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Barnacle Love by Anthony De Sa

barnaclev11-filtered Barnacle Love by Anthony De Sa

Barnacle Love is a collection of linked short stories, that read like a novel – about Portuguese fishermen, their lives at home in Portugal and their lives as immigrants to Newfoundland. The contemporary story is set in Toronto’s Little Portugal, rich with the culture from their homeland and the adventures of the children of these New Canadians.

Author Anthony De Sa knows this culture and community intimately. He will share it with an audience at the Charles W. Stockey Centre on Wednesday 14 October at 7:30 pm.

Barnacle Love was nominated for the Giller Prize, and is also a contender for the City of Toronto Book Award.

We begin in Portugal with a family of fishermen, and a young man who sails with the fleet to the Grand Banks of Newfoundland. Manuel makes a life for himself in St. John’s and we experience with him this foreign city, as he learns the ways of another world. Then, on to Ontario, to Toronto, to Palmerston Avenue, with Manuel and his wife, Georgina.

Manuel wants his mother, who had sacrificed so much, to meet Georgina and their children, Antonio and Terezinha. He convinces his resisting wife to travel back to Portugal with him, and the children, for a visit. This visit, that even Manuel had feared, allows all of the family to acknowledge the love they hold for one another. The richness of their culture is beautifully described in the life that Manuel’s family lives in the old world. There is a funeral – and a wedding. The traditions followed, are an important part of the life of the family – and a fascinating insight into their world for the reader.

When the family returns to Toronto, the children are growing up and becoming more independent – and observant. There is a very funny, and bittersweet scene of a religious procession involving Antonio and his friends. And later as Antonio learns to ride a bike with his father’s encouragement – you will laugh and cry. This is Toronto in the 1970’s.

Anthony De Sa is some years younger than I am, he remembers, from a child’s perspective, an event that took place in Toronto in 1977 and incorporates it into his story. The rape and murder of a 12 year old Portuguese shoeshine boy, Emanuel Jaques. The Portuguese community was literally up in arms. We lived near University and College at that time, and I vividly remember the protest marches – masses of men – out for blood. My husband rushed off with his camera to document the scene – and I feared for his life – this was the first time I understood the meaning of the word “mob”. These people were no longer rational. Antonio and his family are not unaffected.

For some Toronto is a city, for some it is still “back home”. One of the uncles has purchased a pig in Kensington Market – and it is butchered in the back yard. As a child I often spent summers at my grandparents farm – and pigs were butchered. I was not as brave as Antonio, who manages to watch with horrible fascination the butchering of the pig.

We come to the end of the story – the children are teenagers and Manuel has become a different man. As sometimes happens, as men age, they become resentful - that they have not met with the success that they think they deserve. Their children do not understand and appreciate the sacrifices they have made. There is bitterness and anger, and there is drinking. But there is, under it all, desperate love for family.

Anthony De Sa has captured all of this so eloquently in Barnacle Love. This is a young writer to watch – and not to miss in Parry Sound on 14 October. Barnacle Love was a pleasure to read, and I look forward to hearing him read from his work and talk to us about his writing life.


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