This is one of the most innovative and intriguing memoirs I have read. Its structure is inspired by the visual image of the line that runs through the Punjab region, partitioning Pakistan from India. The book is separated into halves: one half relates the stories of the author’s parents, who were born on opposite sides of the line, and the other presents the author’s own experiences and observations as a second-generation immigrant. Nothing about the design of the book indicates which half should be read first—a hint that the reader will be invited to consider the resonances running in both directions across the generations.
The theme of fragmentation and division is, paradoxically, the glue that binds the various elements of the book together. The author explores the arbitrary lines, imposed by historical and cultural forces, that divide people from each other and that split their selves into parts. The portrait of the parents’ marriage is one in which two people are unable to cross the barriers that have been erected between them. The account of the family’s settlement in Canada is riddled with encounters in which discriminatory attitudes keep them apart from the majority culture of their adopted country. In her account of her own life, the author—who is both a poet and a professor of ecology—portrays her own internal life as having the nature of a kaleidoscope, composed of separate pieces whose patterns shift moment by moment depending on the perspective one adopts.
The result is a lyrical and rewarding volume, as well as a challenging one. This is not a book in which the various pieces are neatly tied up for the reader, or in which a tidy integration takes place. Instead, readers are invited to experience for themselves the process of making sense of a life of seemingly disconnected pieces, a process that is familiar to many immigrants who have felt the effects of radical discontinuities in their lives.