This is daydreaming and not really a book review, but I’m now reading Helen Oyeyemi and scanning Naomi Klein’s latest tome now and I just listened to a podcast interview of the Peruvian-born novelist, Daniel Alarcon, in which there was considerable discussion of the violence and corruption in Peru between the early 1980’s and early 1990’s (Shining Path and repressive regimes being the major killers). His parents are physicians who sought opportunity in the US early on before the “troubles.” Alarcon writes (in English) figuratively about Peru – and the US also comes under the umbrella of his allegory.
Back to the books:
First: The Opposite House by Helen Oyeyemi. With interruptions. It has been slow to get into. It is a library borrowing that has evidence of more than one spill of brownish liquid. Notes are helpful because I do not retain character names and details easily. Never have, but it gets worse as I approach my 70th birthday. It is about two related characters:
1. A young woman living in London named Maja whose father, a university prof, left Cuba under Fidel Castro, having apparently (it’s complex, and I’m not finished) become tired of the thought police looking over his shoulder. Her mother, a Santero born also in Cuba with a long ancestral lineage from Nigeria’s Yoruba-centred Santeria religion, frustrates her husband with her altar and devotions that he considers superstitious. Maja likes to sing and her observations are becoming quite wonderful.
2. The second character is a Yoruban goddess, Yemaya (Aya) who lives in a magical “Opposite House” that has one door in Lagos and one in London. I’m currently two thirds through this book and loving it. I can understand the stained pages – evidence of a book that cannot be put down even while eating… or a cookbook… in both cases loved. Maybe I will seek out similarly abused books deliberately in the future. I’m reminded of a fabulous song that made #1 in 1944 called You Always Hurt The One You Love by the Mills Brothers.
Second: This Changes Everything by Naomi Klein. This 2014 book I’ve just begun. I’m familiar with many issues in it, so I’m just scanning quickly and highlighting names and key words here and there. Klein’s conscientious footnotes cover almost 60 pages. A great reference for any activist. The overwhelming message of this book is that a quick and complete departure from the current corporation-dominated political system is needed to mitigate the disastrous, violent future we face if we don’t stop raping Mother Earth. Only the grassroots can bring about the urgent change needed. The time to tweak the system was in the 1990’s. No longer an option. This is familiar territory for Klein, as her readers will appreciate. She confesses to not recognizing the seriousness of the the situation herself until 2009. It’s taken her 5 years to produce this book. In her interview with Michael Enright on CBC’s The Sunday Edition (see my “hopeful” post on this here) she talked about feeling helpless for the first while. I recommend having this song by Bob Marley on replay in your ear buds while reading Klein.
Anyway, this striking line in Oyeyemi’s book really got me reflecting. Maja is thinking about her father’s rejection of Cuba:
What can it mean, not to be in love with your country? That you belong above the earth, or under it.
It reminded me of my considerable concern for my country, Canada and my birthplace, Montréal, Québec. Naively perhaps, I was in love with my country the way it was in 1967. Pierre Elliott Trudeau was our dashing PM.
Trudeau was the last Prime Minister of Canada who acted like the economy was a tool to serve Canadians – not a god to be worshiped by grateful worker-serfs.
Canada and the world paid attention to PET. Canada was respected then because of our history as a peace-loving, peace-keeping, global citizen. Only the poorly informed would respect Harper’s Canada in the same way now. Canadians, now global-warmers and sabre-rattlers par excellence, need to wake up to the threats about which Naomi Klein – stridently, but accurately and in desperation – keeps calling to our attention.
Québec almost separated from Canada in 1995. Still against separation, I nevertheless look upon the possibility of my province’s future separation in a subtler way now. If Canada continues to go in its present “free” market, anti-environment direction, I could see myself possibly returning to a separate Québec, if it were not just another colony of Monsanto, Bayer, Lockheed, Vale and Goldman-Sachs.
Les Québecois, not without corruption and a smattering of racism/xenophobia, mind you, nevertheless are politically astute because of their history as a conquered people. Middle-class Ontarians, not realizing that we’re an increasingly endangered species, are content with the material status quo. Reluctant to offend and fairly complacent, we talk mainly about sports and weather.
Borders are an imperfect way of organizing the planet. They are arbitrary, oppressive and downright dumb in some respects. They are used to exploit. They are used to dominate and kill. They are used to engender the hatred and fear needed to bamboozle the voters in so-called democracies. They can, at their very rare best, be used to defend.
And this last point is huge:
On Borders: Borders are ignored and rendered meaningless not by a benign world organization founded on fairness, sharing and common interest in the welfare of the planet. Borders are bypassed by free trade agreements that permit the wealthiest people on the planet, via their immortal tool, the “corporate person”, to amass more and more wealth while displacing more and more of the planet’s poorest citizens.
If one more border is eventually drawn across my Canada I will, if I live that long, have a tough choice to make – and, likely, for a short while.
For now my choice is how (and whether???) to make the hard, quixotic choices – how/whether to live like I really care about our next seven generations. I imagine that’s Naomi’s choice, too. I must jump ahead to see what her plans are…