"Moving Forward Sideways Like a Crab" by Shani Mootoo

Jonathan Lewis-Adey had an idyllic childhood, growing up in a beautiful Toronto neighbourhood and raised by his mother, India, and her partner Sid.  But one day, at the age of nine, Sid disappeared from Jonathan’s life completely.

Years later, as a grown man and writer of two books, he tries to reconnect with the woman he so dearly loved as a child.  But when he arrives in Trinidad, Sid’s home, Jonathan discovers that she is no longer as he remembered.  Sid is now Sydney, a man.  

Over the next decade, Jonathan continues to make trips to Trinidad to get to know Sydney, hoping to find out why he disappeared all those years ago.  But as Jonathan tries to find his beloved parent within this stranger, he finds himself struggling to understand the effects love and acceptance have on all of us.

Moving Forward Sideways Like a Crab, by Shani Mootoo, is a moving novel about love and family, identity and acceptance.  Inhabiting both the vibrant landscape of Trinidad and the difficult winter of Toronto, this is a beautifully understated book that examines the things that determine who we are and who we become.

I picked up this book because of its Giller Prize nomination, not knowing what it was about.  It was evident very early on in the book the topics it would be tackling - identity, gender, family, racism - and this drew me in.  Using Jonathan in search of his parent to explore these themes was an interesting device.  As Jonathan discovers Sydney, so do we.

My criticism of this book would then be that this didn’t move along as fast as I hoped it would.  Learning about Sydney through the lens of a childhood friendship was another interesting way of telling the story but I felt as though there was so much more that could have been there to move it forward.  I would have preferred Jonathan to be a character that relays the story to us, that hears it at the same time we do, rather than also having to deal with his need to understand Sydney.

The issue of homosexuality and gender identity in the Caribbean is not something that is addressed in fiction often enough.  I feel as though people living outside of these countries do not truly understand the importance of these issues and that is why writers like Mootoo and books like this are so needed.  This novel is a first-rate example of how books shape our world views and how they bring to life the stories that need to be heard.   


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