SFU authors’ spotlight

We look at powerful works by David Chariandy and Eileen Cook

Image courtesy of McClelland & Stewart

By: Courtney Miller and Nuna Siyala

With Malice by Eileen Cook (an SFU Writer’s Studio mentor)

“Who we are is what comes out when shit goes bad.” Without giving away too much, this sentence from Eileen Cook’s With Malice sets the stage for the entire novel.

     The story starts with the main character, Jill, waking up in a hospital with no recollection of a tragic incident that saw her seriously injured and her best friend killed. The novel is disorientating from the start, as it follows Jill suffering from the loss of her friend Simone and of her memory. We, as readers, are kept in the dark just as much as Jill is, yet news articles, police statements, and even Facebook posts slowly feed us information.

       There is a strong sense of betrayal and fear present, and the author makes us feel as if we are in Jill’s shoes. To be locked out of your own mind, especially while you are a suspect in the murder of your best friend, is unthinkable, yet Cook makes us feel like we’re living it. This book is anything but light-hearted, and the fact that the only two people who know the truth about what happened are either dead or amnesiac is nerve-racking. The slow telling of the story only increases the anticipation. We are left to wonder: who is the real victim, and what is the real story?

       Admittedly, I was a bit wary of this book, as I’m not usually a fan of mystery-thriller novels, but (forgive the cliché) I was hooked from the very first page. This novel has every element a bookworm is looking for: dry sarcasm and humour, a sense of creepiness that doesn’t let up, teenage drama, international crime, and, of course, romance. You won’t be able to put this book down, so don’t pick it up during exam season. – NS

I’ve Been Meaning to Tell You: A Letter to My Daughter by David Chariandy (SFU associate English professor)

As a “person of colour,” how are you supposed to tell your child that no matter who they are and how good they are, they will be judged for the colour of their skin? How do you tell them about your own life, of the memories you’ve chosen not to dwell on from your childhood, where kids would taunt and tease you for the blackness of your skin?

     These are some of the questions David Chariandy grapples with, as he strives to talk to his daughter about race, how racism exists in Canada, and how he hopes she’ll never need to experience it, even though she already has.

     Every word is chosen with the utmost care and attention to try and convey what might be impossible to describe. Chariandy’s prose is vulnerable and honest, and throughout the book he is soft-spoken as he delves into the politics of race. There is pride, too, in who he is, who his family is, and what they’ve lived through.

     This book is Chariandy’s honesty with himself and his loved ones, and his attempt to say what he’s never been able to tell them aloud using the personal comfort of text. It’s Chariandy’s wish for his daughter to understand their family history in terms of racial politics. It’s the hope that although this was one man’s way of having this conversation with his child, it may help others, too.

     It’s a profoundly beautiful insight into what it means to have your body turned into a site of racial politics, so grab a copy and learn something from this deeply enlightening read. – CM