The Woo-Woo by Lindsay Wong

This is a trainwreck of an upbringing that you can’t help but sympathize with, as you berate yourself for laughing at the strangeness of it all.

4/5 stars.
ebook, 304 pages.
Read from March 3, 2019 to March 9, 2019.

Lindsay Wong describes the Woo-Woo as a Chinese superstition that ghosts are the cause of bad things in your life, which unfortunately for her and mental-health-ridden family, meant an array of irrational behaviour followed by never seeking treatment. This book is in the Canada Reads 2019 shortlist after a few near misses in previous years so no doubt this book will be a fan favourite for the debates.

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Joe Zee defending The Woo-Woo by Lindsay Wong during the debates taking place on March 25-28, 2019.

Lindsay and her siblings are first generation Chinese-Canadians. Her family came over from Hong Kong and settled in Vancouver which has a large Chinese population giving the city the appropriate nickname of Hongcouver. She lives in an upper-middle-class neighbourhood with her mother father, brother and sister, and for a short time her grandmother. Lindsay basis of daily dealings with her family and her life included things like swearing, name-calling, bribes with money, escaping life decisions and people with makeshift camping trips, and smothering bad feelings and “ghosts” with junk-food. Shouting matches, arguments, grudges and personal hang-ups are what Lindsay thought being a family was all about.

Despite her family having a comfortable income Lindsay wore old, dated clothes and showered once a week. Lindsay lacked the social skills to make friends but her aggression made her an excellent hockey player, an endeavour her father bribed her into to achieve some sort of Canadian-dream status.  Her father insisted that she was extremely stupid and fat as some messed up means of motivating her to achieve more along with a sick sense of dark humour. While her mother fell prey to the mental illness that plagued her own mother resulting in her being obsessed with ghosts and trying to protect her family from them. Her protection came in the form of insisting that her family never show any emotion as to not invite the ghosts in, terrorizing midnight wakings, lighting Lindsay’s feet and bedding on fire, day-long walks in shopping malls, and more.

Lindsay grew up in fear the Woo-Woo as she saw it slowly wreck her grandmother, her mother and eventually even her Aunt, whom she thought was safe. Without the means to empathize and deal with normal human situations in a healthy manner, Lindsay was in constant worry about her own mental state. Despite all this Lindsay managed to get into a university far from home where she was relieved to finally escape her family, only to find that the Woo-Woo seemed to have followed her there.

Even with these enormous hurdles to overcome, Lindsay seems to have found peace and understanding with her upbringing. Despite the dark and sometimes traumatizing events that Lindsay endured she approaches her story with a stoic and entertaining sense of dark humour. This is a trainwreck of an upbringing that you can’t help but sympathize with, as you berate yourself for laughing at the strangeness of it all. It brings awareness to the stigmas around mental illness and the barriers we still have to overcome, especially culturally, which healthcare systems could benefit from learning more about.

If you live in Vancouver, I would absolutely say this is a must-read. This is also a relevant book for those looking from some reprieve from their own families and mental health struggles.

The most moving part of this story comes from Lindsay finding the courage to write such an intimate memoir about her family, especially since she is writing from a standpoint of success in battling her inner Woo-Woo and family troubles. It’s a testament to the power of healing yourself and finding faith in yourself against the odds.

 

 

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.

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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.

Into Thin Air by Jon Krakauer

“It was titillating to brush up against the enigma of mortality, to steal a glimpse across its forbidden frontier. Climbing was a magnificent activity, I firmly believed, not in spite of the inherent perils, but precisely because of them.”

4/5 stars.
ebook, 368 pages.
Read from June 29, 2018 to July 4, 2018.

Is weird that this novel made me interested in trying climbing? I suppose as an endurance runner there is a weird thrill that comes with the ultimate challenge and fighting through pain and exhaustion. It sounds crazy for many people but it is a rare exhilaration and achievement that can’t be replicated.

I knew little about the 1996 disaster on Everest as I was a child when it happened but this book does its best at giving an honest account of the event. No one will really know with exact precision what happened that day but Krakauer is effective with his research and recollection and in being as genuine as possible, making it easy for the reader to believe his version of events.

In May of 1996 a group of strangers set out to climb Mount Everest on a guided expedition, Krakauer among them with the intention of writing an article he was commissioned to do for Outside magazine on the commercialization of climbing Everest. During this time, climbing Everest had started to become a popular accomplishment for people who had money. With a great guide, the premise was that anyone could climb Everest which demeaned the accomplishment for many seasoned climbers.

“Getting to the top of any given mountain was considered much less important than how one got there: prestige was earned by tackling the most unforgiving routes with minimal equipment, in the boldest style imaginable.”

After a gruelling few days of acclimatization to high-altitudes, a few groups set out for the summit but a storm was brewing and it resulted in some groups having to make the ascent back through the brutal storm. Not everyone makes it back alive. Eight people died in that blizzard which contributed the deadliest seasons Everest had ever seen prior the avalanche in 2014.

Functioning at high altitudes with limited oxygen does hard things to a person. Your brain does not function as well and your body is only fueling what it has to in order to survive. If you ever wondered why your guts struggle after being on an airplane for an extended amount of time, just imagine what it’s like trying to scale Everest at those same altitudes.  Add in intense physical exhaustion and cold, along with impaired brain function, it’s a wonder that people make it back at all from these types of excursions. Some people have better genes, like the Sherpas, that are more capable of functioning at higher altitudes but most never know how they will handle this type of extreme situation. Especially when it comes to life or death.

Krakauer has a fuzzy memory about the last time he saw one of his teammates on the descent from Everest as it ended up being the last time he was seen alive. It is a memory that continues to haunt Krakauer as he has tried to clarify and make sense of those final moments for himself and for the family members of his lost teammate. The version of this book includes an additional commentary on a book that was released to counter Krakauer’s. Anatoli Boukreev, a guide on the expedition, found fault with how Krakauer portrayed him and certain events so he published his own book titled, The Climb: Tragic Ambitions on Everest.  A feud between the two men continued until Boukreev’s untimely death on another climbing expedition in which Krakauer gracefully and respectfully comments on as well.

Krakauer is a talented and humble writer. I cannot imagine the pain of living through such a traumatic ordeal and being able to write about with such grace.  His story is gripping and reels you into the niche world of climbing. Krakauer makes you feel like you are right there on Everest with him as he battles to keep his mind, emotions and body in check. Krakauer was criticized for a variety of things following the aftermath of the event and somehow managed to keep his cool. This book offers an extremely unique perspective not found in many other narratives, especially for a non-fiction, so I would highly recommend this book to fellow-thrill seekers, athletes or just those looking for an adventurous and inciteful read.