'Looking for home': 4 books about family and belonging

Two Ottawa book lovers share four books with CBC Radio's All In A Day that delve into themes about home, family and finding a sense of belonging in a tumultuous world.

Upcoming book reveals haunting details behind Syrian refugee Alan Kurdi's death

Tima Kurdi is an author, spokesperson and co-founder of the Kurdi Foundation. Her upcoming book, The Boy on the Beach, tells the heartbreaking story behind the death of her nephew, Alan Kurdi, whose lifeless body was photographed washed up on a Turkish beach, shocking the world into paying attention to the plight of Syrian refugees. (Maxine Bulloch/Supplied by Simon & Schuster Canada)

In her upcoming book, Tima Kurdi reveals it was she who chose the little red shirt and navy shorts that her three-year-old nephew, Alan Kurdi, was wearing when his lifeless body washed up on a beach in Turkey in 2015. A photograph of the boy made front pages around the world and became a heartbreaking symbol of the desperate plight of Syrian refugees crossing the Mediterranean in search of safety. 

Kurdi's book is one of four recommendations Sean Wilson of the Ottawa International Writers Festival and Ann Archer of the Ottawa Public Library shared with CBC Radio's All In A Day Tuesday.

The books delve into themes of home, family and finding a sense of belonging in a tumultuous world.

Here are the four titles the book lovers recommended to Ottawa readers:

Dear Current Occupant by Chelene Knight

This slim book is a creative non-fiction memoir about home and belonging set in Vancouver's Downtown Eastside in the 1980s and 90s. Knight, who is of black and Indian heritage, mixes poetry and prose to write little letters to all the homes she's ever lived in. 

"It's all about home and all the things that we've wished we said," Wilson explained. "She's dealing with a mother who is preoccupied with things other than motherhood.... As a kid she's moving from place to place ... she's looking for a sense of home, a sense of belongining."

Chelene Knight is Vancouver-based author. (Chelene Knight/BookThug)

The book, Wilson said, resonates with anyone who has ever searched for home. 

Heart Berries: A Memoir by Terese Marie Mailhot

​In Mailhot's memoir, she writes that she once admitted herself to a mental health hospital after feeling suicidal, and a councillor there encouraged her to engage in self-forgiveness — a concept that made no sense to her at the time.

"[She says]: 'In white culture forgiveness is synonymous with letting go, [but] in my culture, I believe we carry pain until we can reconcile with it through ceremony,'" Archer said. "To me this book is that ceremony. It's a powerful homage to her own heart, to her children and her forebears — her mother [and] her father."

Heart Berries: A Memoir, written by Terese Marie Mailhot. (Doubleday Canada)

The memoir tells the story of growing up on the Seabird Island reservation in British Columbia, and coping with her family's intergenerational trauma from the residential school experience.

"It's profound, the writing is dark, she's really baring it all in a very stark and poetic way," Archer said.

The Boy on the Beach by Tima Kurdi

Kurdi writes that she never met her nephew in person, but often would see him over Skype. She remembers him as a child who always laughed.  

Little Alan Kurdi's body washed up on the shore of the Mediterranean Sea on September 2, 2015 — a photo of the lifeless little boy on a Turkish beach caused the world to react in horror, and finally realize the tragic reality of the Syrian refugee crisis. 

Tima Kurdi first saw the photo of her nephew, wearing the clothes she had chosen for him, at her home in Vancouver, Canada.

Her upcoming memoir, due out on April 17, shares the story of Kurdi's family history and their search for home after escaping the war in Syria.

"Alan changed the world for 25,000 people from Syria, human beings who needed a place to go," said Wilson, referring to the number of Syrian refugees resettled in Canada between November 2015 and February 2016. "Tima's book is just heartbreaking — [but] also there is an element of hope."

The Canadian Nightingale by Jane Cooper

The Canadian Nightingale: Bertha Crawford and the Dream of the Prima Donna tells the story of a determined Canadian singer who crossed the ocean to chase her dream to become an opera singer in the early 1900s. 

The Canadian Nightingale: Bertha Crawford and the Dream of the Prima Donna tells the story of a determined Canadian singer who crossed the ocean to chase her dream to become an opera singer in the early 1900s (Amazon)

Ottawa researcher Jane Cooper tells the thorough account of Bertha Crawford, who ends up finding unprecedented success on the opera stages of Russia and Poland after starting as a soprano soloist at Toronto's Metropolitan Methodist Church. 

"I think she was looking for home in the opera world and in Canada wasn't the place to do that at the time," Archer said. "[She was] very ambitious in a time when really your place was in the home and having a family and getting married and she went off in a completely different direction."

CBC Radio's All In A Day