I took one look at the cover of In Search of Paradise by Susan Gabori (McGill-Queen's) and put it right back on the shelf. The abstract landscape on the cover looks static and barren so I thought this would be a book without people. A few weeks later, desperate for something to read, I decided to give it a try and I'm happy to report that there are lots of people inside—ordinary people telling their ordinary stories in a wonderfully interesting way.
The stories the Pace family (Vincenzo, Teresa, Franco, Roberto, Angelina and Michele) tell start in 1938 in a little village in Italy and end in 1997 in Toronto. The book is divided into four sections, each one representing a period of time in the family's life. Within a section, each family member gets a chapter in which to tell us what was going on in their hearts and minds at that time. The father, Vincenzo, starts the cycle, then his wife Teresa tells her side, then each of the children takes a turn, and as each chapter began I got the feeling that now I would find out what was really happening. Of course, what I got was only each person's perceptions of that time and place, but putting all these stories together gives a rich and many-layered portrait of a family.
I'm glad I left the Preface until last (I feared lengthy explanations), because there I learned that the Paces were not real, they were made up by Gabori after many hours of interviews with Italian immigrants. Her aim was an examination of the immigrant experience which sounds like a history textbook (this book looks like one too) but Gabori has managed to give each character such a personal voice that the family comes alive on the page.