crowded streetcar, or shopping mall, we know this reality. I personally love that I am no longer part a “visible minority” (who knew that in Toronto, people of colour would become the majority?).  

We celebrate this diversity, and we should. Toronto is an incredibly wonderful and interesting place. And yet, there is another side to this complicated story. We often forget about the realities that new immigrants and people of colour face: underemployment, racism, not having qualifications and expertise valued, to name a few. 

I was captivated by the story and photo on the Star’s page A6. There is the Ayyoub family from Jordan, sitting beside a decorated Christmas tree. Nisreen is a former high school teacher, and her husband Majdi, commutes three hours a day to “recertify” so that he may work as a pharmacist. They live in Brampton because they couldn’t find affordable housing in Toronto. Nisreen is optimistic, saying “All immigrants find it difficult at first, but life will get better.” 

Their situation doesn’t sound so different from the fictional Paperwala family in Stealing Nasreen. It was this reality that inspired the novel. As I became increasingly aware of the surgeon taxi drivers and engineer janitors and teacher food service workers all around me, Shaffiq and Salma Paperwala formed in my mind and I strove to depict, though fiction, what it might be like to be part of that 49.9 percent of Torontonians who have changed the face of this city. 

 I often wonder what it will take for things to be different here. Will the point system become fairer? Will queer refugees one day stop having to prove they are queer? Will accreditation bodies quit faulty and racist perceptions and recognize skilled workers?  

This is our Toronto, the most multiracial city on the planet. I wish the Ayyoubs much luck.       

Ottawa Reading and the Open Book “Overlooked Books” list

I was in Ottawa yesterday for a lovely reading at the Collected Works Bookstore. What a great audience! I was asked some really interesting questions that made me think more about my writing process. For example, one woman asked me what it was like to edit out pieces I worried would not be well received, which made me reflect more on the impact of audience on my writing. Another person asked how becoming a novelist had changed my relationship with my friends (writers are known for being conversation “magpies”). Someone else wondered about the ways in which characters take time and space in a writer’s head.

Sometimes the very best part about readings is the Q & A…

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Would you like to nominate Stealing Nasreen for the Open Book “Overlooked Book” list? Below is some info:

What Canadian book do you think deserves more attention? Maybe you feel the book is an undiscovered gem. Maybe you think the book should have more readers or more media attention or more award nominations, or all of the above. Here is your chance to shine a little light on it — and to enter to win a $100 gift certificate for Pages Books & Magazines. Submit the title of your favourite overlooked book to Open Book’s Facebook discussion board or send an email to info@openbooktoronto.com with the subject line “Overlooked Book.” The winner will be selected in a draw on December 21st and Open Book will compile an Overlooked Reading List from your entries and post it on our site.