A man explores the life story of his absentee transgender parent.
Growing up in Canada, Jonathan Lewis-Adey was raised by two mothers, India and Siddhani. When the couple split around Jonathan’s 10th birthday, he stayed with India and lost touch with Sid, as she was known. Many years later, Jonathan—now a writer—wants to reconnect but has no success finding Sid in Toronto. Instead, he tracks down a man with the same last name in Sid’s native country of Trinidad. Traveling there in the hope he has found a relative, Jonathan instead realizes he has found his lost parent—now living as a man named Sydney in the island nation. Over the course of 9 years, Jonathan re-establishes himself in Sydney’s life—but it is only at the old man’s death, and through the revelations that follow it, that Jonathan comes to understand him. Mootoo (Valmiki’s Daughter, 2009, etc.) is clearly interested in Sydney as a symbol of what it means for a person to exist in a hybrid space: Sid/Sydney’s story is as much about negotiating the differing cultures of Canada and Trinidad (where he hailed from an elite family) as it is about spending an uneasy life in the body of a woman and then transitioning to a man. Readers who enjoy rich details of place will find Mootoo’s writing about her settings to be luxuriant; we are especially treated to abundant descriptions of Trinidad. But these descriptions can come at the expense of pacing and characterization—Jonathan in particular seems inert and blurry, no match for the vitality of the world he finds himself in.
A slow-moving but thoughtful exploration of place and identity.