Book Review by Mary Ann Moore (Published in the Vancouver Sun on December 1st 2017)
The Language of Family: Stories of Bonds and Belonging
The Language of Family has been beautifully designed by Lara Minja with images of nests as a motif throughout and edited by Michelle van der Merwe, publisher at the Royal BC Museum.
Some of us are old enough to remember albums with black-and-white photographs, placed on black pages with black “photo corners” — each snapshot featuring descriptions of the people and places written with white pencil.
It’s these family photographs that fire evacuees scoop up, “while struggling to ensure the safety of people and animals,” Don Bourdon points out in his personal essay: At Our Best: The Photograph Album as an Expression of Family.
The Language of Family, which is a collection of personal narratives from British Columbian authors, has been beautifully designed by Lara Minja and edited by Michelle van der Merwe, the publisher at the Royal B.C. Museum.
Along with many photographs, there are engaging stories of families that are or have been part of the communities that make up B.C. including First Nations, LGBTQ, Japanese Canadian and Indo Canadian communities.
In All of the Related People, Martha Black writes: “Because ethnographic collections are storehouses of memory, symbols of cultural loss and carriers of profound emotions, the objects themselves can be agents for bringing dispersed families together to reclaim heritage and maintain or activate connections.”
Carver Luke Marston researched his family’s history and created a sculpture to commemorate his Portuguese great-great-grandfather, Joe Silvey. Shore to Shore, five years in the making, is cast in bronze and erected in Stanley Park where “Portuguese Joe” once lived. The traditional name of the village was P’apeyek (Brockton point).
“Within Coast Salish culture we are always taught to know our past and to hold value in who we are and where we come from,” Marston says in his essay entitled Family.
Fathers and Sons, a poem by Patrick Lane, is included in the collection as well as poems by Monique Gray Smith, Ann-Bernice Thomas, and Zoe Duhaime.
British Columbia’s Lieutenant Governor Judith I. Guichon writes of her first husband’s, the late Laurie Guichon, family ranch in the Nicola Valley, while Lynn Greenhough writes of becoming Jewish in A Story of Being Odd and Finding One’s Bashert.
“These days,” she says in the book, “I also write and teach about caring for our trans people who live amongst us.”
She is married to a transgender man and says, “marriage is much less about gender and much more about loyalty and integrity. It is about being hurt and trying again.”
Whether connected by blood or experience, the twenty contributors to this collection have offered enlightening and thought-provoking perspectives through this compilation of works.
Stories of Bonds and Belonging
Royal British Columbia Museum
The Languages of Family is both a visual and a literary exploration of the meaning of family in many contexts. Illustrated essays from 20 contributors across British Columbia offer personal perspectives on what family is, how families form, how they represent themselves, and how they define a sense of place and belonging.
The nest is used as a metaphor for family bonds and belonging in this design. A nest can be a place of birth, a place of comfort and nourishment, a place to learn, a place of memory, and a place to return. Many of the nests included have meaningful strips of text woven into them. These words are taken directly from the poems and stories in the book and highlight particular thoughts. More such strips are scattered throughout the pages to provide moments of pause and consideration.
The book is intended to be warm, inviting, human, tactile, and down-to-earth. This is a contemplative piece that encourages the reader to reflect.