by Edith Cody-Rice
Gurjinder Basran is a second generation Canadian and this, her second novel, could have been written as an “immigrant” novel, detailing the protagonist’s integration from a traditional Punjabi Sikh family into Canadian society, but it is not. It is instead a story of loss and recovery: loss of loved ones, but also loss of memory and loss of self. The tale revolves around a Punjabi family, the parents having immigrated to Canada in tragic circumstances. But those circumstances involve outside forces only peripherally. The real tragedy lies within the parents themselves and the traditions out of which they arose.
The story covers three generations spanning 50 years and deals with, among other themes, that of forgetting and the will to forget and its consequences. The protagonist, Simran. a middle aged daughter of the parents who immigrated to Canada is dealing with the death of her mother, Amrita, is depressed and has lost herself in her grief. The action takes place nearly entirely within the Indian community in Vancouver, touching only marginally on the majority Anglo world outside, particularly in showing the huge disconnect between the wild young woman Simran became in British Columbia as opposed to the dutiful daughter the mother had been in the Punjab. It is, however, about Simran’s family and family history, both in Canada and in India.Her mother says “forgetting is the only thing that gets you through life”, an adage that may work for the unhappy mother but damages her daughter, leaving her rootless.
The book includes a ghost (of the matter of fact mother), a reincarnated lover, as well as the more conventional father, brother, husband and daughter, but all seems possible and normal within the traditional Sikh world of Simran’s family.
Ms. Basran’s scenes are detailed and touching and she has a gift for expressing the intangible, reminiscent of Milan Kundera in The Unbearable Lightness of Being. This book does provide, for those of us not of this community, an insight into their experience coming to a country so very far away, both geographically and culturally, from the lands of their birth. Frequently their histories are traumatic, but unforgettable, though they may try.
Published by Viking, an imprint of Penguin Canada