We Have Always Been Here: A Queer 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.


Valmiki’s Daughter by Shani Mootoo

This book was long listed for 2009 Giller Prize and it is easy to see why.

4/5 stars.
ebook, 410 pages.
Read from June 19, 2017 to June 23, 2017.

It’s always nice when a rewards program actually provides you with a reward you actually like! I signed up for the VIP program with Kobo since I figured I buy enough ebooks through out the year that the discount would be worth the small fee I paid to sign up. When you sign up you have the option of selecting a free book from a narrow list that they provide.  I initially browsed the list once and was thoroughly unimpressed with my options as it contained a bunch of shitty romances or self-published novels with little repute.  I left my discount code to rot in my inbox until it nearly expired. For whatever reason, I decided to give the list another look before I let it expire and it was then that I discovered this nice surprise.

Set in Trinidad and Tobago, Valmiki is a doctor and well-respected family man. He has two young daughters whom he loves deeply despite his inability to connect with them on an emotional level. The root of Valmiki’s family problems stems from his deepest secret which, is the inability to admit to himself that he is gay.  A sexuality that is still, unfortunately, seriously frowned upon in his culture. Valmiki is so confused that he actually purposely has affairs outside of his marriage with other women to try and convince and enforce his fragile masculinity. His affairs include ones with men as well but he is deeply afraid of getting too close to them despite yearning to.

Valmiki also fears for his daughter, Viveka, whom he suspects is also being gay. Viveka is an intelligent, highly independent, frustrated young woman. She is tired of being stifled by her family and societal ideas of what she should be. She wants to play volleyball and be free to wear and do what she pleases. Viveka becomes aware of her own sexuality with the arrival of Anick; a French woman who has recently come to regret her recent marriage to a local man, who also happens to be a friend to Valmiki and his family. Will Viveka follow the same torturous lifestyle as her father or will she embrace her identity and disgrace her and her family?

This book was long listed for 2009 Giller Prize and it is easy to see why.  Remarkable, yet ordinary characters in a lovely and descriptive landscape with writing that is rife with commentary on race, gender, class, and sexuality. The relationships between certain characters are stunningly beautiful and easy to get lost and wound up in. The story is highly empathetic, romantic, heartbreaking and frustrating at times, especially, if as a reader you have grown up in a culture that is more liberal with homosexuality.  While the book is a bit of slow starter, once the groundwork has been laid, this is a story that you will fully immerse yourself in and not want to put down.

I would highly recommend this book the anyone in the LGBTQ community and for those that support them.  I would also recommend this book to anyone looking for a great plot in a setting outside of Western culture or for those looking for a surprising story that will stay with you long after the book is closed.