Yasmin Ladha’s experimental and provocative novel weaves story, essay, and poem together in an exquisite exploration of the ways in which one can love a country.
Ladha playfully flirts with the idea of “home” in two geographically distinct sections. The first section follows an unnamed narrator of Indian descent as she comes of age in Dodoma, Tanzania during the politically tumultuous and ethnically divisive 1960s. She struggles to carve out an identity in the cultural and religious melting pot that is Dodoma: she attends Muslim prayers rich with Hindu allegory; she notices her grandfather’s itchy, wool pants from London in the closet; she is ordered to learn Swahili in school. As tension builds between long-settled Indian merchants and native Africans in the years following independence, her ideas about belonging and home begin to crumble.
In the second section, the young woman and her family immigrate to Calgary, Alberta and she begins a lifelong love affair with the prairies. Yet the relationship is a fraught one, underlined by her anxiety about never having “proved up,” or paid her dues, like the pioneer ancestors of her countrymen. Unwilling to settle for geographical monogamy, she plays hard to get, traveling to Delhi, India for trysts with her Kashmiri lover and to Chonju, Korea where she works as a language teacher. Yet always, she is distracted by thoughts of “home”—a fantasized Canadian West of barn dances and blueberry muffins—and imagines not only a place that she can return to, but a place that beckons her return.
Blue Sunflower Startle offers the reader select mementoes of a childhood stubbornly affixed to place and an adulthood spent often in the air. Written in unusual, intoxicating, and poetic prose, Ladha has written a modern day Romance for frequent travellers and restless, rootless spirits.
“Yasmin Ladha splits the page wide open... These stories delight in their ability to capture one’s senses, drag the reader to the centre of taste or sight or sound, then backflip into an ending of surprise but never trickery.” — Nicole Markotic, Prairie Fire