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ON THE EVE OF UNCERTAIN TOMORROWS

Neil Bissoondath

Toronto, Lester & Orpen Dennys, 1990. 280pp, cloth, $24.95
ISBN 0-88619-325-7. Distributed by Key Porter Books. CIP


Grades 12 and up/Ages 17 and up
Reviewed by Janice Vaudry.

Volume 19 Number 2
1991 March


"It is the violence of beating wings that attracts Joaquin's attentions"; and so begins On the Eve of Uncertain Tomorrows, Neil Bissoondath's third fictional work. It is, however, the solid, consistent and moving writing that attracts our attention and holds it through this collection of short stories. The ten stories included cover a wide range geographically, emotionally and experientially. While one would expect V.S. Naipaul's nephew to write of the immigrant experience, concentrating on those from the Caribbean, he has gone beyond.

The first story, which bears the same title as the collection, reveals to us the extent of his intended scope as it treats of the emotional rollercoaster suffered by seven awaiting word on their refugee status in Canada. It drives home to us the absurdity of weighing up against each other the experiences of those who have escaped hardship, pain and suffering. Are we any less cruel by allowing them to stay in Canada until we decide that no, they have not suffered quite enough or that no, the danger in their homeland is not as imminent as believed? Bissoondath shows us that we all face uncertain tomorrows, some filled with physical dangers, others with emotional or social upheaval and change.

While we might expect Bissoondath's characters all to come from his Trinidadian/Canadian background they are drawn from a varied pool. He takes us from Montreal to Toronto and from Spain to South America to World War II Paris. In so doing he reveals to us the link of our experiences, that we all carry vestiges of our past and of our parents' pasts with us, and that change is a constancy. Whether it be Mr. Slade contemplating the move into a retire≠ment home or Monica's realization that life in Toronto is unlike that on the island, Bissoondath's characters all speak to us of their strength.

This is a highly recommended book for senior levels. It could be used on its own to generate discussion at several levels including the immigrant experi≠ence, the diversity of Canadian culture and of the changes and decisions that face each of us in our lifetime. It could also be contrasted with the experiences of immigrants in other countries, for example Samuel Selvon's Lonely London≠ers (London: Win gate, 1956).

"Here under this web of convention, [is] gold." The attraction of this work is immense, forcing us out of our shells of safety to confront all our uncertain tomorrows.


Janice Vaudry, Bishopís College School, Lennoxville, Que.
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