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Fiction Own Voices

Reuniting With Strangers

A Novel

by (author) Jennilee Austria-Bonifacio

Douglas & McIntyre
Initial publish date
Sep 2023
Own Voices, Southeast Asia, 21st Century
  • Paperback / softback

    Publish Date
    Sep 2023
    List Price
  • eBook

    Publish Date
    Sep 2023
    List Price

Classroom Resources

Where to buy it


Inspired by the work of Souvankham Thammavongsa, Catherine Hernandez and Wayson Choy, this unforgettable novel follows the reunification of Filipino caregiver families over one Canadian winter—and the mysterious progress of Monolith, who appears and disappears in their lives.

When five-year-old Monolith is taken from the Philippines to live with his mother in Canada, he immediately lashes out. Unable or unwilling to speak, he attacks her and destroys his new home.

Everyone wants to know why—and everyone has a theory. But unlike the solid certainty his name suggests, the answer isn’t so simple.

From a cliffside town in the Tagaytay highlands of the Philippines, to the Filipino communities in the desert of Osoyoos, the Arctic world of Iqaluit, the suburbs of southern Ontario, Sarnia's Chemical Valley, Montréal’s Côte-des-Neiges, and Toronto’s Little Manila, Austria-Bonifacio takes readers into the kaleidoscope of the Filipino diaspora, uncovering the displacement, estrangement, resilience and healing that happen behind closed doors.

As each chapter unfolds, truths are revealed in humorous, joyful, devastating and surprising ways: through an incisive caregiver's instruction manual, a custody battle over texts and e-mails, a disarmingly direct self-help guide, a series of desperate résumés, a kundiman songbook, and more.

Monolith appears again and again, as a misbehaving boy in a store, the subject of town gossip, a face in a fundraising campaign, a client in questionable care, a dying man’s beacon of hope—and an unlikely new friend.

Compellingly readable, incisive and resonant, Jennilee Austria-Bonifacio’s stunning debut opens a window into the homes and hearts of the Filipino-Canadian community.

About the author

Jennilee Austria-Bonifacio is a community worker, public speaker, tour guide in Toronto's Little Manila, and founder of Filipino Talks-- an initiative that builds bridges between Canadian educators and Filipino families. Her debut novel, Reuniting With Strangers (Douglas & McIntyre), was one of CBC's Best Books of 2023 and was a finalist for the Jim Wong-Chu Emerging Writers Award. After completing her Masters in Immigration and Settlement Studies, she studied at the Humber School for Writers and the Banff Centre for Arts and Creativity. Born and raised in Sarnia, Ontario, she is a founding member of Pluma-- a collective of Toronto-based Filipino writers.

Jennilee Austria-Bonifacio's profile page


  • Long-listed, Canada Reads

Editorial Reviews

“A polyphonic chorus focusing on the lives of reunified Filipinx families—this collective of interlacing stories sings in a minor-major key of sorrow and joy, hurt and hope. Austria has invented a dazzling form of literary kundiman where all forms of love are present and invited. The result is a truly moving exploration of the psychic costs of separation, buoyed by a giant courageous heart.”

Kyo Maclear, author of <i>Unearthing</i>

“Austria-Bonifacio invites the reader into the fractured and chaotic worlds of Filipino-Canadian families attempting to reassemble after years apart. [...] It is a poignant exploration of cultural loss. Reuniting With Strangers is an absorbing portrait of not only multiple generations of the Filipino-Canadian community, but of the simultaneity of grief and joy when building a life in a new country.”

<i>Quill & Quire</i>

“‘Why do we call it “the motherland” when it isn’t where our mothers are?’ With these words, Jennilee Austria-Bonifacio begins her extraordinary novel, inviting readers out onto the bridge that so many Filipino families navigate every day, for years, for decades, a crossing-over place of longing, confusion, anger, and complicated love. Here’s the real deal, a novel that opens up the world in a new way. Be prepared for goosebumps, tears and laughter. People everywhere, and in Canada, too, have benefited from the love, labour and often blatant exploitation of Filipino women (and men) working abroad, separated from their own beloved families. This book is a double testament—to the heartbreaking human cost of such a system and to the tenacity, humour and strength of the people who survive it.”

Karen Connelly, author of <i>The Change Room</i> and <i>The Lizard Cage</i>

“Reuniting with Strangers expertly explores the pain of migration and the bottomless hope of family. Sacrifice threads through the community—A good parent is a good provider, and a good provider is one who leaves. But when a child is abandoned over and over again, his screams are ‘…the only sound the heart wants to make.’ This is the truth Austria-Bonifacio tells in language that is alive, contemporary, vivid. Read this book. You will see the world with fresh compassion.”

Kim Echlin, author of <i>Speak, Silence</i>

“What’s the price of separation? How do we reconnect with the identity and culture we first knew? How much does it take to unify families? Reuniting With Strangers might just be the newest love letter to the Filipino-Canadian community.”


“These are stories that love you, leave you, and come back to you. These stories return jagged, complicated by their departure, and grown in your absence. Austria-Bonifacio documents the Filipino Canadian diaspora with the eyes of a camcorder and the heart of a Filipino surviving outside of the Philippines—holding everything. Here, there is the heat of home and the wrath of winter sticking to your skin and sincerely asking, ‘How have you been made a stranger in your own life?’”

Janice Lobo Sapigao, writer, educator and Poet Laureate Fellow with the Academy of American Poets

“In these astonishing stories from the perspectives of migrant caregivers, Austria forces us to witness the emotional truths of those in servitude, and desperate to get a leg in the door.”

Catherine Hernandez, award-winning author and screenwriter of <i>Scarborough</i> the book and film

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