A Chorus of Mushrooms by Hiromi Goto

“I mutter and mutter and no one to listen. I speak my words in Japanese and my daughter will not hear them. The words that come from our ears, our mouths, they collide in the space between us.”

4/5 stars.
Paperback, 268 pages.
Read from December 9, 2019 to December 12, 2019.

A Chorus of Mushrooms is what I would describe as “my kind of book”. It’s the type of book that details lives and scenarios that I know nothing about, with poetic, imaginative, and dream-like writing, and with words that are in partial or full in translation. There must be something about this ‘poetical otherness’ that I’m completely obsessed with. Another draw for me in this book is that the town the majority of the book is set in, Nanton, is a town I visited as a kid over many summers. The book also spends time in Calgary, a city I lived in for many years.

A Chorus of Mushrooms details the lives of three different generations of Japanese-Canadians on the matriarchal side and was first published in 1993. The family lives on a mushroom farm in Nanton, Alberta, Canada. The grandmother, Naoe, is very old and requires the care of her daughter, Keiko, and granddaughter, Muriel or Murasaki, as Naoe calls her. The first person narrative switches between Naoe and Murasaki and drifts between different points of time. Naoe knows English but refuses to speak it as her Keiko has abandoned her heritage and culture in order to try and assimilate into their home in Canada. Naoe may no longer be close to Keiko but they still care for each other in their own way.  Naoe had a very different life in Japan and thing have not always been easy for her and she is frustrated because she feels she has no one to communicate with that deeply understands her. Despite her age, Naoe decides one day to leave her home in Nanton and in the middle of winter. From there, the story takes a different turn with Naoe making the reader wonder what’s real or the wishful imaginings of the author. Murasaki was always extremely fond of her grandmother and recounts her childhood and all the Japanese myths her grandmother used to tell her. After Naoe leaves, Murasaki attempts to fill the emptiness of her grandmother’s presence as well as a piece of her identity that has been kept from her by Keiko by attempting to reconnect with her heritage.

This beautiful book won numerous awards when it was first published and it’s easy to see why. The book will always continue to relevant as it speaks to anyone looking for their own identities or to anyone who has ever had to establish themselves in another country. Further, A Chorus of Mushrooms is partially autobiographical as Hiromi Goto moved to a mushroom farm in Nanton when she was a toddler and her grandmother used to tell her stories growing up too which I’m sure contributed to the intimate and personal feel of this story. The story itself is simple, elegant, and delicately told with sentences of untranslated Japanese, along with being fiercely feminine and sexually empowering.

I loved this book. Really loved it, as I read most of it in one sitting. It’s the kind of book that feels like a comfortable blanket that I’d want to crawl back into again. I would highly recommend this book to literary-fiction lovers, Murakami-lovers, or for those who are looking for something a little different but not too challenging that will still keep you engaged and captivated.

Son of a Trickster by Eden Robinson

“The world is hard,” his mom had said. “You need to be harder.”

4/5 stars.
ebook,  249 pages.
Read from February 1, 2020 to February 11, 2020

This is book number two of the five for me  in the Canada Reads 2020 contenders.  I best get reading a bit faster if I want to have all five read before the debates in March! I have always wanted to read Eden Robinson, in fact, I’m pretty sure one of her books was part on my required reading list in one of my university classes back in the day and I still didn’t get around to reading her (oops)! At least I’m making up for it now. 

Kaniehtiio Horn will be defending Son of a Trickster in the debates this March. I adore Kaniehtiio Horn so it will be interesting to see how she does in the debates.

Kaniehtiio Horn

Son of a Trickster starts off in a seemingly normal, albeit tragic and raw, fashion as it details the coming of age of a young First Nation teen named Jared. Despite his fraught and complicated family life he does try his best to do the right thing and has a genuinely good heart and tends to get by with his sarcasm and fantastic pot cookies when shit hits the fan. This part of the story really depicts some of the First Nation’s experiences and traumas while also drawing you into a gripping story. There is also a whimsical and magical aspect to this book that is briefly mentioned in the first chapter that you almost forget about until the last quarter of the book.

