In her latest book, Room for all of Us, Canada’s former Governor General, Adrienne Clarkson, shares her poignant views on immigration, displacement and belonging. The novel follows the lives of ten extraordinary individuals, revealing some of the most harrowing experiences in their journey to get to Canada. The book shares their arrival and ultimately their success. An immigrant herself, Clarkson provides encouraging and optimistic stories of struggle and survival from the perspective of some remarkable people who have come to transform our nation despite their hardships. Room for All of Us is an intimate and insightful narrative, reflective of Canada’s rich immigration past and present.
Adrienne Clarkson. Photo: Calgary Herald
Recently I had the chance to sit down with Ms. Clarkson and discuss the motivation behind her work. When asked what inspired her to write a novel about the Canadian immigration experience from the perspective of others, Ms. Clarkson revealed two specific reasons for writing Room for all of Us. First, after writing her autobiography, many people approached the author about the extraordinary nature of her life story. “I thought right away, well no, it’s not that extraordinary but there are people who have had the most extraordinary experiences in our country and I wanted to tell some of them!” she claims. Seeing as Clarkson knew most of the people already, she decided to put together a collective of the most unusual and inspiring tales from some of these remarkable individuals. Moreover, Clarkson felt identification with these people, that on many levels they were not only just like her but their lives somehow overlapped.
The second inspiration for her book came out of her identification with loss, shock and brutality. As Clarkson points out, “I lived through a war, where we lived we were afraid. All of those were common things I really understood.” She goes on to note that without the stories of people’s struggles it is hard to understand the peace of Canada, which we are so fortunate to have. What’s more, with so many overlapping immigrant experiences, there is a sense of commonality between the people that help shape and transform the Canadian landscape. When asked why she chose the specific group of individuals who appear in her book, Clarkson didn’t hesitate and responded: “as you know I’ve had a long career in television, then I did a lot of public service, then I was Governor General so I wanted to cover certain events in the world that had brought us immigrants, but these people all had to be living.” Essentially, her book details specific world events that brought people to the Canadian shores.
“I wanted the readers to feel as if I was telling them a story.”
Throughout the book, the author makes references to various tragic events, including the Holocaust, the Vietnam War and the Exodus from East Africa. When asked about these, Clarkson points out that these events were especially important not only in transforming the world but shaping Canada as a nation. She states, “at one point, I said to myself, ‘well I have got to cover this’ because I noticed how they (immigrant communities) are adding so much to our Canadian communities.” More importantly, however is the fact that each of these individuals comes out of a situation where Canada has had some sort of involvement, as a result, the author’s main goal was to try and “show the human side of each of these altercations.”
Although the book does a great job in providing a comprehensive sample of individuals from varying backgrounds, I wanted to know who was missing from the narrative. Clarkson felt that there were many voices she could have included, for example survivors of the Rwanda genocide, but she “wanted to make the book very readable to people, something that you could pick up and you would understand.” What she really wanted was for her readers to feel as though she was “telling you their story.” She is adamant about the fact that the book is not a history book, or an academic look at immigration but rather it is about an extraordinary group of people and “how they opened their lives to me (Clarkson) and I was able to tell their story.” And that certainly comes across in the book.
Room for All of Us is available at all major bookstores across Canada.