Louise Hay is one happy lady / 181.6

A page from Love Your Body: A Positive Affirmation Guide for Loving and Appreciating Your Body by Louise Hay:



Okay, fine, the twelve-year-old in me still comes out at times, and while I do see the point of this small book and its positive references to every single body part, the final sentence really is over the top. I might exclaim this in a crowded room.

Today I reached a new peak weight ever: 181.6. I feel bigger and I look bigger. I did weighted dips for the first time in months and while I will need to work back up to 115 pounds or whatever amount of barbell plates I had dangling between my legs, I did do a few reps with eighty pounds, so it won't be long till I surpass that personal record either.

The Morning After: The 1995 Quebec Referendum and the Day that Almost Was



The Morning After: The 1995 Quebec Referendum and the Day that Almost Was by Chantal Hébert with Jean Lapierre was published in 2014, and revisits the Quebec sovereignty referendum from 1995. Instead of being a mere retelling of history as we know it, the authors looked to the days following October 30, 1995 and, based upon interviews with the key players from nineteen years ago, imagined what would have happened had the vote been a majority for Yes. The authors interviewed former Quebec premier Jacques Parizeau, Bloc Québécois leader Lucien Bouchard, former Prime Minister Jean Chrétien plus other MP's and federal and provincial party leaders. Almost twenty years later, a certain mellowing has been cast over the recollections from that historic day, while for some, their memories still bristle with spite and resentment.

One of Chrétien's strategies, which now seems more like a superstition or jinx fear, was for the federalists (the No side of the vote) to keep mum on saying anything about what they might do in the event of a Yes vote for Quebec secession. The federal government feared that a hypothetical acknowledgement of a Yes vote would give the separatists a legitimate mandate for sovereignty. Denying that a Yes vote could even happen immediately invalidates the main mandate of the separatist parties. Chrétien gave the choice for sovereignty the cold shoulder. Quebec independence thus became a nonperson of post-1964 Khrushchev proportions. Yet come the final week before the referendum, the federalists were on the losing end of opinion polls. How can you deal with the possibility that your country will be carved up if you insist on keeping your head in the sand?

The book was divided into sections, revealing the reminiscences of the Yes camp; the Quebec No camp; the federal government; and the premiers. Hébert and Lapierre filled The Morning After with insightful quotes, as well as heretofore private backroom negotiations. Roy Romanow, then premier of Saskatchewan, even had a secret task force to look into his province's role within Canada should Quebec opt out of confederation. The format of the chapters made for exciting reading, as I anticipated each key speaker within the specific chapters. Lucien Bouchard, much to my surprise, seems to be not as staunchly pro-Quebec independence as I had thought. He was prepared to take a Yes vote and use it as leverage to push for more concessions for Quebec--perhaps without ultimately leaving Canada:

"[Bouchard] fully expected the Canadian authorities to demand a repeat vote.
"'I could not imagine that they would say, yes, you are sovereign. We accept your sovereignty. They would have asked for another referendum. I know that Mr. Parizeau would not have wanted that. He would have preferred to declare independence unilaterally. But I thought we might need to do a second one and that if we worked hard at the negotiating table, we could get ourselves an even stronger mandate.'
"Given those differences, reciprocal suspicion dominated the two men's relationship. In the event of a victory, there would be precious little trust between the chief negotiator and the premier, and the latter was determined to call the shots."