When Jared was just a boy, his family move away from his one grandmother because she believes him to be the son of a trickster, a wee’git. Jared thinks little of the incident as he grows older and it’s never brought up again, even after his parent’s separation. However, as Jared’s family life starts to unravel he also begins to see things, things that presumably shouldn’t be there. At first, he starts to brush them off as bad trips and vows to come off hallucinogens but they continue to happen. His mom and nana finally reveal a secret to him that they’ve kept and despite their differences, they might be his only hope in protection as these ‘hallucinations’ become more physical and severe.

I loved the first 75% of this book. Jared’s character is immensely funny, gentle, and resilient, however, when the trickster aspects of the book started to take shape the story started to feel a bit disjointed to me. However, having said that, there are some beautiful and poetic sections of writing that Robinson includes in the opening of some the chapters and during some of Jared’s visions.

“Close your eyes. Concentrate on your breath. Remember that you were not always earthbound. Every living creature, every drop of water and every sombre mountain is the by-blow of some bloated, dying star. Deep down, we remember wriggling through the universe as beams of light.”

‘Son of Trickster’ – Eden Robinson

Apparently, this book was meant to be the first in series, which, I could see panning out quite nicely, especially since the magical sections of the book felt like they should have been expanded on more. What I loved about this book was the First Nations experience that it so gracefully touched upon. I felt for Jared and wanted better things for him and his family and was bothered and intrigued by the circumstances that he had to face. The character work on both Jared, his mom, as well as Sarah is amazing as Robinson managed to highlight their traumas without drowning you in it.

Is this the one book to bring Canada into focus? It definitely sheds light on the First Nations experience in the same way that We Have Always Been Here highlights the queer Muslim experience in Canada. Both prominent and important issues but which one will come out on top in the debates? Especially when there are three other books to contend with. Guess we’ll have to wait and see!

We Have Always Been Here: A Queen Muslim Memoir by Samra Habib

Grown-ups, who are supposed to protect their children, are limited by what “best” has felt like to them, based on the circumstances they grew in and the privilege they did or did not have. The lines between grown-up and child were often blurred between me and my mom. Her “best” did not look like mine; in fact, it looked like danger. It felt like surrender.

4/5 stars.
ebook, 190 pages.
Read from January 29, 2020 to February 1, 2020.

Whoop whoop! First book into the Canada Reads 2020 and its started out with a bang. This year Canada Reads brings one collection of novellas, two memoirs, and two pieces of fiction. I started with We Have Always Been Here which is one of the two memoirs heading into the debates. We Have Always Been Here will be defended by Amanda Brugel during the debates taking place from March 16-19th.

Samra spent her childhood years growing up in Pakistan in fear of religious persecution as well as the threat of a highly patriarchal society that stifled her and her family. After being sexually assaulted by a family friend her life became even more restricted. From a young age Samra had a fire in her that couldn’t be put out no matter what was thrown at her. When violence started to escalate her family was thankfully able to pack up and flee to Canada to safety. Samra and her family found themselves in a new home where they were not as affluent as they were in Pakistan. Samra struggled as a new immigrant at school and even more so with her identity as she struggled between her conservative family values and a country with a new way of life that she found immensely appealing. Samra is married and divorced, twice, before the age of 25 and goes on an exploratory journey with her own sexuality as she realises her own queerness. Still, Samra is drawn to her religion and needs to find a new way to connect with her church and her family as she blooms into her true self.

How do you find yourself when the world tells you that you don’t exist?

Samra Habib

Samra is now an advocate for the queer Muslim community with her writing and photography to help highlight and bring light to queer Muslims who have been in her situation. Samra’s writing is frank and engaging as she details the story of her life without asking for sympathy. Her journey is an empowering one and one that I didn’t want to put down. Samra embraces her queerness, femininity, and religion with grace and strength and I thoroughly enjoyed reading her memoir.

Is this the one book to bring Canada into focus? While this is an immensely important topic we will have to wait and see what the other books bring to the table to the debates.