Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION
Posted: 10/12/2013 1:00 AM | Comments: 0
Few things tug harder at the heart than a good old-fashioned reunion story. Be it owner and pet, separated siblings, or parent and child, reuniting feels so good.
Well, not always, says Toronto poet and playwright Priscila Uppal, who teaches English literature and creative writing at York University.
Projection, recently shortlisted for the Governor General's Award and the Hilary Weston Writers' Trust Prize for non-fiction, details her 10-day reunion with her mother, who abandoned her in 1982. Uppal, then seven, and her eight-year-old brother Jit were left to be raised by their quadriplegic father.
With Brazil as its backdrop, Projection is no weepy Hallmark flick of the week. It doesn't lend itself to a Peaches & Herb sound bite. It's a gritty, insightful, honest and sometimes infuriating read that probes the often messy reality of family ties and mother-daughter relationships.
In 1977, Uppal's father became disabled after ingesting tainted water in Antigua, where he was a CIDA project manager. Priscila and Jit were toddlers. After returning to Canada, their mother, Theresa, spent five years trying to care for the family before deciding she was done.
She cleaned out her husband's and children's bank accounts, bought three one-way airline tickets and left their Ottawa home.
She made two unsuccessful attempts to abduct her children before returned to her Portuguese family in Brazil.
She never contacted her children again. In 2002, while doing an online search for reviews of her books, Priscila discovered Theresa's own literary website.
Curiosity sparked an awkward initial phone conversation and the two women decided to meet the following spring.
Although Priscila hoped the reunion would mutually benefit both women, the trip turned out to be one bogeyman short of a nightmare.
Mother and daughter found that they didn't like each other, despite shared interests in movies and art.
Both women use writing as an outlet for their frustrations and disappointments with life. But that's where their common ground ends. Priscila lives in her self-protective real world; Theresa calls her escapist world home. Neither the twain end up meeting.
Uppal's title, Projection, refers to movie projectors and feeds the movie connection., which is a bit contrived.
Fittingly, Uppal has named each chapter after a movie. Blade Runner resonates with mother and daughter, but it's Mommy Dearest that hits the hardest.
Uppal's recollections of the emotional and physical abuse Theresa unleashed upon her family as she became mentally unglued calls to mind Faye Dunaway's performance as the nasty Joan Crawford. Avid movie buffs will applaud the style; others will deem it overdone.
The book's few black and white photos of Uppal with Theresa and her extended family are deceptive. Smiling faces belie the awkwardness the unexpected reunion dumps on all the participants.
The mistrust and antagonism Theresa exhibits towards her own family, particularly her mother, is beyond sad.
In the end, mother abandons daughter again, this time at the Sao Paulo airport. Bemoaning their lack of common ground, Theresa flees to the first movie theatre she finds.
Although Priscila and her partner return to Brazil in 2005 to visit Theresa's extended family, mother and daughter have had no further contact.
"My goal was to find out who my mother is, who we are to each other," Uppal writes. "We're strangers tied by blood and crushed dreams. ... This can be freedom. ... Some dreams are meant to die."
Cut. Roll the credits.
Winnipeg writer Gail Cabana-Coldwell reconnected with her British birth mother in 1990, after a 35-year estrangement. Their relationship is a work-in-progress.
Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition October 12, 2013 A1
Have you found an error, or know of something we’ve missed in one of our stories? Please use the form below and let us know.
Having problems with the form?Contact Us Directly
Review: 'A Kim Jong-Il Production' is a fascinating tale
'The Girl on the Train' tops Maclean's fiction list
Chrissie Hynde memoir coming in September
British young-adult author Mal Peet dies at 67
Publisher moves up release for Hirsi Ali book 'Heretic'
Plum Johnson's memoir wins RBC Taylor Prize
Brokaw memoir about his battle with cancer coming in May
Review: Dave Barry's new book filled with humour, insight
Review: Detective Isaac Bell returns in 'The Assassin'
Review: 'Rule of Four' author thrills with Vatican mystery
Review: Maggie Barbieri's 'Lies That Bind' lacks impact
Review: Author explores failure of her marriage
Veronica Roth working on new series; 1st book due in 2017
Storytellers, local poet featured at B.C. retreat
Rock icon Kim Gordon's frank memoir inspiring
Dual narratives in Estonian tale reveal plenty
NHL's first American-born black player endured all types of battles
Author mines humour from dysfunctional Maritime family
True or false, Southern story a success
On the Night Table: Eddie Ayoub
Pace, politics rule Carey's hacker tale
Poignant Prairie novel rich with detail
POETRY: Repurposed verse both original, apocalyptic
Promising debut sidesteps crucial questions
New in Paper
WALL STREET JOURNAL-BEST SELLERS
USA TODAY Bestsellers
PUBLISHERS WEEKLY Bestsellers
Taste Canada, Food Bloggers launch new award
Charles Koch working on business book, scheduled for October
400-year-old books stolen in Italy are found in California
Former NYT executive editor Jill Abramson has book deal
Julianne Moore to be interviewed at second annual BookCon
Connecticut town pursues museum honouring Maurice Sendak
'The Girl on the Train' tops Maclean's fiction list
Book review: Kim Gordon is more than just a 'Girl in a Band'