- Room for All of Us: Surprising Stories of Loss and Transformation by Adrienne Clarkson
Adrienne Clarkson draws upon her distinguished public service in Canada including a term as Governor General to assemble a series of biographical sketches of ten immigrants and their immediate families. With one exception, that of an anglophone Québec family whose peregrinations extend across some four generations, these arrivals occurred in various streams from immediately post World War II to the Balkan crisis of the 1990s. Clarkson provides us with a journalistic account of these "lives in transformation" with often intimate details. Presumably, she obtained agreement from each of her respondents to publish these accounts without pseudonyms or alteration of other identificatory details. Her narrative treats the protocols sensitively and with superb composition and diction.
This monograph differs from most immigrant accounts in the social science literature. No explicit disciplinary method has been employed in data gathering. The author selected cases at her discretion. Likewise, the quantity of information on family background, pre-immigration experiences, immediate family and occupational circumstances—as well as images of the future—for the persons varies from case to case. In exchange for this variability across the narrative, the reader experiences insights that enhance one's appreciation of the character's uniqueness. Nevertheless, the author presents these often gripping accounts in the form of flashbacks in their lives. Consequently, the chronological aspect of the biography often becomes distorted and difficult to reconstruct. [End Page 272]
This book contains case studies of persons who would escape most accounts of immigrant adaptation since many have achieved eminence in their respective professional lives in Canada. A CEO of a major communications network in Canada, for example, is traced retrospectively from his exodus from Tanzania by the tyrannical dictator Idi Amin. Yet his persistent attempts to integrate his activities into ongoing life in the host country (UK and later Canada) accounted for his rising prominence. The author attributes this success in large part to a "fit" between Ismaili and Canadian cultures. That explanation alone lacks specificity, however, in accounting for why this individual rose above his fellow Ismaili immigrants to the executive cadre in the Canadian communications industry.
Another case—a Chilean artist/painter—is interpreted far more symbolically. A child of targeted parents during the Pinochet regime, she had to break the link of being a former exile to become an immigrant. This transition delayed her career as an artist, which finally resurfaced after her mother's declining health resurrected images of torture and conflict in the former homeland. Her artwork in Canada thus came to project the traumatic memories in symbolic form.
In a distinct shift in types of cases included as cases in cultural transition, the author includes a multi-generational account of an anglophone family from post-conquest Québec to the present. Theirs were not the transitional stages of immigrants but those of successive adaptation to shifting anglophone-francophone relations. The Literary and Historical Society that spearheaded anglophone culture in earlier days transitioned into less institutionalized anglophone-francophone projects to restore historic buildings, for example. The family experienced much fluidity since the early 19th century, but "battle lines" between the two cultures never formed. As a result, the family has preserved its distinctiveness and integrity.
Throughout this modest-sized volume, the author assembles cases that would unlikely be found in any other monograph. Their stories are narrated in rich flowing prose style that with deft composition carries the reader from culture to culture. Her interpretations often resort to explanations about self-confidence, willingness to accept and share our (Canadian) history and openness to the wider world about us. These sometimes uneven explanations do not always conform to canons current in social science disquisitions. But Clarkson offers in this monograph an aperçu unique in the literature.
The indexing is uneven—with several detailed entries for some groups (Ismaili) and none for others (Chilean). The bibliography contains only selected books. Despite such editorial shortcomings, the book is highly recommended as...