The 12 interconnected short stories in Kathy Friedmans debut collection, All the Shining People, mainly focus on characters with two things in common: they are South African expatriates living in Canada and they are Jewish.
The stories, however, are quite different one from the other in their tone, tension and potency.
The other stories, most of which take place in Toronto where Friedmans family resettled when she was a child are less satisfying. They tend to depict situations that are not particularly unique and that have only a tenuous connection to the immigration or diasporic experience and to the characters Jewish heritage. The fact that many of these characters, while well imagined, are flawed, shallow and unlikable makes their stories and perspectives less appealing and inherently less moving.
This is true of Kyla, the artist model in the story Twist, who roams her Toronto neighbourhood while ruminating on the loss of her best friend, and the assorted friends and classmates in the title story, All the Shining People, about a high school students attempted suicide.
The collections stronger works, however, more than make up for this deficit, especially when Friedman deftly captures her characters longing for the lives they left behind, and their distaste and dissatisfaction with the new lives they chose. This is most clearly demonstrated in the aforementioned story Burn, as a 60-ish expat on a visit home to Durban reflects on her familys first few months in Canada decades before:
We didnt have help. Our garden was the size of a postage stamp, barren in winter… There were no sea breezes, no subtropical storms… And then nothing could have prepared us for shoveling snow from the driveway during dark winter mornings, hacking at the ice that formed overnight, or for the way the air dried ones hands and cheeks and lips, the dryness burrowing under the skin and eating at our insides, until we felt helpless, corroded right to the bone. For a long time, for me, this utter desiccation was Canada.
Friedman doesnt always dwell on the reasons her characters left South Africa although obviously some were political and some were economic but as this poignant lament demonstrates, she understands that regardless of the reasons for doing so, the process of leaving one kind of life behind and resettling in another is a long, arduous journey that can impact families for generations to come.
Sharon Chisvin is a Winnipeg writer, editor and oral historian.