CM . . .
. Volume VIII Number 7 . . . . November 30, 2001
Fourteen-year-old Tara Mehta has just finished reading to her class the text of her history assignment: an account of a personal life, tied to a moment of historical significance. The story is her grandmother's - Naniji - and the event is the end of British colonial rule in India. Naniji arrived in Ottawa several weeks ago. The visit has been the source of great tension for Tara's parents, who, although born in India, came to Canada, met at McGill University, and are now living a thoroughly Canadian middle-class existence, (whatever being Canadian means). In the whirlwind of preparations for Naniji's visit, Tara learns about the uneasy relationship between her mother and her mother-in-law, who had hoped that Tara's father would marry someone "more Indian." Sympathetic to her mother, Tara resolves at first not to like her grandmother. However, over time, conversation, and more than a few feeds of her grandmother's incredible cooking, Tara learns that this small, steely, and elegant Indian widow has some very interesting stories to tell. Naniji was a member of Gandhi's revolutionary movement, living in dangerous times, participating in clandestine activities. And yet, like Tara, she was still a teenager, wanting to wear nail polish, fascinated by the glamour of western culture.
Through the accounts of the Indian independence movement, Tara comes to understand why her grandmother's sense of identification with her Indian heritage is so important, and Tara comes to value it in a way that she hasn't previously. At the same time, Tara also realizes that history is about more than textbook accounts and, from her classmates' reaction to the story, realizes how everyone's view of history is coloured by their own heritage, their own sense of their family's past.
A Group of One meets a difficult challenge: it explores issues of ethnic and Canadian identity in a manner that is both authentic and respectful of opposing views. Woven into the story are details of life in a typical junior high school, the affections and rivalries of three sisters spanning the toddler to teen years, and remarkably incisive perspectives on how families can be both the same and different, even when they share a common heritage. We all make choices as to which aspects of our heritage we will retain, and which we will discard, and this book reminds readers that "ethnic Canadians" don't live in costume. A Group of One is great reading, and I hope that it soon appears in the paperback format preferred by its intended reading audience.
Joanne Peters is a teacher-librarian at Kelvin High School in Winnipeg, MB.
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Copyright © the Manitoba Library Association. Reproduction for personal use is permitted only if this copyright notice is maintained. Any other reproduction is prohibited without permission.