Thursday, September 20, 2012

I Have in my Arms Both Ways

I Have in my Arms Both Ways – Adrienne Jansen

Partly because I’m not sure how to review this book and partly because I’m not feeling particularly verbose, I’ll keep this short. “I Have in my Arms Both Ways” is a collection of stories from 10 immigrant women living in New Zealand. Although it was put together in 1990, it’s not dated; their stories are still relevant because they are history. Each woman spends a long time reflecting on growing up in her home country before briefly addressing the challenges she has faced in New Zealand. The differences in the stories offer touching and sentimental expressions of childhood against the background of class struggles, warfare, or political upheaval. I particularly enjoyed reading this book at this time because it is so relevant to me. The struggles of trying to make a home in a country outside the one where you grew up seem to have some universal difficulties, including the interminably slow language-learning process and the inability to find the comfort foods you grew up with (it’s actually really reassuring to know that food and lack of what is familiar seems to be one of the biggest problems with migration in general – I’m not crazy for still missing macaroni and cheese!). I also loved this book because it was a strong but nonjudgmental reminder of how culture is so ingrained that we don’t notice it when we are living in it. The women tell their own stories, share their own beliefs, and comment on how it differs from the New Zealand culture they now try to call home. The difficulties of trying to adjust and adapt to a new culture while simultaneously trying to create a life are things that you would never think about in daily life, but show the strength and resilience of the human spirit. It may not be the most professional writing, but the occasional lapses in perfect English make these stories all the more personal, which is exactly what you would want when reading immigrants’ stories. This book was so good that instead of putting it back on the library shelves, I passed it straight on to another person.

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