Saturday 21 February 2015

Book ~ "Barnacle Love" (2008) Anthony De Sa

From Goodreads ~ At the heart of this collection of intimately linked stories is the relationship between a father and his son. A young fisherman washes up nearly dead on the shores of Newfoundland. It is Manuel Rebelo who has tried to escape the suffocating smallness of his Portuguese village and the crushing weight of his mother’s expectations to build a future for himself in a terra nova. Manuel struggles to shed the traditions of a village frozen in time and to silence the brutal voice of Maria Theresa da Conceicao Rebelo, but embracing the promise of his adopted land is not as simple as he had hoped.

Manuel’s son, Antonio, is born into Toronto’s little Portugal, a world of colourful houses and labyrinthine back alleys. In the Rebelo home, the Church looms large, men and women inhabit sharply divided space, pigs are slaughtered in the garage, and a family lives in the shadow cast by a father’s failures. Most days Antonio and his friends take to their bikes, pushing the boundaries of their neighbourhood street by street, but when they finally break through to the city beyond they confront dangers of a new sort.

With fantastic detail, larger-than-life characters and passionate empathy, Anthony De Sa invites readers into the lives of the Rebelos and finds there both the promise and the disappointment inherent in the choices made by the father and the expectations placed on the son.

It's the 1950s in Portugal.  As the oldest son, Manuel's mother has high hopes for him.  Manual wants to leave his small village and experience the world so he gets a job on a fishing boat which will take him off the coast of Newfoundland.  Despite the guilt that he feels about leaving his family and disappointing his mother, he settles in Canada and looks forward to the endless possibilities and making something of himself.

Fast forward and it's the 1970s and Manuel is now married, living in Toronto and has two children.  They "live" in the Palmerston/Queen Street W area  ... just east of my 'hood so I knew a lot of the landmarks mentioned.  Though they (and the rest of his family) are now living in Toronto, they still have the same traditions from home such as butchering pigs in garages and making their own wine.  None of Manuel's dreams have come true and he sees himself as a failure.  He wants to make sure that same doesn't happen to his children.  But the same pressures his mother put on him, he is putting on his son, Antonio.  It was sad to see that optimistic Manuel had turned into bitter Manuel.

This is the second book I've read by this author.  I had read Kicking the Sky (written in 2013) a couple years go, which took an experience from Barnacle Love and expanded on it. 

It's a sad depressing story.  I found the writing a bit draggy in places and it could have been tighter.  It a bit confusing at times as the author jumped back and forth in time a bit.  Manuel's story in the 1950s (the first part of the book) was written in third person perspective and Antonio's story in the 1970s is written in first person perspective from Antonio's point of view. I found this a bit confusing too until I figured out whose voice it was.

Except for Antonio, I didn't find the characters likeable.  Everyone let Manuel get away with being just a jerk for so long.  He had so much yet couldn't see it.  Like Antonio, I kept wondering why his mother hadn't left.

I wasn't crazy about the ending.

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