or La Galaxie des lumières tardives
A Novel of Kindness
By Con Cú
Reviewed by Michael Scott-Harston
Looking for an intriguing but accessible good read? Ready for a break from your normal North American-Euro-centric fare? You would do well to consider Con Cu’s first novel, Soldier, Lily, Peace and Pearls. It is set against a very broad, even sweeping set of cultural and physical land and seascapes peopled by an equally diverse set of characters. The plot consists of many seemingly unconnected strands which the author splices in unexpected but plausible ways.
As this multi-titled work indicates, it is often acts of kindness which bind the characters together and enable the story to progress. Opening in Montreal, the novel unexpectedly eliminates a core character and then takes us back to a radically different past to relate who she was, how she came to be in Canada, the nature of her family and its journey to our shores.
The book focuses on the relations and unexpected links between families from three different cultures. For those readers who remember the waves of “boat people” arriving in Canada and other countries following the end of the Vietnam war, Con Cu reveals the circumstances from whence this new wave of Canadian immigration emerged, what its members endured to get here and how they fared and adapted on arrival. Some of the story is brutal and cruel but hope appears in unexpected ways from unlikely sources. Their story is intriguing – for me it was a definite page-turner.
Working at the Department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade exposes many of us, to varying degrees, to Canada’s on going immigration story. But it does not normally enable us to glimpse, let alone assess, what happens to immigrants in the years following their arrival. Soldier, Lily, Peace and Pearls takes us along on this two way process of change and adaptation. And Con Cú draws on the full range of his international experience to analyze a new aspect of Canadian immigration – the collision of worlds between Canadians born in Canada and immigrants from very different cultures and more intriguingly between immigrants/New Canadians and their counterparts from vastly different cultures and locations. Both growth and hope emerge but Con Cú does not shy away from examining the undesirable side of the immigration story – crime, hate, selfishness and betrayal at times also accompany our immigrants.
The global setting for Soldier, Lily, Peace and Pearls is an intricate part of this book. Con Cú uses his familiarity with the diverse settings of Vietnam, Cambodia, Malaysia, Germany, Rwanda, Palestine, B.C. Quebec and Ottawa to create authentic settings for his story. The locations are not just colourful settings à la Hollywood. They and their contemporary history are a full and vibrant feature of the novel. A portrait of the current human condition emerges. As his many characters develop, we share their sorrows, joys and loves in a true kaleidoscope of events. While there is cruelty and tragedy this is counterbalanced by lust, passion and well crafted erotic love.
Michael Scott-Harston is a seasoned Canadian diplomat.
Soldier, Lily, Peace and Pearls is published by Deux Voiliers Publishing, distributed in Canada by Red Tuque Books (www.redtuquebooks.ca) and sold on-line through Amazon, Lulu.com, Barnes and Noble, the Book Depository and various other on-line booksellers.