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Nazneen Sadiq. Illustrated by Mary Cserepy.
Toronto, ON: James Lorimer, 1985.
89pp., cloth, $12.95.
ISBN 0-88862-913-3. Time of Our Lives. CIP.

Subject Heading:
Children's stories, Canadian (English).

Grades 5-8 / Ages 10-13

Reviewed by Joanne Peters.

Volume 14 Number 1
1986 January

Camels Can Make You Homesick is a collection of five short stories about five Canadians of South Asian background. Like many second-generation Canadians, these pre-teenagers find themselves caught between two sets of values: those of their ethnic background and those of the North American society into which they were born, or to which they emigrated at an early age. Undoubtedly, Nazneen Sadiq must have experienced some of the same tensions herself; born in Pakistan, she moved to Canada in 1964. A journalist by profession, she was inspired by the experiences of both her own children, and those of her friends, to write this collection of stories.

Each story is self-contained, the common link being each child's attempt to reconcile his or her sense of being a Canadian with his or her cultural identity, an identity sometimes borne rather unwillingly. In the first story, "Peacocks and Bandaids," a young Indian classical dancer's public debut is almost ruined by a classmate's malicious destruction of her costume, while in "Who Needs Heroes?," a night spent alone in the wilderness of a survival camp convinces a young man that the courage of his Sikh ancestors, invoked with pride by his father, is a worthy quality, irrespective of one's cultural background. The title story, "Camels Can Make You Homesick,'' shows that even when your camel does not understand English commands mothers and children of all cultures intuitively understand laughter and loneliness. "Figs for Everyone," not only teaches about the beauty of another heritage's festivals, but also about the importance of learning to respect customs that are different from those of one's own ethnic background.

Although "Camels Can Make You Homesick" is the title story, the strongest of the collection is "Shonar Arches," an account of a Calcutta-dwelling grandmother who visits her family in Toronto. More than in the other stories, dialogue, rather than narration, moves the story along, and this gives it a vitality that outshines the others. Furthermore, the conflicts are not only cross-cultural ones; they are the everyday problems of a kid's life: parents who serve broccoli for dinner a grandmother who calls you her "little boy" and kisses you in public, and then compounds the humiliation by dressing up to go to McDonald's. It is the best story in the group and has the greatest appeal.

The book is intended for an audience of ten to fourteen-year-olds, although mature twelve and thirteen-year-olds might find the style and plot a bit too simple for their tastes. The book's readability, and the shortness of the stories would make it agreeable to students of middle to lower abilities, while the clear print and black-and-white illustrations would appeal to younger students. However, those who judge books by their covers might not give this one a second look; the colours used in the cover illustration are unsubtle and a bit garish. In addition to being read for enjoyment, the book could serve a number of uses as a supplementary classroom text.

Joanne Peters, Sisler H.S, Winnipeg, MB.
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