Jacques Parizeau, on the other hand, had the sovereignty blinders on and would stop at nothing to pull Quebec out of Canada and be its first president. While both men were fighting for the same side, they were distant and did not communicate with one another, not even on referendum day. There was a brewing resentment that Parizeau felt against Bouchard: the Quebec premier needed the star Bloc leader on his side to campaign for sovereignty, but Parizeau was prepared to dump him from any future independent Quebec cabinet. Parizeau wanted to be the star--the only centre of attention--of a newly independent Quebec, and was ready to dump Bouchard once a Yes vote was confirmed. This love-him-and-leave-him attitude was not lost on Bouchard:

"The star of the Yes camp sensed that he was fast exhausting his usefulness to the man under whose orders he was expected to lead Quebecers to independence. With the campaign barely over, Bouchard's role was about to be downgraded from indispensable to disposable. He was determined not to let that happen.
"Almost twenty years after the fact, the Parizeau and Bouchard teams still cannot agree how things played out between them over the course of that fateful day. To listen to the former Bloc Québécois leader, he was systematically given the cold shoulder. His calls to Parizeau went unreturned and his queries ignored. 'I could not talk with Mr. Parizeau or with people close to him. I simply could not get through to them.'"

and:

"In fact, in the days leading up to the referendum, Bouchard had started to prepare for an inevitable showdown with Parizeau. As Quebecers went to the polls to cast their ballot, the two leading figures of the Yes camp were already headed for what stood to become a fight to a knockout finish. Their shadowboxing on referendum day was just the warm-up act."

Mario Dumont, leader of the Action Démocratique du Québec who campaigned on the Yes side, also felt Bouchard's exasperation:

"All day I would call Lucien to find out what the plan for the evening was, and all I would hear at the other end of the line was a string of swear words as he vented his frustration over his inability to reach the premier."

Had the referendum vote been a majority for Yes, the winning side would not have known what to do next. With both parts of the Yes camp not speaking to one another, it would have been chaos on stage and a fight for the microphone. The fight would have spread to the negotiating table, of course. Brian Tobin, then a federal MP, remarked:

"But there is a simple reality that Quebecers would have to face in the event of a Yes vote and it is that the notion that there would be a bunch of Quebecers negotiating with a bunch of Quebecers is false. It would never happen."

Thus Jean Chrétien faced an uphill battle to hold on to power if his government failed in the No campaign. Chrétien--as with all Quebec federalists--would immediately lose their legitimacy in government. I can see his point: why would federalists ever allow Quebeckers--those on the winning side of the referendum--to sit on both sides of the negotiating table?

Reform Party leader Preston Manning forecast:

"I would have told the Liberals: you were entrusted, for better and for worse, with the future of the federation. You have failed and you are the last people that can negotiate with this bunch that has just won the referendum. Western Canada will not recognize your legitimacy."

And I see his point. Manning himself could have claimed to be the rightful heir as voice of the Canadian people had the Liberals lost the confidence of the Canadian public and the official opposition--the Bloc Québécois--was now off to graze in sovereign pastures.

When I picked up The Morning After I never would have thought that "yesterday's news" could have been made so riveting. This was an exciting read, and an intelligent insight into the private machinations that went on before the referendum and what might have happened after.

(An aside: during my trip to Iceland in the summer of 2015, I could have sworn I passed Chantal Hébert on Austurstræti in Reykjavík. After I returned home I wrote to her, in French, to ask if she had been in the Icelandic capital on the same days I was. Turned out she was! I probably could have yelled out "Chantal!" on the main street of Reykjavík and if it was her, she would have stopped and chatted for a little bit. And if it wasn't her, no one would have responded, so no big deal.)

180.4

My New Year's resolution was to return to and surpass my peak weight of 181.0 pounds, which I hadn't been since April 2015. This past January 7 I weighed myself and was 173.8. I knew that I would have to go to the gym more often and eat like crazy in order to reach 180 again. It is not so easy, or even pleasant, when I have to eat when I am not even hungry. I know I ought to count my blessings in that I have an abundance of food when so many people don't have enough, so complaining about the hardships of forcing myself to eat will not find much sympathy. However the effort has paid off and this month I have watched my weight climb to 179.0 and 179.4. Today I surpassed 180 and am at 180.4. While it cannot entirely be an accurate measurement when left to do it by myself, my right biceps (cold, not pumped) flexed out to 16". The last time I measured, it was 15½". I will have to find the courage to ask someone to help do this for me. So in just over a month I put on 6.6 pounds. Resolution attained.

