Review | Peace by Chocolate, by Jon Trattie

PeaceByChocolateCoverIt feels churlish to admit that I struggled to get through this book. (Full disclosure: I started this in December, and I’m tapping out for now in March, at approx 69%. I likely will finish it some time, just because it feels even more curmudgeonly not to finish it at all.)

Peace by Chocolate tells the inspiring story of the Hadhad family’s journey from Syria to Canada. Family patriarch Isam used to run a chocolate-making factory in Damascus until war in Syria broke out, the factory was destroyed, and Isam, his son Tareq, and their family were forced to flee the country. They lived as refugees in Lebanon for a while, before finding a permanent home in Nova Scotia. Thanks in part to a loan from Canadian friends, they were able to re-start Isam’s chocolate-making business in Canada, and their chocolate company, Peace by Chocolate, is now really successful. It’s a wonderful, inspiring story, and a welcome touch of joy and hope in often dark pandemic times.

The Hadhad family’s journey is well documented. Trattie includes wonderful details about their journey that make their experiences come alive, and, at least for this immigrant, make their stories resonate. For example, when the family is asked by immigration officials if they want to move to Canada, they burst into laughter, which confuses the immigration officials until the family says that of course, they want to move, and it’s hilarious that it even has to be asked.

I also love another part where Batoul, who is fluent in English, is the only one in her class who didn’t laugh at a joke. Even though the class tried to explain, the need for explanation diminished the humour. Later in that chapter, the author writes,

The English [Batoul] had studied in Syria and Lebanon was slow and clear. Now she felt herself in the midst of a torrential river of words. And her English teachers back home had been Arabic speakers; she hadn’t had the additional challenge of understanding a Canadian accent. [p. 122]

That detail was very relatable, and I like how it was highlighted in the book.

However, the writing overall fell flat for me. The narrative felt almost too glossy, so geared towards inspiration that it fails to actually make the details come alive. The super-inspirational tone somewhat reminds me of the musical Come From Away, except without the music or comedy. (For the record, I love Come From Away. The tone translates better on-stage than in a 200+ page book.)

An example:

Tareq pictured his family reunited in Canada, his children and grandchildren growing up safe. He saw himself as an old man, describing how the Hadhad family escaped death in Syria for a new life in Canada. Then he saw himself alone, a man with no family and no country, no past and no future. He turned to his father.

“You will become Canadian even before me,” Tareq promise, his eyes shining with tears. “You will follow me and our family will be fine. I will settle in and prepare everything for your arrival: a nice house and a good community. We lost our family of sixty. I promise you I will build a family of six hundred in Canada. When you arrive, you will feel at home.”

The taxi arrived. Isam embraced his eldest son. As Isam watched Tareq walk away, he felt all his fears vanish and his heart fill with hope. [pp 68-69]

The passage is lovely and heartwarming, and given the heartfelt moment between father and son, it feels wrong to call the passage saccharine. But when so much of the book takes this tone, it becomes a bit of a slog to keep reading through. I think this book functions well as a family memento — the Hadhads have gone through a lot and have accomplished incredible things, and I love the idea that this book exists to show future generations how far they’ve come. But personally, I found the book too long, and would have enjoyed it more as an article.

Some readers may enjoy this book; I would personally recommend checking out one of their media interviews instead, since according to the book, they did a bunch of them for outlets like CBC. If their story resonates with you, you may also buy your next batch of chocolates at Peace by Chocolate.

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Thank you to the publisher for an e-galley in exchange for an honest review.

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