Originally published April 11th, 2014
I am so grateful to be done this book. Possibly one of the dullest pieces of writing I’ve ever plodded through. Specifically: the opening sentence is “This book is about people like me.” It should read “This book is about me.” Literally. I was expecting an introduction by Clarkson and then stories from people who immigrated here about why they left their native country and what Canada has been like. And I got an introduction by Clarkson. And then her family’s immigration story. An introduction to each section, by Clarkson. And then her version of the interviewee’s immigration story, interspersed with bits and pieces of her own story, again. There are only a few points in their own stories where we hear the voices of the people she interviewed for this book. This would have been much more compelling as a collaborative effort. Have one of the interviewees write the introduction opening their section of the book (draft dodgers, boat people, Holocaust refugees, etc.) about what their country was like. Instead of having Clarkson tell us what other people have told her, in disconnected smatterings.
This is as much a piece of propaganda as a piece of literature. Clarkson touches gently on Canada’s most notable flaws (residential schools, detainment camps, discriminatory immigration/legal policies etc.) because not to mention them at all would be disingenuous, but they’re described more as slight, out-of-character lapses of integrity, not symptoms of a systemic and ingrained racism. A sort of “Canada can’t be racist! Just look at all our immigrants!” attitude. While most of the policies are over and I agree things have certainly improved, racism is still a big problem here. And let’s be honest, just because someone isn’t white doesn’t mean they can’t be racist too. There’ll just be a broader range of racism across the country overall. Plenty to go around. Goodie.
What I did learn from reading this book is that my high school history education (aka social studies) was hopelessly unbalanced! Through no fault of my teachers. You had to teach the curriculum, and you did the best you could. Apparently the Alberta Government thinks the only historical events worth teaching were the French Revolution, World War I, and World War II. The latter two we covered every single year from grade 9 to graduation. By the end of it I was ripping my hair out. Want to know what I learned about the Doukhobours? Vietnamese boat people? Pinochet’s Chilean regime? The Medak Pocket Incident? The Tamil Tigers?
Incandescent rage. We barely touched on the First Nations, and then only in respect to their interaction with the English and French settlers. It would be a struggle for me to name more than two First Nations tribes that lived in Canada when the explorers came over, but without them how many more settlers would have died? And how long had they been here before? What about the Viking settlement at L’Anse aux Meadows? How about the Inuit? There are books about residential schools on the reading list, are any of them being read? Or is it all Shakespeare, Huxley and Bronte?
I’m desperately hoping my children’s education will be better. That little in this book will be news to them. That it won’t be years after graduation that they discover they love history.
Tiniest grammar tidbit I was informed about: apparently the title should be “Room for Us All” and not Room for All of Us. I don’t know why, but there you have it.