Thursday, December 2, 2010

REVIEW: Barnacle Love, by Anthony De Sa

Barnacle Love, by Anthony De Sa. Paperback edition published 2010 by Algonquin Books. Paperback.

Barnacle Love, a finalist for Canada's Giller Prize, is the story of the Manuel Antonio Rebelo, a Portuguese immigrant to Canada, and his family. It touches on familiar themes of assimilation, family and estrangement and is told at first from Manuel's perspective and later from that of his son, Antonio, who tries to survive in a chaotic, abusive family stuck between two worlds.

The book is divided into stories, each highlighting a specific time or event in the life of the family, beginning with Manuel's arrival in Canada. The favorite son and the hope of his family, he leaves Portugal on a fishing boat and nearly drowns; he's pulled from the sea by a strange father-daughter duo to whom he becomes quickly attached. From there he battles disappointment after disappointment, trying, with limited success, to integrate himself and his family into Canadian society. He is challenged by those who have come to Canada and those who have stayed behind in Portugal as well as by his own attitudes and personal limitations.

Antonio's chapters, towards the end of the book, will seem familiar to those who have read a lot of immigrant fiction; you've heard this story before. Unlike some reviewers, I thought Manuel's strange, slightly surreal adventures in the New World were more compelling than Antonio's standard child-of-immigrants-trying-to-fit-in point of view. Manuel looms large throughout the book- it struck me as being more about the father than the son- and he becomes decidedly unlikeable in Antonio's chapters, which also limited their appeal for me.

On balance I liked the book but I didn't think it was particularly outstanding. De Sa depicts Portuguese culture vividly and colorfully, but the overall tone is one of hopelessness. The best thing about the book is De Sa's characters; his portrayal of Manuel's domineering, cruel mother in Portugal, and the slick newcomer Mateus Almeida in Canada are particularly memorable, but most memorable of all is the story of the girl Pepsi and her father, the people who rescue him from the ocean only to betray him with heartbreaking callousness. De Sa sets his hero adrift in a cruel and unforgiving world, then sets his son up to hate him for what it does to him and the family. I'd recommend it to hardcore readers of immigrant or Canadian-immigrant stories but most other readers can probably pass.

Rating: BORROW


I'm a Powell's partner and receive a small commission on sales.

FTC Disclosure: I received this book for review from Algonquin.

9 comments:

Nana Fredua-Agyeman said...

thanks for this. I probably would pass should I come across it. lol. Lovely review even if the novel isn't.

iwriteinbooks said...

Looks interesting if not stellar. I burned out on immigrant fiction a while ago and feel like I may need to make my way back.

bermudaonion said...

I don't think I've every read anything about Portuguese culture, so that part of the book sounds interesting to me.

Eva said...

Eek! I accepted a copy of this to review, but I haven't read it yet. I'm not a big fan of hopelessness.

Zibilee said...

You write incredibly eloquent reviews, Marie. I am not sure if I would like this book. Though I don't mind a little hopelessness, I am not sure if I would enjoy this book for other reasons. I think I will probably pass on this one.

diaryofaneccentric said...

Sounds like it's worth giving a try, since it's on my shelf. I've read many immigrant stories but not one about Portuguese culture, so that should be interesting.

Erin said...

I don't read a ton of immigrant stories, so perhaps I'll pass on Barnacle Love. Though I don't know much about Portuguese culture, so maybe that aspect would appeal!

Darlene said...

Thanks for the review Marie. I do like stories of immigrants to Canada so this may be one I'd enjoy.

Kathleen said...

This one doesn't sound like it would be for me. I could picture myself checking it out from the library and reading some sections of it though.