From Publishers Weekly
In De Sa's debut, a father and son narrate a revelatory, if disjointed, story spanning two generations of Portuguese-Canadian immigrants. Escaping the abuse and overbearing expectations of his mother as well as a pedophile priest, young Manuel Rebelo flees his small Portuguese village on a fishing boat in 1954, finding his promised land in St. John, Newfoundland. Through a number of trials, including a near-drowning at sea, betrayal by his rescuers, and the threat of deportation, Manuel pursues the ghost of his father (who died at sea) and an apparition Manuel calls Big Lips, a fish who appears in times of need and contemplation. Leaping ahead to the 1970s, readers find Manuel married with two children, and living in Toronto's Portuguese neighborhood. From there, Manuel's six-year-old son, Antonio, takes over the narration, precociously chronicling his father's descent into alcoholism, disillusionment, and bitterness. The sudden change in narration underscores the novel's general sense of disorientation; readers will likely find Manuel's journey from victimized altar boy to villainous father jarring, as if, in the confusion, De Sa left out part of the story.
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*Starred Review* A novel divided into two distinct halves ordinarily suffers from problems due to the interruption in the narrative. Not so here; the two parts of this intelligent yet passionate novel merge seamlessly into a double-layered, twice as effective, doubly meaningful story, which is usually what is intended by such a structure, but which in other authors’ hands, too often fails to materialize. Granted, the theme is not new: the emigrant-immigrant experience from Europe to the New World. But the particular circumstances that De Sa creates in which to let these experiences play out, as well as his presentation of a deeply flawed main character nevertheless performing the heroic act of leaving home for an unforeseen future, give the tale its distinctiveness. As a young man, Manuel Rebelo leaves his hometown on the Azores Islands (a territory of Portugal), embarking on a fishing boat to flee the confinement of his limited prospects. He jumps ship in Nova Scotia, eventually settling down in Toronto with his wife and family to do what immigrants always intend: to seek a better life. Bringing family history full circle, and in the process cementing the novel’s two halves, Manuel impresses his confinement on his son, who, in turn, wants to make his escape, in this instance from the Portuguese neighborhood of Toronto. A beautiful musical piece stating and repeating its profoundly moving melody. --Brad Hooper