Hhhallo?







Madam Huska. How we tormented this poor woman in our high school days (maybe). Look at the ad I clipped from the National Enquirer. Could she have lifted the text from the Enquirer ad into her own leaflet? It reads word-for-word! I often think of Madam Huska and other media, like Madam Odella and Mrs. Wilson Mrs. Wilson. Whatever became of them?

Returning to Tristan da Cunha

In September and October of this year I will be returning to the island of Tristan da Cunha in the south Atlantic Ocean, the most isolated inhabited place on the planet. I will be spending close to four weeks exploring the island and catching up with my host family and friends.

Four years ago, before my first visit to Tristan, I asked people to write to me so that I would have mail waiting for me when I arrived on the island. On September 13, 2013 I walked into the Tristan post office on my first full day on the island and the staff had mail waiting for me. What a thrill it was to receive mail on Tristan da Cunha.

May I please ask if you could write to me again? If you want to write to me, I ask you please to do so now. Tristan will only get five mail deliveries by the time I arrive on the island this September. With such infrequent mail service, it is imperative to get your letter or postcard sent off as it already takes many months for letters to arrive. If you wait until April or May to write I might not even get it. Please address your envelope or postcard as such:

Craig Rowland
S. A. Agulhas II passenger visitor
Poste Restante
Tristan da Cunha
South Atlantic Ocean
TDCU 1ZZ
via Cape Town, South Africa

Please include your own mailing address as well or send it to me via E-mail reply.

I promise to write to everyone who writes to me. Your postcard will be covered in stamps. Why send a postcard with only one stamp on it when I can cover it with six?

I love the philatelic arts and sending postcards covered in stamps from out-of-the-way locations. Please write to me and I promise to send you a postcard from Tristan da Cunha.

Craig

The Islamic Veil: A Beginner's Guide



I wanted to learn more about veiling, or the wearing of hijab by some Muslim women. Some women, though, prefer to wear a niqab, which covers the entire face, leaving just a slit for the eyes. The Taliban regime in Afghanistan mandated the overall coverage of the body with the burqa, which left only a mesh patch to see through. For western non-Muslim male readers such as myself, these may be the three main articles of apparel for Muslim women that we have heard of, but in The Islamic Veil: A Beginner's Guide, the author Elizabeth Bucar talks about others, and what women in countries that are predominantly Muslim tend to wear. The terms for these garments vary as well, and the same term can refer to a different article of veiling in a different country.

Bucar divided her book into chapters, each one focussing on the various reasons behind the wearing of the veil. She concentrated on the sacred texts in the Koran and hadith that support this practice, but even then, the mandatory wearing of the veil is still open to interpretation:

"The Qur'an and hadith simply do not give a definitive answer to some of the most basic questions about the veil. Sacred texts, because they require human interpretation of divine revelation, turn out to be a source of confusion, not clarity."

One of the main functions of veiling is:

"The concern is with the protection of bodily integrity of Muslim women, in verse 33:59. The veil here protects women from unjust sexual harassment and assault when they are outside their homes."

The choice of veil varies by region, and is determined by culture or politics. Iran and Saudi Arabia have laws that enforce the wearing of the veil, while other Islamic countries have a greater freedom of choice, such as Indonesia, home to more Muslims than any other country. In Indonesia, the interpretation of sacred texts focusses more on the idea of coverage, but not on the concealment of the female form. Bucar devoted her final chapter to the topic of the veil as fashion item, where Indonesian muslimahs have the most diverse range of hijabs and dressing techniques than are available to Muslim women in other countries. As long as the major concern is with head and hair coverage and not bodily concealment, Indonesian women are free to wear belts, skinny jeans and colourful or patterned hijabs. Yet isn't there a conflict of interest regarding the original or sacred intention of wearing hijab?

