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The Richness and Challenge of a Hyphenated Existence

I’ve been a migrant for as long as I can remember.

All my life, I have grappled with the notions of borders, boundaries and belonging. I left my country of birth Bangladesh at the age of one and moved to Saudi Arabia, where I spent twelve years of my life. Thereafter, my family and I immigrated to Canada. As a Bangladeshi Canadian Muslim woman, the search for home is an integral part of my existence. For this reason, I’ve not only been interested in writing stories about the immigrant experience, but also reading them.

Books that portray the richness and challenges of a hyphenated existence, that explore the questions of identity and belonging have always fascinated me and comforted me. Through them, I have felt less alone.

Here are seven books by Canadian authors that I have personally enjoyed and have been moved by.

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Book Cover Jasmine

Jasmine, by Bharati Mukherjee

I remember reading Jasmine in high school for a book project. I had picked it up at the library and was instantly engrossed by the story and Mukherjee’s elegant prose. Jasmine is the story of an India …

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Journeys to Exile

Little Fortress is Laisha Rosnau's long-awaited second novel, following on acclaimed and award-winning poetry collections. In Little Fortress, Rosnau bases her fiction on real-life figures, Italian nobility escaping fascism in the 1930s and finding exile in Vernon, BC. With this recommended reading list, she suggests books that have informed and/or are akin to her own work. 

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Book Cover Caetani

Recapitulation: A Journey, by Sveva Caetani, edited by Heidi Thompson, Angela Gibbs Peart, and Dennis Butler

This is a beautiful, hardcover coffee table-sized book with gorgeous full-colour reproductions of Sveva Caetani’s 56 large, luminous watercolour paintings—“Recapitulation”—the series in which she portrayed her own life’s geographical, artistic, and spiritual journey. Based loosely on Dante’s Divine Comedy, the paintings are completely unique and utterly arresting. As well as reproductions of the paintings, the book contains original poetry of Caetani’s, notes and translations, and a short biography. Recapitulation is the way I was introduced to the stran …

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We All Come From Somewhere: On Canadian Immigrant Women's Stories

This month our focus is on books about global experiences, and the new anthology, Wherever I Find Myself: Stories by Canadian Immigrant Women, fits the bill perfectly. Editor Miriam Matejova has put together a diverse collection of stories that form a mosaic of emotions and worldviews that underline the immigrant condition for women. In this excerpt, from the book's introduction, she tells the story of her own coming to Canada, and explains where the impulse to create the anthology came from. 

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As I sit down to write an introduction to this anthology, immigrants from selected countries are being denied entry into the United States. Anti-immigrant attitudes are on the rise in Europe. In the Western world, the far right is clashing with the far left, with immigrants often caught in the middle. Hateful rhetoric and acts of vandalism are aimed at people who are perceived as outsiders, as not belonging, as threatening.

I am an immigrant. I came from Slovakia as an eighteen-year old, wishing to study at a Canadian university. Back then I was an outsider. I did not belong. But far from threatening, I was lonely, clueless and utterly terrified.

At first I lived with my estranged father, a man whom I knew mostly from flashes of childhood memories and stories my grandmoth …

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Paul Yee: Canada's Lacklustre Response to the Chinese Refugee Crisis

Saltwater City

In Talking History, Canada's foremost historians and history experts show that Canada's history is essential to our understanding of our country and the world today. The series is made possible through a special funding grant from the Department of Canadian Heritage.

Paul Yee was born in Saskatchewan, grew up in Vancouver and moved to Toronto in 1988. He has written about Chinese Canadians, in fiction and non-fiction, for young readers as well as for adults. His first novel for adults, A Superior Man, was recently published by Arsenal Pulp Press.

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Real people                

In 1950, my mother fled China to Hong Kong, fearful of the new Communist regime. She was married to an overseas Chinese, so she would have been labelled a landlord and tortured for crimes against the peasantry.

But she didn’t come to Canada as a refugee. In the view of the United Nations, she failed to qualify as a refugee; the UN did not consider her unable or unwilling to return home and receive state protection. Refugees from China, it was argued, also belonged to the Republic of China (Taiwan), so they could go there. But Taiwan, in the throes of post-war re-building, could only offer limited help.

My mother reached Canada only after this country had repealed its law banning Chinese immi …

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Esi Edugyan on Dreaming of Elsewhere

Writing about belonging is not a simple task. In her new book, Dreaming of Elsewhere: Observations on Home, Esi Edugyan chooses to intertwine fact and fiction, objective and subjective in an effort to find out if one can belong to more than one place, if home is just a place or if it can be an idea, a person, a memory, or a dream. How “home” changes, how it changes us, and how every farewell carries the promise of a return. Readers of Canadian literature, armchair travellers, and all citizens of the global village will enjoy her explorations and reflections, as we follow her from Ghana to Germany, from Toronto to Budapest, from Paris to New York.

We are pleased to grant you a sneak preview of this new book by the winner of the 2011 Scotiabank Giller Prize.

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Book Cover Dreaming of Elsewhere

"Not-belonging is so often rooted in difference that we forget, sometimes, that it can be rooted in similarities as well. I remember being in a large plaza of shops in Accra before our journey north to Kumasi. In the dusty, unpaved lot I saw, against the far stalls, two tall pale figures. They were blonde. Sewn into their backpacks were two tiny red maple leaves.“Look,” I said to my brother, and pointed.

After just three days in Ghana, a glimpse of white skin—so much a part of my home landscape, a p …

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Kobzar Literary Award Emphasizes Canadian/Ukrainian Connections

With the terrible and tragic events unfolding in Ukraine at the moment, it seems particularly timely to consider the ties between our two countries, which are commemorated every two years with the Kobzar Literary Award. The $25,000 award recognizes outstanding contributions to Canadian literary arts by authors who develop a Ukrainian Canadian theme with literary merit in one of several genres: literary non-fiction, fiction, poetry, young readers' literature, plays, screenplays and musicals. The prize is awarded by The Canadian Ukrainian Foundation of Taras Shevchenko, which is a national, chartered philanthropic institution that provides leadership by developing permanent endowment funds for the promotion of Ukrainian Canadian cultural heritage in Canada’s diverse landscape.

The 2014 Kobzar Literary Award nominees are:

Luba, Simply Luba by Diane Flacks with Andrew Tarasiuk and Luba Goy

Luba Goy, an original member of Canada’s popular comedy troupe, Royal Canadian Air Farce, is one of this country’s most beloved comedic actors. In Luba, Simply Luba, we are invited into her colourful and astonishing life. From her Ukrainian childhood to high honours at Rideau Hall, Luba Goy’s journey has been filled with both comedy and tragedy. This one-woman show features gl …

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