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Moving Forward Sideways Like a Crab by Shani…

Moving Forward Sideways Like a Crab

by Shani Mootoo

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MOVING FORWARD SIDEWAYS LIKE A CRAB by Shani Mootoo was sent to me by Akashic Books in exchange for an unbiased and honest review. This title was first published by Doubleday Canada in 2014 and is being reprinted in the US by Akashic Books in 2017.
This is a story about storytelling. How a story is understood by and shapes both the ‘teller’ and the ‘listener’.
It is a story of unfolding layers - layers and layers of culture, ethnicity, origins, immigrant experiences and expectations, friendship, city life - island life, cold climate - tropical climate, Toronto - Trinidad, family expectations and relationships, gender, physical appearance, childhood experiences, lesbian and bisexual relationships, and storytelling.
It is a very descriptive story - of language, place, local customs, city life, emotions. I was caught up on every page with descriptions - of snow, of the walk Sid makes to the clinic, the Hindu funeral rituals, Sid’s friendship with Zain. Mesmerizing.
The story begins with a prologue of sorts - From Sydney’s Notebook; Moving Forward Sideways Like A Crab by Jonathan Lewis-Adey follows and is written in 3 parts with 12 chapters.
Jonathan is born to a very independent and successful author, India Lewis-Adey. She is in a relationship at the time with artist and Trinidadian immigrant, Siddhani Mahale. ‘Sid’ in effect raises the young child (Jonathan) which leaves India time to fully concentrate on her writing career. When their relationship cools several years later, India tells Sid to leave and Sid can’t bring herself to say good-bye to young Jonathan. This begins Jonathan’s very deep feelings of abandonment.
Many years later, Jonathan begins searching for Siddhani Mahale and is puzzled when he can only locate a Mr. Sydney Mahale in Trinidad.
Sydney is indeed Sid and has undergone sex reassignment surgery. Sydney is now a female to man transsexual. Jonathan visits Sydney in Trinidad off and on for many years trying to reconnect with this very important parent figure. Jonathan is also trying to understand Sid/Sydney’s abandonment of him and his new transsexual self.
Jonathan is always the ‘listener’ and when Sydney dies, Jonathan tries to understand Sydney through Sydney’s journals and letters as the ‘teller’.
There are many strong characters in this story - Siddhani/Sydney Mahale, India Lewis-Adey, Jonathan Lewis-Adey, Zain - best friend, confidante and inner voice of Sid and later Sydney, Sydney’s staff in Trinidad, the mysterious Eric, Anta - who helps organize Sydney’s Hindu funeral.
It is a very lyrical, poetic, emotional story - rich in its settings, emotions, gender and story-telling. I can’t stop thinking about this story and its participants. ( )
  diana.hauser | Apr 16, 2017 |
This review was written for LibraryThing Early Reviewers.
No character in MOVING FORWARD SIDEWAYS LIKE A CRAB is quite where he or she wants to be in life. Sydney is a woman who lives as a man, Zain is a married female not quite satisfied with the attention she gets within her traditional marriage, Jonathan is a grown man who is still the little boy inside, the young boy who was left by his mother's lover and whom he considered his second parent. Jonathan's mother, a peripheral character in the novel, is obsessed with her writing career and doesn't want to be pulled back in history - or so it seems - to either Sydney, her previous lover or to Jonathan, the son she had but let Sydney primarily raise until he was about ten.

Mootoo's book about characters moving through life lacking something: a true gender, a sense of being loved, a need for attention is a thoughtful, very personal sounding contemplation told through Jonathan's memories, Sydney's journals, and Zain's letters. Their stories are interwoven into one, traveling from Canada and the told over-and-over-again story of the snowy cold day Sydney walked to the clinic to have her breasts removed, to Trinidad where Jonathan, Sydney, and the servants who work for him eat the most West Indian of food, look out over the most West Indian scenery, and live life in a very Trinidadian manner.

The novel is compelling and one becomes interested in the characters. Mootoo's first novel, CEREUS BLOOMS AT NIGHT was much more West Indian in nature, with gender being more of a subplot. Now, in this book, Mootoo's fourth, gender identity takes first place and the West Indies come in second. It is almost as though an editor said "But you've lost that West Indian feeling! Get it back!" and Mootoo obliged by adding nature scenes, descriptions of food, and adding close-up looks at Trinidadian Hindu customs.

