The Next Chapter

How Scotiabank Giller Prize finalist David Bezmozgis wrote about the hardships of being an immigrant

The Toronto writer's short story collection Immigrant City is a finalist for the 2019 Scotiabank Giller Prize.
Immigrant City is a short story collection by David Bezmozgis. (HarperCollins Canada)

David Bezmozgis's Immigrant City is one of six titles shortlisted for the 2019 Scotiabank Giller Prize. The $100,000 prize is the richest Canadian literary award and annually recognizes the country's best fiction. 

The Toronto-based author — previously a Scotiabank Giller Prize finalist for his books, The Free World and The Betrayers — was born in Latvia and immigrated to Canada when he was six. It's an experience that's shaped his life and approach to writing colourful characters that face the challenges and hardships of being strangers in a new land.

He spoke with Shelagh Rogers about why he wrote Immigrant City.

Immigrant like me

"The characters in Immigrant City, in a lot of ways, have a lot of similarities to me. There's something about the immigrant experience — of having gone through those hardships — that's actually valuable.

There's something about the immigrant experience — of having gone through those hardships — that's actually valuable.- David Bezmozgis

"There was something about wanting to write about domestic life from the perspective of being a father. I wanted to see if I could make that interesting and dramatic." 

Drifting away

"If you're an immigrant, you've likely come to a particular country for the sake of your children. You're willing to sacrifice for their sake.  Then you find them drifting from you. You find that they judge you for your foreignness or how you misunderstand this new culture that you've brought them into. That's a particular type of pain that a parent would have to suffer. So there's a lot of that there in this book.

"There's father and children relationships in these stories —  whether it's told from the perspective of the father or the child. It's trying to imagine my own father regarding me at a certain point in our lives and how he might have felt."

Second generation responsibilities

"When you're an immigrant child, you can feel like you've taken on a parental role, you're interpreting the culture and society for your parents who don't understand it as well as you can.

You feel a strong debt to your parents who have brought you over and now it's your turn to take care of them.-David Bezmozgis

"It's a class issue when you feel like if you've attained something, you have a responsibility for your family, be it your parents or your grandparents. It's true of a lot of immigrants who come here with very little. You feel a strong debt to your parents who have brought you over and now it's your turn to take care of them. 

"That's an obligation that most children feel for their parents — or should under the best circumstances."

David Bezmozgis's comments have been edited for length and clarity.

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