TOK5: Writing the New Toronto

(A slightly revised version of this review appears in the current print issue of This magazine).

Diaspora Dialogues, a Toronto organization dedicated to fostering diversity in literature, recently published the fifth book in their Writing the New Toronto series. TOK 5 consists of eighteen stories and poems by established writers such as M.G.Vassanji and Nalo Hopkinson, as well as first-timers. The pieces seek to capture the world of the immigrant, the double take at the banal that signals his newcomer status—and Toronto’s reaction to the same. The characters in this collection are never mouthpieces for their communities–their larger selves are reflected both in their will to make the new land home and in inconveniently seductive memories of their homeland.

Some of the pieces are less successful–Shyam Selvadurai’s novella excerpt doesn’t really work as a stand-alone piece, while Mayank Bhatt’s story of a South Asian Muslim youth’s involvement with terrorism, although well-written, has a predictable feel. But overall, TOK 5 offers a satisfying range of voices and narratives. In Anthony de Sa’s “Words, Dancing on My Skin”, a young girl from Little Portugal strikes up an unusual friendship with Miss Sweden 1951 who, despite having won the Miss Universe title, lives in a ratty apartment by a dumpster. And there’s Chang Liu’s realization, while reading a menu of coyly named vegetarian dishes in a posh Thai restaurant in Danforth, that he’d “give away his visa-studded passport /to see a drunk labourer/ from one of Thailand’s have–not provinces/” roar out an order with true hunger.  I was also glad to see Emma Donoghue in this collection; too often, immigrants are narrowly defined as visible minorities, while the truth of course is that they come in all shades and guises. The new Toronto, like the new immigrant, resists classification.


TOK: Writing the New Toronto
by various
Zephyr Press

You can buy the book online here.