There is much to like about MOVING FORWARD even though it is difficult to get to know Sydney (almost as if as a real-life person, Sydney would not let anyone too close), and the chief narrator, Jonathan, is not particularly likable, being a bit self-centered, feeling cheated of the years he spent without Sydney, wanting to be the son, but really wanting a mother and not the father that Sydney has become. Zain may be the most interesting character as she seems (through her letters) to say what she feels, and she gives love freely even though it may not be quite in the manner in which Sydney craves it.

Mootoo introduced some interesting plot elements that were not followed up upon thoroughly and leave the reader a bit disappointed. There is a horrific murder of a main character, yet this is never totally addressed or totally resolved, even though most readers will be waiting to hear a different ending.

For fans of Shani Mootoo, this book will not disappoint, but it will make one think: about why many move forward in life by moving "sideways," why there is so much dissatisfaction in relationships, how religion and community play into life choices, and what defines friendship. For those who are reading Mootoo for the first time, this may not be the best book to start with. Reading Mootoo's books chronologically may be helpful not only to allow a new reader to become acquainted with her style, but also so that her development as a writer can be clearly seen. ( )
  IsolaBlue | Apr 15, 2017 |
This review was written for LibraryThing Early Reviewers.
I found the experience of reading this novel to be quite daunting due to boredom. It was not the story that bore me, the themes that are explored in the book are actually very important in this current political climate, but it is written in a very boring way. Themes don't make a book good, sorry not sorry. ( )
  anemoneee | Apr 12, 2017 |
LM review
  TheDenizen | May 31, 2016 |

okay, so this novel should give readers much to think about. gender identity is a primary theme, and it's become an issue that is being talked about more and more in some societies. this is a good thing. with hope, discussion leads to understanding and acceptance. i do believe that reading fiction leads to stronger or improved empathy. and i think books like this one, or [book:Annabel|7984373], will help with these conversations. so on that front, i think mootoo's book is special and necessary. there were moments in the novel that were absolutely beautiful. where i am struggling, however, is with the voices in the book. there are 3 prominent characters, plus supporting players. i didn't find the voices distinct enough from one another - they all blended together and seemed to be the same. mootoo's narrative employs flashbacks and letter writing, and those devices didn't - for me - help solidify her characters' voices any better. i also felt the voices were flat. and given there are some very large and angst-y issues in play, the flatness of voice seemed to create an emotional void. so that was a strange experience. this should have been a very emotional reading experience. overall, i did like the book, so please don't misunderstand me. i was just so very stoked for mootoo's new book...and it was not blow-my-socks-off awesome, as i hoped it would be. but it was good. :) ( )
1 vote Booktrovert | Mar 25, 2014 |
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0385676220, Hardcover)

From the author of Cereus Blooms at Night and Valmiki’s Daughter, both nominated for the Scotiabank Giller Prize, comes a haunting and courageous new novel. Written in vibrant, supple prose that vividly conjures both the tropical landscape of Trinidad and the muted winter cityscape of Toronto, Moving Forward Sideways Like a Crab is a passionate eulogy to a beloved parent, and a nuanced, moving tale about the struggle to embrace the complex realities of love and family ties.
Jonathan Lewis-Adey was nine when his parents, who were raising him in a tree-lined Toronto neighbourhood, separated and his mother, Sid, vanished from his life. It was not until he was a grown man, and a promising writer with two books to his name, that Jonathan finally reconnected with his beloved parent—only to find, to his shock and dismay, that the woman he’d known as “Sid” had morphed into an elegant, courtly man named Sydney. In the decade following this discovery, Jonathan made regular pilgrimages from Toronto to visit Sydney, who now lived quietly in a well-appointed retreat in his native Trinidad. And on each visit, Jonathan struggled to overcome his confusion and anger at the choices Sydney had made, trying with increasing desperation to rediscover the parent he’d once adored inside this familiar stranger.
As the novel opens, Jonathan has been summoned urgently to Trinidad where Sydney, now aged and dying, seems at last to offer him the gift he longs for: a winding story that moves forward sideways as it slowly peels away the layers of Sydney’s life. But soon it becomes clear that when and where the story will end is up to Jonathan, and it is he who must decide what to do with Sydney’s haunting legacy of love, loss, and acceptance.

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:20:32 -0400)

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