"Indonesian women's quest to find a flattering veiling style raises an interesting question: is there a conflict between dressing fashionably and Islamic dressing? In other words, can or should wearing an Islamic veil actually increase the beauty of the woman? And if it does, is this in conflict with the veil's legal mandate to prevent fitna (sexual disorder) by covering a woman's 'awra ('vulnerable' body parts)? Or even worst [sic], as the veil becomes a fashion trend in and of itself, is false veiling possible, where women choose to veil only because it is trendy?"

Yet one does not have to look only to Indonesian muslimahs to see conflicts of opinion over the Islamic veil. Why are many young women deciding to wear the veil today, when their own mothers did not? Immigrant women may have felt liberated from having to veil, and upon arrival in their new home country they abandoned it. They no longer felt constrained by repressive laws that penalized them for going outside without the veil. Yet new generations of muslimahs feel more comfortable in their new (and perhaps only) home countries. Younger women who are educated and professional are taking up the veil, yet not without controversy:

"What is confounding, even to many Muslims, is that many newly veiled women are educated, urban, and career oriented. They choose to take up the veil over the objections of their families, marking a generational divide. For these women, the veil is more than mere clothing. It becomes a type of portable gender seclusion and thus enables entry into the public sphere, not withdrawal from it. These women challenge both the liberal secular idea that the veil is an obstacle to women's advancement and the conservative Islamic idea that veiling is tied to women's domestic seclusion."

Bucar raises valid points about the resurgence of the veil during colonialism. Women who had never veiled before started to cover themselves as statements of nationalism and anticolonialism. One perspective that saddened me was that of the veil drawing unwelcome attention to Muslimahs as threatening targets:

"As such a complex cluster of practices, discourses, and politics, the Islamic veil inevitably entails internal tensions and paradoxes, and thus leaves room for disagreement. For some, the veil is a signifier of women's oppression by men, but for others it is a feminist choice. In classical thought, the veil's purpose is to protect women from the male gaze, and yet in contemporary practice it often increases the visibility of Muslim women, especially those in Muslim minority settings. Paradoxes even occur within the same specific instance of veiling. A veiled working-woman, for example, may find herself simultaneously affirming the values of both gender equality and sexual segregation. A woman may claim the veil prevents her from being objectified as a woman, yet find herself objectified as a fundamentalist once she puts on the veil."

A very good point from Bucar at the end of that quotation. The Islamic Veil served as a valuable introduction for me as a non-Muslim, especially in regards to the references to the veil in the sacred texts. Bucar analyzed the verses and compared interpretations and translations to show that there is a wide range of opinion about whether the texts state that women should even be veiled at all. Women's identity and how it relates to feminism as well as employment, education and fashion are all covered in their own chapters.

Crewe Train



I learned about Crewe Train by Rose Macaulay from references to it in Andorra by Peter Cameron. My library system acquired a 1926 hardcover edition from Brantford Public Library. This book was a charming speed-read, full of realistic dialogue that kept the pages turning. The story focussed on a young woman, Denham Dobie, who was named after her mother's favourite Buckinghamshire village. Denham grew up in the principality of Andorra yet the book hardly spent any time there. Denham is fiercely independent, loves the country and exploring on her own. She abhors crowds and people in general. I can see how I fell in love with this character. We are two independents who take people literally. Me--to a fault. Denham finds no need to continue, or even have conversations if the topic is agreed upon or is self-evident. Why waste speech by agreeing that it is indeed a rainy day? Denham often instructs her servants not to let anyone in, as she is never in any mood to greet visitors. That doesn't stop visitors from calling, though. In the later chronological context of "calling", Denham thinks:

"Telephone. The sort of thing people would invent, so that even being in different houses shouldn't stop them talking to each other."

I also identified with Denham because neither of us cares about our own home decor. I have lived in my house for fifteen years and have no intention of ever painting the walls. Denham and I are not party types and we both find it awkward to make small talk in these situations. That explains why I always wait until I am spoken to first before I say anything. So you can see why I found this character irresistible. Macaulay managed to write a novel about a social misfit and made her sound interesting just by being herself.

