Finding Gobi by Dion Leonard

“I just decided to try my best to ignore the voices that told me I was a failure.”

3/5 stars.
Paperback, 272 pages.
Read from August 14, 2019 to August 25, 2019.

I adore books about running and racing. I also love true-story books involving animals. This book brought those two worlds together for me. After having this book on my TBR list for a while after a friend’s recommendation, I spotted a paperback copy of this book while I was slightly drunk at an airport. Drink having contributed my book-buying issue, I compulsively purchase this book. However, I did share it with a family member afterwards so it was worth it.

Dion Leonard is an accidental elite runner. He doesn’t run because he likes it but because he wants to challenge himself and be competitive. It all started after he made a bet with his friend that he would beat him in a half marathon, despite having never done one or trained for one. After successfully beating his poor friend (honestly, that would piss me off so much) he decided to keep running and set his sights on some of the most competitive and challenging marathons and ultras in the world. Dion decides that he wants to tackled a 155-mile race through the Gobi desert in China. It’s during this race that he meets a durable, resilient, and tiny dog that follows him for a whole 77-miles of the race. This little dog taught Dion some lessons about running that made his journey more about just trying to finish first. After such a journey, Dion knew that this dog, who he named Gobi, had to come home with him. However, things don’t go to plan and Dion struggles to get Gobi back home with him.

As a runner, I really enjoyed reading about the specifics of Dion’s race, though I’d be lying if wasn’t in envy of his speed in doing a sport he didn’t particularly enjoy that much outside of the competition and winning. Thankfully Gobi managed to teach Dion a thing or two about that. It was interesting what Dion mentioned about Tommy Chen during the race. I feel like we only got a censored or partial part of that story.

Dion had to manage some steep hurdles in getting Gobi home, especially trying to manage the Chinese media which I’m sure had its own unique challenges. I wondered if there were aspects and experiences that Dion wanted to be a bit more honest about but felt he couldn’t in the book in case there was some sort of backlash.

I think Dion is likely a better runner than a writer as there were aspects of this book that felt a bit unnecessary, such as the back story on his family.  This story probably could have been a short novella or a feature-length magazine article instead of a full book and I felt the excitement waivered shortly after the race was finished. The book and the story are slightly self-serving in the way Dion discusses his running and the media hype that came with Gobi, but the story of the two of them is sincere so it was wonderful to know that everything all worked out in the end for them both.

For those that don’t have a large interest in anything running related, the first part of this book might be a bit dull for you but after that, the story revolves fully around trying to get Gobi.  Overall, a nice easy read for any dog-lover or runner.

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.

canada-reads-2019-joe-zee-defends-the-woo-woo
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.