Canada Reads

Abu Bakr al Rabeeah & Winnie Yeung on having their memoir Homes on Canada Reads

The book by the Edmonton co-authors will be defended by Chuck Comeau during the debates, which take place March 25-28, 2019.
Abu Bakr al Rabeeah wrote Homes with Winnie Yeung. (CBC)

Abu Bakr al Rabeeah is a teenage refugee who spent his childhood in Iraq and Syria before moving to Edmonton with his family in 2014. After learning about Abu Bakr's life, his English teacher Winnie Yeung decided that she wanted to share his remarkable story with as many Canadians as possible.  

The two teamed up to create the memoir Homes, which was a finalist for the 2018 Governor General's Literary Award for nonfiction

Now Homes is a finalist for Canada Reads 2019, where it will be defended by Simple Plan drummer Chuck Comeau. The debates take place March 25-28, 2019.   

They will air on CBC Radio One at 11 a.m. (1 p.m. AT/1:30 p.m. NT), on CBC at 3 p.m. (3:30 NT), live streamed online at CBC Books at 11 a.m. ET and will be available on the free CBC Gem streaming service.

Abu Bakr al Rabeeah and Winnie Yeung spoke with CBC London's Chris dela Torre about how the book came together and what it's like being Canada Reads finalists.   

Growing up in Syria

Abu Bakr: "My life was about family, school and work. I would go to school and in the afternoon I would go to work in my father's bakery. After that, I would meet my friends and play with them. I would also go to the mosque and then go home to be with my family." 

Winnie: "It was important for me, when compiling the stories I was going to write, to emphasize how normal his life is. Because we forget that their society, before everything happened, was very, very similar to ours in that way. And so to draw those parallels shows us how hate can spread to violence really quickly. And so even here, in the safety of Canada, we have to stand guard against that."

Coming to Canada

Winnie: "I always go back to the first time I heard about Abu Bakr. What my principal said in my interview for this job was that he's a gift to our school. He was the first Syrian refugee in the school and his presence was so gentle and so warm." 

Abu Bakr: "When I first came to Canada and went to Highlands School I realized that not many people knew about back home — Syria and Iraq. I got questions like: Do you guys have schools in Syria or Iraq? Do you guys have chairs? So these questions made me want to share my story."

Sharing Abu Bakr's experience

Abu Bakr: "I hope people will realize how similar our lives are and what it is like for newcomers to come to Canada having no idea how their lives will be. So I hope it will be helpful to them to get in touch with newcomers and help out."

Winnie: "We hope this book will be a bridge of understanding. We might not have in common where we come from, our religion or anything like that, but the sense of isolation and loneliness — we've all felt that at one point or another. And this book shines a light on that." 

Meeting their rock star defender

Abu Bakr: "Chuck [Comeau] is a great guy. We met him in Toronto and we talked a little bit and one of the things that I loved when he talked about the book was he said 'I am a dad, and I understand the connection between you and your father.' He really loved that connection that I have with my father."

Winnie: "First of all, he's a rock star so how cool is that? What I really, really love about Chuck is that he's an artist. He writes songs with his bandmates so he understands the collaborative process that Abu Bakr and I had to go through. My favourite thing about Chuck is that he is such a gentle person. And this book, despite the fact that it's about something really intense and scary — it's about a civil war — I feel that its strength is that it's so gentle. I think he gets that this book is about warmth and kindness because that's who he is."

Abu Bakr al Rabeeah and Winnie Yeung's comments have been edited for length and clarity. 

The Canada Reads 2019 contenders

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