The major dramas in Crewe Train involve Denham's struggles with her own preferences versus the big family social lifestyle of her husband and in-laws. She is always at odds with them and stubbornly refuses to be turned into a social butterfly like her sisters-in-law and aunt. After her marriage to Arnold Chapel she did not want to move to London, for her impression of the city was of keen disapproval:

"Denham, with her customary sweeping dismissal of what she did not understand, presumed that Londoners were mostly mad. Obviously, quite obviously mad. They walked along the streets even on the coldest, most disagreeable days, with the slow, halting gait of persons who followed a hearse."

Yet at the coaxing of her new family, after several embarrassing parties where Denham spent the entire evening stone-faced, she concedes and tries to be more sociable. She is encouraged to strike up conversations at parties by talking about the latest book she had read, yet this attempt, too, backfires. When Arnold suggests she try this, she replies:

"'The only thing I've read lately,' Denham said, 'is that book on dog diseases. I could talk quite a lot about Isaac, I think. His coat's coming out.'
"At dinner that night, when her neighbour said to her, 'Did you see the Guitrys last week?' she replied, in the manner of Ollendorf, 'No, but the hair of my dog is coming out. Do you know the best treatment for it?'
"The young man (whose name was Sitwell) did not, so she told him. She also furnished other information about dogs. He thought it was rather a good game, and when she said, 'Have you ever had a dog with kidney disease?' he replied, 'No, but I have a goldfish with acute neurosis.'"

Denham may well indeed be shy and socially awkward, but she is also selfish, unwilling to spend any real effort to work at her skills at hosting parties. You'd think that in a marriage she would learn to compromise with her husband or cooperate with her in-laws, instead of protesting about attending another luncheon yet again. This selfishness goes far enough to affect her unborn baby, whom she miscarried on purpose:

"No; she had played the fool and deliberately lost the baby because the idea of having it bored her."

and:

"A child. What an ambition! Denham simply could not understand anyone wanting such an encumbrance."

After this remark I think I oughta tone it down in my enthusiastic rush to identify with Denham. I wonder if her antisocial attitude is perhaps pathological in nature, for nothing ever seems for faze her. Not even a miscarriage, or her choice to live apart from Arnold because she could not stand London any more. There does seem to be a light at the end of her failing marriage when Arnold agrees to move to Buckinghamshire: thus Denham's life in England comes full circle. However even this move, one that Denham encouraged, does not make her happy. Even the refurnishing of her new home--the one she expressly wanted--occupied no interest of hers, however:

"Denham was inert and silent through these activities. She felt listless, and did not care whether the bureau stood against the window wall or the opposite one, or whether the Cézanne looked its best over the fireplace or elsewhere, or what the spare bedroom was like (except for an impulse, not uncommon among hostesses, to make this as repulsive as possible, in order to spite visitors for coming to stay)."

Crewe Train is teeming with incidents where Denham battles with the demons of dealing with family and visitors. She would certainly be happy living on her own in a secluded house with minimal fixtures and interiors. (And without risk of giving anything away, this option does become available to her.) Macaulay has created a protagonist and characters whose dialogue mirrors reality. The plentiful dialogue, over ninety years after its first publication, flowed naturally and speedily, and read as if I were eavesdropping on an on-line chat of today. Thus I am led to ask if the author modelled Denham on herself, or if Macaulay was a loner in roaring twenties London. Was Macaulay a young socialite among the London literary set, or did she shun publicity?

An independent woman combined with meddling relatives and a husband who cannot fulfil her needs regardless of what he does all combine to make Crewe Train one of the best novels I have ever read. I will certainly look for more books by Rose Macaulay.

