Another solitude

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 The Enemy Within
All the women are white, all the Quebecers are francophone

NO, The Enemy Within, isn't about saving America from liberalism, or an underground Israeli organization, or how to defeat the power of sin. Those topics already occupy books of the same name. This is a novel about the life of a young Indian immigrant in Quebec, struggling to keep her sense of self in a new country, with a new husband.

So, who or what is the enemy in question? If you can get past the cliché, it's a worthy question that keeps the reader engaged throughout this tale of sacrifice and self-discovery.

“When a woman tried for twenty years and failed to make a man love her, it was time to call it quits. When nothing a woman did pleased a man and when his mere breathing got on her nerves, it was time to move on.”

The book follows the life of Sita Verma, from her roots in Kerala through her Westernized existence in Quebec City. Speckled with references to Quebec political landmarks, like the October Crisis of 1970 and the 1995 referendum, The Enemy Within captivates the reader by providing a warm bed of context for each event that Sita encounters.

The life of Sita roughly follows that of the author, Nalini Warriar, who, also from Kerala, moved to Quebec as a young woman; she too is a scientist, as is her character. The Enemy Within is her first novel and her second book; her Blues from the Malabar Coast: Short Stories (2002) won the Quebec Writers Federation First Book Award.

The story is delivered thoughtfully, focusing primarily on Sita's internal landscape. And while this may sound like yet another soul-searching tale of the triumph of the spirit, Warriar pulls it off without too many sappy interludes.

Part of the uniqueness of this novel (and perhaps its saving grace) is its insight into and analysis of Canadian politics. By simply being different from the average Quebecer, Sita finds herself a beacon for racism and sexism. She is called La Noire by her neighbour; her husband expects her to be a silent servant in her own house; when she becomes a researcher at a clinic, she is paid less than her counterparts and exploited for her ideas without credit.

For Sita, one of the biggest sources of anxiety is the political dicotomy of French and English in Quebec; as an immigrant, she does not fit neatly into these categories âe" especially with her dark skin and Indian accent.

“It was autumn again and referendum time in Quebec. Sita listened to the debates by scholars and experts. What they said boiled down to one thing: Quebec for the francophones. Or as Sita saw it, white Quebeckers.”

Possibly the most outstanding part of the novel is the complexity of character. We feel what Sita feels and we hate who she hates. Its weakness is the counterpart to this âe" too much time in Sita's head: her attentiveness to the weather and her natural surroundings can be annoying. Descriptors for a grey sky or fragrant flowers abound. If you didn't know what Quebec City looked like before, this book will make you an expert. Warriar hasnâe(TM)t allowed the reader to imagine the details for herself.

There is a particular enemy to which the title refers, but the reader doesn't discover it until Sita does, near the end of the book. Arguably, a better title may have been Cold Places, Cold People. Despite this novel's weaknesses, it is propelled by a strong, addictive plot line and by the tearing down of illusions about the greatness of this country. For that alone, it's worth the read.âe"Jenn Watt

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