Friday, July 3, 2015

CanLit Reviews: Drive-by Saviours by Chris Benjamin

If you've followed my blog for any amount of time, you'll know that I love reading books that make me think. I love books that stretch my brain and make me step outside of my own world to consider someone else's. Drive-by Saviours accomplished that excellently. In fact that was kind of what I felt the book was about, people learning to consider other people's stories. 

The book centres around two characters. One is Mark, a white Canadian living in Toronto who finds everything in his life mundane from his social work job to his partner, and who used to want to save the world but is now stuck in a rut. The other part of the story is the life of Bumi, whose story begins when he's a young boy on a small island in Indonesia and follows him through all his struggles into adulthood. As you could probably guess, the paths of the two men meet when Bumi immigrates to Canada.

The stories of both characters are told eloquently and incredibly carefully. There are a lot of scenes or chapters that seem to be out of place in the moment, but come to fit smoothly into the story later on. The writing is incredibly concise and captivating, and the clever twists of words enraptured me with each character's story. The places as well as the characters come alive through the author's writing.

Just listen to this description of Ottawa in one of Mark's chapters:

"The city that never wakes up, which has no culture, houses the highest bureaucrat-per-capita rate outside Geneva, has the seventh coldest winter temperatures of any nation's capital, bans alcohol after midnight and litter before, smells like carbon monoxide and feels like ether, celebrates smog and humidity with the bland cultural products of Canadian content law and draws more people for its tulip festival than any other event, is the city that produced the woman I loved."

Of course the main thing I thought about throughout this entire book is, how do these stories even connect? Even after Bumi and Mark met I kept trying to figure out what the two characters were learning from each other. A lot of the time it seemed like nothing, although of course that may have been the point. 

The commentary on social issues relating to immigration, development and modernization was great. You can see through Bumi's story how he is affected by the do-good attitude of outsiders his entire life, and how that destroys him. Then on the other side is Mark, the example of the wannabe social justice warrior and almost accidental white saviour figure. Not only do the themes of the book focus on the various trials and realities of immigration to Canada, but also the ups and downs and missteps of development work. Mark feels unfulfilled his entire life because he feels he's not helping people enough, and then when he meets this downtrodden immigrant he wants to help him for all the wrong reasons.

I find all of this stuff fascinating, probably because of my interest in international and cross-cultural development. But I'd really encourage you to check out this book. Not only is it a fascinating cross-continental story, but it touches on important and current issues. Even if it is fictional, I'm sure the stories reflect the situations of many real Canadians. (Also you should read it because I really want to discuss it with someone).

Find it on Goodreads here.
Chris Benjamin's website 
Chris Benjamin's Twitter 

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