Woman: The Incredible Life of Yoko Ono



Woman: The Incredible Life of Yoko Ono was published in 2004 and is comprised of four parts: the first three concentrated on a specific time period in Ono's life and the fourth part focussed on Ono's art and music. Three authors shared the writing of these four parts and all of them, Alan Clayson, Barb Jungr and Robb Johnson had me pulling my hair out over the superabundance of spelling errors and inaccuracies. While I am a fan of Ono's music and writing, I dreaded slogging through another horrid biography. (I pilloried the 1987 biography Yoko Ono by Jerry Hopkins for the same reasons. If only authors would research their subjects.) Fans like me already know a lot about this remarkable woman, and we can detect errors in song titles or other details in Ono's life like owls can detect rats in the dark. How difficult would it have been for any of the above authors to check their sources? I had my trepidations with this book as soon as the acknowledgements page when the authors credited Lennono Music for song lyrics. The correct spelling is Lenono Music. I knew from the start that this book would be another eye-rolling experience.

Clayson wrote about Ono's life "Before John": growing up in Japan, moving to New York and her first two husbands. I didn't learn anything about Ono from any time in her life that I didn't already know--perhaps because the book was a slight 195 pages--but also because the sloppy endnotes betrayed their evil sources, including the abhorrent Hopkins book among other tabloid fodder. Multiple endnotes were "To Paul Trynka", thus repeated accreditations to another rock journalist. There was not a wide range of secondary sources for this biography.

It's bad enough when one author's name is on a book so ridden with spelling errors. This book has three authors, and no one caught the following embarrassments (most of them occurred within Clayson's sections): symbollically, ominivorous, Berthold Brecht, Verfrtemdungtechnik, Julliard School of Music, sparcely, Nietzche (these last three all on the same page), millenium, soliloquys, ekeing, loose for lose (twice), and the American Aspern Arts Society. What does a single spelling error convey? How about ten? With that number of spelling errors I am left with one picture: the author wrote his or her section at one sitting, taking no time to go over any details such as spelling and...well how about facts?

Song titles merely have to be copied correctly. Both "Whatever Gets You Through the Night" and "Men, Men" are wrong. While the B-52's recorded a cover version of "Don't Worry Kyoko" for their album Whammy!, the song did not appear on the Ono tribute album Every Man Has a Woman (which Clayson misidentified as Every Man Has A Woman Who Loves Him). In the third part, "After John", Clayson (again!) screwed up the title of Ono's documentary biography, going from calling it Yoko Ono Then And Now to Here And Now and then back to Then And Now, all on the same page. I own this documentary, and its title is Yoko Ono Then & Now. I can forgive the shortening in later references by leaving off Yoko's name, and even the error of spelling out the ampersand in full (although it does not appear as such anywhere on the packaging or the videotape itself). But to call it Here And Now in the middle of calling it Then And Now? Editorially unforgivable.

What saves this book from a failing grade is Jungr's section "Art and Music", wherein she analyzes Ono's music and albums. Among all the prejudice about Ono's music and vocal stylings, Jungr is correct in the following assessment about Ono's first forays into recorded music:

"And whether you like what she was doing or not, she was doing it first. It probably goes without saying that historically there aren't many prizes for 'doing it first'. Most people 'doing it first' seem to die in penury. So highly original, absolutely. And important? Yes. To the conceptualists Yoko was combining elements and introducing ideas which would long be taken up by other artists and she was doing so in a refreshing way, bringing concepts of the organic, the numinous and the spiritual together."

Jungr wrote about every one of Ono's albums, so it was a thorough analysis from her first experimental works with John onward. Jungr wrote at length about each song from her first two solo albums, Yoko Ono/Plastic Ono Band and Fly, two albums which have defined the Ono oeuvre. Yoko's debut solo work, Yoko Ono/Plastic Ono Band, is a must-listen and is an aural assault. The power of her voice on the lead track, "Why", is unprecedented in its violence as well as volume. John's guitar and Yoko's voice mix and you cannot tell where one ends and the other begins. Yoko's vocal cords and John's fingers must have been bleeding after recording this song. Klaus Voormann's bass and Ringo's drumming thump to drive this song through the ceiling. "Why" is followed by the slower-paced "Why Not", and Yoko's voice takes on a different form:

"'Why Not' begins with Ono twittering, a sound like paper stuck in a fan, a ghostly Japanese priestess walking across an almost bluesy musical backing."

