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book of changes

impressive and satisfying

book of changes
alex johnston

Moving Forward Sideways, Like a Crab by Shani Mootoo; Published by Anchor Canada, Available in Paperback (2015)

Perennial Giller Prize nominee Shani Mootoo’s most recent novel, Moving Forward Sideways, Like a Crab is at it’s heart, a story told by one character to another, about a walk in the snow.

The storyteller is a dying man named Sydney, who was born Siddhani, the daughter of a wealthy Trinidadian doctor. The listener is Johnathan, a young man who spent the first several years of his childhood looking up to “Sid” as a second mother - before his mother, Sid’s lover, turned Sid out, leaving Johnathan to feel forever abandoned by his beloved missing parent.

Having reconnected with Sydney as an adult, Johnathan is still seeking answers and a sense of closure before “Syd’s” illness claims him forever. Sydney feels passionately that these answers are to be found in his retelling of the story of the snowy winter morning, years ago, when Sidhanni walked through Toronto’s East End to the clinic that would allow him to become Sydney.

But of course it can be no surprise that the events that led up to this decisive moment, and it’s ongoing echoes, spread out to embrace friends, families, cultures in collision, intolerance, injustice, and even murder – all circling around and returning to the almost initiatory ritual death and rebirth that awaited Sydney at the end of that long walk through the snow…

Although life affirming, Moving Forward… is portentous, punctuated by tragedy and loss, and even a little stilted at times … perhaps not a great “beach read”. But the overall structure of the story, the symmetry of the transformations and the arcs of understanding, are impressive and satisfying.

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