Shortlisted for the 2008 Scotiabank Giller Prize
Like Wayson Choy and David Bezmozgis before him, Anthony De Sa captures, in stories brimming with life, the innocent dreams and bitter disappointments of the immigrant experience.
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.
In De Sa's debut, a father and son narrate a revelatory, if disjointed, story spanning two generations of Portuguese-Canadian immigrants. Escaping the abuse and overbearing expectations of his mother as well as a pedophile priest, young Manuel Rebelo flees his small Portuguese village on a fishing boat in 1954, finding his promised land in St. John, Newfoundland. Through a number of trials, including a near-drowning at sea, betrayal by his rescuers, and the threat of deportation, Manuel pursues the ghost of his father (who died at sea) and an apparition Manuel calls Big Lips, a fish who appears in times of need and contemplation. Leaping ahead to the 1970s, readers find Manuel married with two children, and living in Toronto's Portuguese neighborhood. From there, Manuel's six-year-old son, Antonio, takes over the narration, precociously chronicling his father's descent into alcoholism, disillusionment, and bitterness. The sudden change in narration underscores the novel's general sense of disorientation; readers will likely find Manuel's journey from victimized altar boy to villainous father jarring, as if, in the confusion, De Sa left out part of the story.