I know the song "Why Not" well, and Jungr's description of Yoko's versatile voice is perfect.

A black-and-white photo spread occupied the middle of the book but, sadly, none of the photos were captioned. And the index was wholly useless. Ono herself was absent from the index, while for "Lennon, John", there were about eighty page references with no descriptions about subject content. Read Woman only for Barb Jungr's thorough analysis of Yoko Ono's art and music.

The Nine of Us: Growing Up Kennedy



The Nine of Us: Growing Up Kennedy by Jean Kennedy Smith is a memoir by the last surviving child of Joseph and Rose Kennedy. While a memoir by Smith could easily run for hundreds upon hundreds of pages, The Nine of Us focussed mainly on the time when the Kennedy family had all nine children. Oldest brother Joseph, Jr. would die in action in WWII, in August 1944. The book however did continue past 1944, with short chapters on brother John's presidential bid and sister Kathleen ("Kick")'s controversial marriage and death. At only 253 pages, this was not a substantial book in regards to learning any new important Kennedy family history. Smith's personal anecdotes and reminiscences as a family insider made the story a rapid read, as well as a delightful page-turner where I could picture Smith telling me her childhood memories by the Hyannis Port fireplace. The read was so rapid because Smith's writing style was based on oral transcriptions, and it was edited well, so she probably was coached along in her miked memories.

Each chapter began with a quotation from either Rose or Joseph Kennedy, and it imparted a valuable life lesson that Smith learned and follows to this day. This could have turned into a rather trite and sappy read, but learning about the importance of her Catholic faith, perseverance in life endeavours, "no whining" philosophy, charity, sister Rosemary's mental disability and bonding with family were treated as new discoveries and were full of respect, charm and warmth.

I laughed at some of the tales, such as the regular habit of matriarch Rose who cut out and literally pinned newspaper stories to her dress, in order to refer to them during family mealtimes. Smith also told about her maternal grandfather, John F. Fitzgerald, and how as mayor of Boston was the first mayor in the US to erect a Christmas tree in a public park. Mayor Fitzgerald also threw the first pitch at the inaugural game of the Boston Red Sox. Another Kennedy tidbit I didn't know was that Ethel Skakel, later to be Mrs. Robert Kennedy, was Smith's roommate at Manhattanville College of the Sacred Heart.

Smith started the epilogue by admitting "It is sometimes difficult to comprehend that I am the only member of our original family still living." I wonder if Smith has a more definitive Kennedy memoir in the works, as she is, poignantly, the last one.

The Muslimah Who Fell to Earth: Personal Stories by Canadian Muslim Women



Twenty-one women contributed to The Muslimah Who Fell to Earth: Personal Stories by Canadian Muslim Women, edited by Saima S. Hussain. Hussain selected a diverse assortment of stories to reflect the myriad lives of Canadian Muslim women, thus no two stories were the same. Some women were born in Canada, while some were from immigrant families. Some women wore hijab or niqab, while others didn't. Some were not heterosexual while others cussed like sailors. Most women were able-bodied but one was blind and used a wheelchair. The point in selecting these contributions was to show the reader that there was more than one kind of Muslim woman out there, and she could be as diverse within her faith as in any other religious group. I was touched by the stories by women who were struggling in their marriages or going through divorces.

Many of the immigrant women wrote to praise Canada for its openness to diversity and acceptance of Islam and the choice of some Muslim women to wear hijab. These testimonials touched me most of all. Azmina Kassam wrote:

"I was learning more about being Canadian, which has meant for me openness, tolerance, curiosity, and respect. It has been about engaging the other in meaningful dialogue so as to learn and expand one's understanding."

