Blackbodying

Description

210 pages
$21.95
ISBN 0-919688-94-2
DDC C813'.6

Publisher

Year

2004

Contributor

Reviewed by Matt Hartman

Matt Hartman is a freelance editor and cataloguer, running Hartman Cataloguing, Editing and Indexing Services.

Review

The “blackbody effect,” we are told on the book’s cover, refers to
the “governing force behind black holes, [and] … to a theoretical
body that absorbs all light and reflects nothing in return.”
Lebanese-born Montrealer Dimitri Nasrallah has taken this concept and
anthropomorphized it into his inaugural novel. The story (though not the
concept) is familiar to immigrants throughout the world. The process of
assimilation is often a bitter one. Despite the hardships and horrors
one might have left at home, the effort to adapt to a new land and
culture is marked by just this kind of absorption. “Ah, nostalgia,”
says the protagonist, “if only everything were so properly lit, so
well excavated, so that answers could soak through the many fragmented
parts and hold this decomposing present together.”

Nasrallah’s impressive debut consists of two stories, each
representative of a different part of the immigrant experience. The
first story is narrated by a young Lebanese, who escapes first to Greece
then to Canada with his family. With voice (and sensibilities) changing
from present to past and back again, the nameless youngster
matter-of-factly describes how his parents have never truly left their
native Beirut. Everything they do is coloured by memories of their
war-ravaged homeland. Nasrallah intersperses photographs of his parents
throughout the first section; the pictures serve as a graphic
interlinear of the difficult process of assimilation.

The second story is no less troubling. Subtitled “A Canadian
Fiction,” it’s about a Lebanese-Canadian taxi driver in Toronto
whose loneliness evolves into a compulsion to rescue a woman he hears on
a shortwave radio being verbally abused. His life becomes a series of
encounters with the voices of this woman and of her tormentor. The
“fiction,” according to one’s interpretation, may have been
composed by the narrator of the first story.

Nasrallah has a formidable talent for one so young. In the less than 20
years since his arrival in Canada, he has developed impressive English
writing skills.

Citation

Nasrallah, Dimitri., “Blackbodying,” Canadian Book Review Annual Online, accessed July 13, 2024, https://cbra.library.utoronto.ca/items/show/31164.