Anne Mahon is the lucky one — the On The Same Page initiative has chosen her collection of stories to be its featured book this year.
On The Same Page, a project by The Winnipeg Foundation and Winnipeg Public Library, is a widespread book club, encouraging Manitobans to read and talk about the same book at the same time.
Published by Great Plains Publications in Wolseley, Mahon’s The Lucky Ones is comprised of 17 stories from African refugees who have moved to Winnipeg.
"It tells the stories of challenges in Africa and what it’s like to come to Canada to start all over again," Mahon, a Tuxedo resident, explained. "It highlights some of the challenges and difficulties faced, but it also has a triumphant feel. There are stories of hope and of gratitude and a lot of perseverance."
The Lucky Ones was chosen by public vote. On The Same Page co-ordinator Danielle Pilon said each year, a list of four books is put together for Manitobans to vote on in order to select the featured book.
"I was so delighted that someone was going to bring the stories of these individual refugees to an audience," said Ingeborg Boyens, executive editor and one of the two owners of Great Plains Publications. "So often we never hear from people like that because they’re busy trying to set their own lives and don’t want to think about the past."
Although she has never travelled to Africa, Mahon was inspired to write this book based on her own personal experiences living away from her hometown, Winnipeg.
"I found it to be quite challenging," Mahon admitted. "When I heard the story of an African refugee friend who’s in the book, I became intensely curious about what it would be like to leave everything behind and have to start with nothing."
From that point forward, Mahon worked her book for the next five years. Mahon wrote the stories herself, but she interviewed each subject, recording their conversations.
"Some of (the stories) were so horrific! I thought, ‘Oh my God, how does someone live through this?’" Boyens said.
Mahon found her subjects by word of mouth — one person would introduce her to their friend, and so on. Mahon is also a volunteer at the Immigrant and Refugee Community Organization of Manitoba (IRCOM), so she met several of her interview subjects there. Regardless of the subject matter, Mahon found the interviewees easy to work with.
"They were very open-hearted and I was quite amazed by it. Overall, the subjects were very generous and very trusting. There were a few people who didn’t participate but they are very much in the minority," Mahon said.
The title of the book describes those who were fortunate to leave the refugee experience in Africa, said Mahon.
"I think it’s also a nod to those people who have done really well for themselves and settled well," Mahon added. "And I think, in a way, it’s also a question mark. It’s hard to come here as an immigrant or a refugee to Canada, so one might also ask, ‘Are they lucky?’"
For more information about Mahon’s book, visit annemahon.ca