Mona Hashim, who wears hijab, wrote: "I have to admit that throughout my ten years in Toronto, I always felt welcome wherever I went. People helped me to get my shopping cart to the bus, guided me through the downtown streets. Once, on a dark and cold Christmas eve, a nice bus driver pointed out to us the mosque in Scarborough. Of course there were a few incidents where I was called names and had the middle finger raised at me. But generally speaking, I didn't feel like a stranger."

The hijab is a major theme in some of the stories, as the writers shared their reasons for abandoning it when they came to Canada, or for deciding to wear it later. Each woman had her own reasons for wearing hijab or niqab, and all of them do so freely as their own personal choice. Mariam Hamaoui sums up the whole "issue" of wearing hijab in a paragraph that the French government should read and apply:

"I support those who wear the hijab and I support those who don't wear the hijab. Hijab is a choice. Often difficult, but the choice has to be made by the woman. If a woman chooses to wear it, it is not for the sake of anyone else but for herself and God. Neither her mother nor her father can order her to wear it. Neither her brother nor her husband can order her to wear it. It is a choice and as such should be respected. By the same token, women who decide that the hijab is not for them should be respected equally and should not be ridiculed or disrespected."

Yet Tammara Soma summed it up the most succinctly:

"It takes a strong heart and a thick skin to wear a hijab."

If I ever hear Islamophobic prejudice against the hijab or niqab, I draw attention to women of another religious group, a group protected in our own constitution: Catholic nuns. Nuns are covered in a garb very close in resemblance to that worn by some Muslim women. Why does a nun's head and body covering threaten no one, yet a Muslimah's gives rise to such prejudice?

The women write about their struggles with mental illness, integrating and finding work, yet the comic relief is provided by the stories about overbearing relatives who try to fix them up with potential husbands. I especially liked the poems and vignettes by Meharoona Ghani in "Letters to Rumi". In it, she feels conflicted while ogling a muscular construction worker:

"We passed a construction worker whose tight white t-shirt outlined his muscular upper arms and chest, revealing a hint of a tattoo below his collarbone. 'I've always wanted a tattoo...wait...I don't think I should be staring at him while I'm wearing a hijab and observing Ramadan!'"

Almost all of the stories followed a similar style of narrative, as a first-person chronological account of each writer's history as a Muslim woman in Canada. Two of the stories were endnoted and one in particular was like a formal dissertation: Maryam Khan's "Queering Islam Through Ijtihad", who tripped over herself from the very first paragraph in trying not to offend. Two stories integrated the authors' own poetry, which was a welcome treat within the reading experience.

Hussain left the writers' stories in their original states, without any kind of editorial explanations or parenthetical insertions to elaborate on some Muslim (or specifically Arabic) terminology. For the most part, meanings could be derived from context, yet there were some instances where an explanation would have been helpful. Perhaps Hussain left the texts in their original states to show the authenticity of the writers, however I feel that the following grammatical gaffes should have been corrected. In all of the quotations below, the I in italics should be me:

"As we settled into our new life in Cairo, my parents had to make some difficult choices regarding schooling for my siblings and I." (pp. 34-35)

"...and as our family grew bigger, the distance between my biological father and I grew wider." (p. 73)

"It eventually become [sic] a home to my brother and I when many years later my mom remarried..." (p. 99)

"Yup, those white kids surrounded my sister and I, made fun of our names and yelled 'Paki' and 'Hindu.'" (p. 153)

The Muslimah Who Fell to Earth took its name from one of the stories within, and its author, Munirah MacLean, explained the origin of the title. It certainly is a brilliant title for this collection. As a non-Muslim man, the twenty-one stories left me feeling proud of Canada and of being Canadian, yet most of all proud of living in a country that welcomes diversity and thrives on it, while our neighbour to the south recoils in horror at the thought of a threat to its national security from Syrian refugees. The US should hang its head in shame. Please take the opportunity to see Hussain and some of the contributing authors as they promote this book in public readings throughout the Greater Toronto Area.