Books·Canada Reads 2020

We Have Always Been Here by Samra Habib

We Have Always Been Here is a book by Samra Habib.

Defended by Amanda Brugel

Amanda Brugel won Canada Reads 2020 defending Samra Habib’s memoir We Have Always Been Here. (CBC)

Amanda Brugel won Canada Reads 2020 defending We Have Always Been Here by Samra Habib.

Canada Reads 2020 took place July 20-23.

About We Have Always Been Here

Samra Habib has spent most of her life searching for the safety to be herself. As an Ahmadi Muslim growing up in Pakistan, she faced regular threats from Islamic extremists who believed the small, dynamic sect to be blasphemous. From her parents, she internalized the lesson that revealing her identity could put her in grave danger.

When her family came to Canada as refugees, Samra encountered a whole new host of challenges: bullies, racism, the threat of poverty, and an arranged marriage. Backed into a corner, her need for a safe space — in which to grow and nurture her creative, feminist spirit — became dire. The men in her life wanted to police her, the women in her life had only shown her the example of pious obedience and her body was a problem to be solved.

So begins an exploration of faith, art, love, and queer sexuality, a journey that takes her to the far reaches of the globe to uncover a truth that was within her all along. A triumphant memoir of forgiveness and family, both chosen and not, We Have Always Been Here is a rallying cry for anyone who has ever felt out of place and a testament to the power of fearlessly inhabiting one's truest self. (From Viking)

We Have Always Been Here was on the 2020 RBC Taylor Prize longlist.

About Amanda Brugel

Amanda Brugel is an actor known for her roles in the film Room and the TV series Orphan Black, CBC's Workin' Moms, CBC's Kim's Convenience and Hulu's The Handmaid's Tale. She has recently joined the casts of TNT's dystopian drama Snowpiercer and USA Network's YA thriller Dare Me. Her upcoming feature films include DarrenLike a House On Fire and and the action thriller Becky opposite Kevin James.

Amanda Brugel on We Have Always Been Here

The 2020 finale saw Amanda Brugel and Kaniehtiio Horn make their final arguments for books We Have Always Been Here and Son of a Trickster. 1:06
In the Canada Reads 2020 finale, The Handmaid’s Tale star and her fellow panellists debate the necessity for the stories told in their contending books. 3:14
On Day Three of Canada Reads 2020, the two panellists drew parallels between the books they are defending. 2:29

About Samra Habib

Samra Habib is a journalist, photographer and activist based in Toronto. CBC Books named Habib a writer to watch in 2019We Have Always Been Here is her first book.

Why Samra Habib wrote We Have Always Been Here

"I saw a lot of benefit in being honest about my experience. I think there's a lack of queer Muslim narratives and one of the reasons could be that many fear persecution. It's not safe to be an openly queer Muslim person in a lot of different parts of the world, but I don't have to fear. I think I am relatively safe and I thought, 'OK, I can do this without risking a lot.'

It was while writing the book that I realized that, even when it came to embracing the fact that I'm queer, I was hiding for a long time.- Samra Habib

"It was while writing the book that I realized that, even when it came to embracing the fact that I'm queer, I was hiding for a long time. I was staying in these relationships with straight men or not sharing who I was with people who I was close to. I was still hiding, even though I didn't need to hide anymore. What I'm left with now is the question: What are some of the other things in my life I'm still hiding?"

Read more in Samra Habib's interview with CBC Books.

From the book

My relationship with Alex was perfect, until I'd learned everything it could possibly teach me. I learned what fluidity looked like, and how to enjoy my body with a spectrum of queer lovers. And through it all Alex provided an anchor, which I will be forever grateful for. My vision of what being queer looked like was coming into focus. 

But I couldn't help feeling that being with Alex, a cis man, was my way of continuing to hide. I had hidden myself for so long, ever since Khola denied having seen me at the Ahmadi mosque. I had internalised the message that hiding would protect me, but I didn't realise the dangerous pattern this created. My relationship with Alex felt like another cloak, affording me the opportunity to be with queer people in private without fear of judgment or repercussions. But my fears were leftovers from a past that I had moved beyond, and I was tired of hiding. 


From We Have Always Been Here by Samra Habib ©2019. Published by Viking.

Interviews with Samra Habib

Samra Habib talks to Shelagh Rogers about her memoir, We Have Always Been Here 12:13
Toronto photographer Samra Habib's Tumblr series Just Me and Allah: A Queer Muslim Photo Project explores the beauty, and the complications, of being being both LGBT and Muslim. 13:14

The Canada Reads 2020 contenders

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