I’m not much of a short story reader, so I wasn’t sure how much I would enjoy Home of the Floating Lily. It turns out that the short story format was perfect for reading during my lunch break, and this collection was lovely company as I returned to working in the office. Silmy Abdullah’s stories feature ordinary people — Bangladeshi immigrants who navigate love, life, and relationships as they build a new home in Canada.
Perhaps among my favourite stories is one about a woman who moved to Canada with her husband to build a better life for her sons, only to have both sons grow up to defy her dreams and expectations for their lives. While she dreamed of them becoming wealthy and successful doctors, one rebels against his conservative upbringing, and the so-called ‘good son’ desires a more spiritual path to success. Abdullah does a good job of exploring the mother’s complex emotions — more stress and anxiety than outright disappointment, and all mixed up in her own feelings of alienation in Canada. I love how the mother’s longing to return to Bangladesh isn’t because of any particular incident or experience in Canada; Bangladesh is simply her home in a way that Canada never quite felt like.
I also really liked the story of a young wife in an apartment complex with other Bangladeshi immigrants, who learns something surprising about her husband’s past that has implications for their present. Again, Abdullah explores the young wife’s alienation and loneliness in wonderfully subtle strokes, managing to covey expansive stories even with something as mundane as doing laundry in a shared space. I related hard to the young wife’s desire to connect with one of her older neighbours, and I felt even more for her when she had to process what she’s learned about her husband.
Another favourite is the story of the young student who comes home to Bangladesh and finds herself viewing the domestic helper working for her family in a new light. The student’s attempts to ’empower’ the domestic helper is well-intentioned, but highly privileged. The resulting fallout for both herself and the domestic helper turns a harsh spotlight onto the narrow-mindedness of imposing a Western lens onto one’s country of origin. As well-intentioned as the student is, the story ends with her never really seeing the domestic helper for who she is, and for what she needs; rather, the student sees her only as a cause to champion, and in so doing, becomes complicit in the very treatment she protests.
The titular story didn’t quite grab my attention as much, though it’s possibly just because it’s a bit longer than the others. But overall, the stories are wonderfully written, and the characters are drawn with sensitive realism. It’s a beautiful read.
Thank you to Dundurn Press for a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.