by Annie Clarkson
Barnacle Love is a collection of inter-linked stories
relationships, the immigrant experience and the small but devastating
events that can affect our lives.
It is split into two parts. Terra
Nova is a collection of five stories focusing on Manuel
a boy who leaves home to become a fisherman and follow his dream to
settle in Canada. They follow his journey from the small island of São
Miguel in the Azores to Canada, and back again for his mother’s
funeral. They explore the hopes and fears of one man, his family and
the Portuguese immigrant community.
God and Cod is a beautiful story
of Manuel leaving home as a boy, and living on a ship with other
dorymen, traditional fishermen. There is such a vivid sense of place,
and Anthony De Sa captures the difficult lives of these men in such
aching detail: letters home to their families, the constant work, noise
and stink, with only brief respite and comfort when the ship docks on
the mainland. There is a youthful magical quality to Manuel’s
imagination. He writes letters to an elusive fish he calls "Big Lips",
and often dwells on memories and imaginations of his dead father and
family at home.
to Blame is the story of Manuel being rescued from
drowning by a
Nova Scotian fisherman, and nurtured back to health by the man’s
daughter Pepsi. There are some touching insights into the difficulties
people face: Manuel helping Andrew skin animals, while he listens to
him constantly call his daughter an ugly girl, a stupid girl; Manuel’s
letters to his Mai, so she knows he is not dead; and the growing
tenderness between him and Pepsi.
Each story contains unexpected pain and sorrow. We gain insight into
how the Portuguese community experience life in Canada: language
barriers, trying to find work and respect, and always looking back to
"home" by keeping Portuguese traditions and ceremonies alive. The
reality is summed up in this dialogue: "Remember this, Manuel, they
almost think I am one of them. But they never do… not
Life in these stories is gritty and
hard. It is woven with myths,
superstitions and feelings around God, family and survival.
There are so many moments in these stories I loved, written with such
sensitivity and poetic detail. When Manuel’s mother’s body is laid out
ready for burial her daughter: "…smeared the woman’s mouth with bright
red lipstick, went beyond her lips and up toward her cheeks like a
child who chose not to colour inside the lines." The Rebelo family
experience pain, resentment, memory and love with such truth and
poignancy that most readers will recognize their own family experience
The second part of Barnacle Love is Caged Birds Sing.
Again these are interlinked stories about the Rebelo family, but
narrated in the first person by Antonio, Manuel’s son. The voice in
these stories is so engaging and insightful it felt to me as though
there were elements of the autobiographical in Antonio’s narrative. We
hear the lovely lilting voice of Manuel struggling to speak English:
"You is good boy. I no hurt you. I no want you to cut your feet, that’s
all." And we gain insight into the difficulties of being a child with
immigrant parents: "We didn’t want to interpret, at the bank or when
someone rang the doorbell selling Electrolux vacuum cleaners. We were
tired of responding to the teasing of schoolmates –'No! We don’t eat
fish every day!' with clenched teeth."
Anthony De Sa captures the
complexities of childhood so beautifully. The stories in this second
part exist in the grey land between childhood innocence and childhood
experience. A Portuguese boy is found murdered; Antonio’s friend gives
sexual favours for money through a fence; his father Manuel has lost
hope in his dream and sinks into alcoholism. There are secrets that
must be kept, within the family or from the family.
I loved all of these stories, most
of all perhaps, Pounding
Shadows. It is the penultimate story in the book, when we
have grown to
understand the Rebelo family in some depth. Antonio is a teenager, and
is caught up in
the sad decline of his father, Manuel, into alcoholism and despair. He
collects metal for his mother to recycle into a whirligig, a symbol of
everything she had hoped for her family. He wanders through the empty
aviary that was once his father’s joy. He listens to his drunk father
rant and swear, and is caught up in the first real family
confrontation, the culmination of years of pain, broken dreams and lost
'J'ust go to bed and shut up, for
God’s sake, just shut the fuck up.'
My stomach hit my throat.
'And it’s not fuckersh. There’s no
shhh in that fucken word. You’ve
been in Canada all those years and –'
I imagined him puffing out his
chest and pounding it
'You’re a fucken pork chop! That’s
what they call us dad… pork chops!'
I found it desperately sad to read,
as though I was witness to this
slow breakdown in Manuel and his family, as though I had experienced
with them all the hope, and struggle and pain.
Love is not a collection of stories in the traditional
Even though they do stand alone, these stories are the chronological
story of one family, and the book needs to be read from beginning to
end. Each story builds on the last, and leaves us wanting more,
especially when we reach the end.
Read an excerpt from one of the stories
from this collection on CTV.ca
is a poet and short story writer living in Manchester, UK. Her first
chapbook of short prose Winter
Hands was published by Shadow Train Books in 2007.
Publisher: Doubleday Canada
Shortlisted for the 2008 Scotiabank Giller Prize
De Sa grew up in Toronto’s Portuguese community. His short
fiction has been published in several North American literary
magazines. He attended The Humber School for Writers and now heads the
English department and directs the creative writing program at a high
school for the arts. Barnacle
Love is his first book. He lives in Toronto with his wife
and three sons.
with Anthony De Sa
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Publisher: Doubleday Canada
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