Academic journal article British Journal of Canadian Studies

Bilingual Being - My Life as a Hyphen

Academic journal article British Journal of Canadian Studies

Bilingual Being - My Life as a Hyphen

Article excerpt

Kathleen Saint-Onge, Bilingual Being - My Life as a Hyphen (Montreal and Kingston: McGill-Queen's University Press, 2013), 288 pp. Cased. C$34.95. ISBN 978-0-7735-4119-1.

This is probably one of the most unique books I have ever reviewed. One of the reasons I offered to review it is because I am actually bilingual myself (English and Punjabi) and so the title intrigued me. Bilingual Being is essentially an autobiography by the author who was born and raised in Quebec City and speaks both French and English. However, it is also much more than this. It is truly multi-dimensional and I will focus on several of the key themes that I identified throughout the book. The first is the tension in being bilingual, especially in the way that language relates to culture. Second, the book charts the trauma and memory of child sexual abuse. And third, throughout the narrative there is the political dimension of the significant changes that were taking place in Quebec from the 1950s to the 1970s.

Saint-Onge captures perfectly the tension that exists in being bilingual, in terms of the different cultures from which those languages emerge. A good example of this is the way that she describes how she moved away from the culture of her mother (Francophone) when she embraced English (personified by her Anglophone paternal grandmother). On a personal note, her comment that speaking in your non-mother tongue in front of your mother is a powerful source of exclusion particularly resonated with me.

Saint-Onge quite bravely in my opinion talks about the trauma of the sexual abuse she sadly experienced as a child. …

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