In her novel, A Convergence of Solitudes, Anita Anand has given us an impressive chronicling of two families’ journeys, their paths slyly intersecting in Montreal, 1980 – the year of the Quebec plebiscite around nation-sovereignty. Montreal serves as a kind of crucible for the disparate yearnings of belonging and identity, cohesion and distinct expression: a hypnotic stew of idealism and ambition, sentiment and pragmatism. The characters we meet here are from somewhere else, or at least they are the descendants of people from other places, other histories. They are culturally and socially dispossessed, a bit adrift. The narrative evolves out of socio-political divisions – the explosive Partition of India, the Vietnam War, and finally the referendums in Quebec.
Constructed as a double-album (another nod to the 1970’s and 80’s), the novel begins with Sunil and Hima who fell in love as teenagers in pre-partition India, defying social norms and conventions, eventually settling in Montreal. Their adolescent daughter, Rani, is obsessed with a Quebecois prog rock group and its beautiful nationalistic frontman, Serge Giglio (who is himself the son of an Italian immigrant.) A random moment puts Serge’s daughter Melanie, (adopted from Vietnam by Serge and his English wife Jane) into Rani’s brief care. Years later, when Rani is married to an Irishman and has young daughters of her own, she works as a guidance counsellor at a college where she encounters Melanie again. Melanie is a teen now and hostile toward her father’s idealistic nationalism and her mother’s Englishness.
“This time, if the guidance counsellor asked Melanie about her childhood, she knew what she’d say; it came to her suddenly: she’d been angry most of the time. The most vivid pictures her brain kept from the past were of herself outside a room, looking in, completely livid.”
Melanie awakens in Rani the yearning to be seen, to be known on her own terms, and she becomes painfully invested in Melanie who seeks connection to the missing pieces of herself which she believes were left behind in Vietnam.
A constant refrain in the narrative is the poignancy of solitariness. Brilliant Sunil falls further and further into the grip of an unnamed mental illness, Serge is swallowed by idealism and addiction, Jane begins to show the signs of early dementia and is no longer sure where home is. Anand is particularly attuned to the experiential separations that exist within relationships. At points Hima is repulsed by her complicated husband, hurt by his preoccupations just as Jane is in the shadow of Serge’s. Daughters feel the weight of their mothers’ expectations, and mothers know that they are not seen fully or clearly through the eyes of their daughters. It seems oceans divide everyone while ideas dramatically and poignantly collide. Anand brings the book to a compassionate close, with alloyed obsessions falling away to expose the grit and humanity underneath.
“Rani caught a glimpse of her own face in the rear-view mirror. Her father’s eyes, with that same perpetual panic, surrounded by the rest of her face, always set in that coping expression; maybe she got that from Hima, a brave face you put on.”
Anand inhabits her characters in a convincing way. The language she uses is unembellished and direct. The dual themes of identity and belonging will resonate with readers from both inside and outside of Quebec. A serious and ambitious book that manages to weave together complicated strands of personal and cultural history, a Convergence of Solitudes is both a beautiful and compelling contemporary Canadian novel.
Anita Anand is an author, translator and language teacher from Montreal. She is the winner of the 2015 QWF Concordia University First Book Prize for Swing in the House and Other Stories, which was also shortlisted for the 2016 Relit Award for Fiction and the Montreal Literary Diversity Prize. Her translation of Nirliit, by Juliana Léveillé-Trudel was nominated for the 2018 John Glassco Prize. She has also translated Fanie Demeule’s novel Déterrer les os, known in English as Lightness.
- Publisher : Book*hug Press (May 17 2022)
- Language : English
- Paperback : 364 pages
- ISBN-10 : 1771667443
- ISBN-13 : 978-1771667449
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