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.

 

Homes: A Refugee Story by Abu Bakr al Rabeeah

This is why we need books. How else could we, being privileged to be born in a safe country, possibly know what a person like Abu Bakr has been through.

4/5 stars.
ebook, 136 pages.
Read on February 5, 2019.

For those that know nothing about this book going into it, as I did, I encourage you to keep it that way because by the time I got to the end I was blown away on how this novel came to be. Also, I don’t know about you but as a Canadian, this book fills me with pride knowing that we are continuing to make this kind of impact, especially considering the current political atmosphere. I read this book in one sitting because I was so in awe of Abu Bakr’s story.

canada-reads-2019-chuck-comeau
Chuck Comeau will be defending Homes during the debates on March 25-28, 2019.

This is the first book in the Canada Reads 2019 shortlist that I have read so far. Will it take the cake during the debates? We will find out.

 

Abu Bakr and his family were originally from Iraq but when tensions turned violent over Shias and the Sunnis his father made the decision to move to Syria in hopes of a safer and better life. Abu Bakr is just a boy when he makes this move and initially, he is filled with excitement as it means that he gets to be close to his cousins. However, this safe haven turns into a war zone under president Assad and Abu Bakr’s childhood is robbed from him as he comes into his teenage years knowing the sounds of bullets, the colour of blood and ripped flesh, as well as intense grief and fear as it rips through Syria. Abu Bakr’s father had a plan from the start when they moved to Syria and it was to get on a refugee list with the UN. He was diligent and he called all the time to try and get his family somewhere safer. His diligence eventually pays off but it still comes with a steep emotional fee for Abu Bakr and his family.

Once in Canada Abu Bakr and his family face a new set of trials, starting with learning English since none of them speak a word. Here Abu Bakr gives an honest account of his first-time experiences in Canada and how he learned to connect with others through soccer.

So here is where I think the spoiler is, as I am reading this book I got the impression that Abu Bakr is full grown man discussing his childhood and how he came to live in Canada with his remarkable and tragic story. Then I get to the acknowledgements I come to realize that Abu Bakr is still a high school student and has only been in Canada a few years! With the help of his English teacher, Winnie Yeung, the two of them create this moving story of his journey to Canada.  What an achievement! I mean, what the hell were you doing when you his age? Certainly not learning how to survive in a war-ridden and death-filled country and then learning another language to write a selling novel about the whole ordeal. This is why we need books. How else could we, being privileged to be born in a safe country, possibly know what a person like Abu Bakr has been through. How can we come to appreciate what we have with gratitude? We listen and we read.

For anyone that doesn’t understand the refugee crisis and supports closing borders, I beg you to read a few more books like this one. Stories of immigration and refugees in Canada are becoming more prominent and it’s because it’s becoming a part of who we are and their stories are becoming ours. This book felt extra special to me as Abu Bakr moved to a city that’s three hours away from where I grew up and knowing that he has had a positive experience with Canadians warms my heart. I would highly recommend this light, short, and moving read for any Canadians. I would also extend this book recommendation to any Americans who want to know more about the positive experiences of keeping your borders open.