Book: My Undiscovered Country /Author: Cyril Dabydeen – Critic, Glenville Ashby PhD

Canada … Fear and Anxiety over Multiculturalism Exposed

Feb 18, 2018- Kaieteur News –Book Review by Glenville Asby, PhD

Book: My Undiscovered Country /Author: Cyril Dabydeen
Critic, Glenville Ashby, PhD

Guyana-born writer, Cyril Dabydeen, has produced his finest work to date. My Undiscovered Country’ is a searing social commentary that unfolds in Canada. Capturing the anxiety that comes with social change, it captures the shifting sand upon which once dominant cultures stood. It raises the spectre of racism and ethnocentrism. It delves into the ambiguity of identity and the trauma of adaptation.    

And throughout, we grapple with the thorny issue of nationalism. Questions persist. Who is the real Canadian among us? Is there really strength and unity in diversity? Does multiculturalism destroy nationhood? Flummoxed, we offer little in the way of an answer.

From the opening salvo, Dabydeen presents a township torn by the influx of new cultural mores. Callers bombarding a radio talk show are divided on how to address a practice hitherto alien to Ottawa. The thought of live animals sold at the marketplace has disheveled many. Councilman Rosenbaum concedes that he too didn’t “like the way fowls, ducks, rabbits and small pigs were locked in cages all day on Saturdays in the summer heat,” [but] he is resigned to the fact that “it’s an ethnic thing.”

He rationalizes, “It’s tolerance I am getting at. This city should be one where Chinese, Vietnamese, Cambodians, Laotians, East Indians and Jamaicans feel that they belong.”In reference to Chinese immigrants as Chinamen, the caller is cautioned: “You can’t use that word on public radio…We are living in culturally sensitive times,” to which the caller retorts, “I won’t be politically correct, dammit!”

Another caller maligns Somalians. “Let them go back to Ethiopia where they can eat live chickens and snakes all they want.”And the culpability, if not subtle complicity of Jews in every social discord is exposed. “If it isn’t the Jews, then it’s the poor Vietnamese Commies who’re getting the blame.”And some exchanges shoot unapologetically from the hip. “How come the Jews are always trying to make the rest of us feel guilty about the Holocaust?”

But there are always mavericks who are undeterred and determined to keep the door to immigration fully ajar. They trumpet an open door policy, eager “to invite people everywhere to come and see how it’s done in Canada, some even to settle, because good governance is all.”Still, there is unease. The immigrant is ‘poked.’ “Where d’you come from? You are a newcomer because of your…colour?”And the exchanges continue as discombobulating as ever. “Hey, where d’you come from?” The immigrant is nonplussed.“Why are you here anyhow…Don’t bring your troubles here. We are a peace-loving country.” The immigrant finally becomes assertive identifying himself with members of the community.

And amid the social cauldron, he manages to hold sway for an emotionally conflicted young lady in the nondescript town of Garson, Ontario. She fantasizes about the tropics – Nevis, St. Kitts, Grenada, St Lucia, Montserrat.“Come on…tell me more.”The immigrant strives, yearns to adapt, to fit in…to become a member of his new tribe. But is he? Still, the burgeoning global village is the new social dynamic, a kind of zeitgeist that has flustered the old guard. Not much can be done, though. The horse has already left the barn.

Dabydeen indirectly speaks to centuries-old institutions that have shored up the status quo but are now buckling under the weight of change. Migration, acculturation, enculturation, multilateral trade and mass communication are changing the face of societies. And those who understandably resist are written off as relics, ghosts of a conservative, cold, racist system choking on its own vomit. Dabydeen makes a statement with élan and a healthy dose of figuration. He immediately grabs our attention as he forays ever so stealthily into the tumultuous debate over immigration. His thesis is sound and incisive and couldn’t be timelier.

There is a dark uncertainty that shadows his narration, a kind of existential peril that haunts the psyche. No one is truly grounded. And as the scene shifts to the lonesome world of a boy amidst a gnawing caricature of tropical labourers, the confluence of the past, present and future seems bereft of hope. Indeed, the fabled El Dorado is an illusion. So, what comes next? Dabydeen begs a response.

My Undiscovered Country by Cyril Dabydeen
Copyright (c) Cyril Dabydeen 2017
Publisher: Mosaic Press, Ontario, Canada
ISBN: 978-77161-282-1
Available at Amazon
Ratings: Highly recommended

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