Aga Maksimowska's Giant is one of those books that takes some time to sink into - and definitely takes time to forget.
Polish-Canadians may very well feel the authenticity of the locations and the political conflicts, but the universal nature of so much of this book will resonate with a multitude of readers.
Gosia, our 11-year-old protagonist, is a peculiar child trapped in an overgrown body: the Giant for which the novel is named. It is through her eyes that we are introduced to her grandparents, who care for her in Morena, a Polish suburb, along with her younger sister, Kasia. Her parents split up long before, with her father close by but mostly absent, and her mother away in Canada.
Although a significant part of the novel is about the political upheaval in Poland, eerily reminscent of the more recent Syrian, Libyan and Egyptian revolts, it was always the relationships between the characters that really struck me above all.
When Gosia and her sister leave Poland to join their mother in Canada, she is faced not only with the trauma of moving out of her motherland, but also the new journey of womanhood within a strange culture. She is unsure, scared: "Do you want to go to Canada?" her father asks her. She stutters back, "I-I don't know." Again, he throws out: "You think you'll like Canada better than your homeland? Do you? You think you'll be happier with your mother and her gigolo?"
Happiness is an elusive emotion for Gosia, but once in Toronto, she does her best to settle into a foreign life: she borrows books on basketball from the North York Central Library, hides out at school after classes, and watches news reports about the Iron Curtain and the end of Communism in Europe.
Watching Gosia transform, from a sullen child, to a somewhat more collected young woman with a university scholarship in hand, is what this story is about. As a child of immigrants myself, there were so many parts that just encapsulated so much of what it means to grow into yourself without any real guidelines. By the end, Gosia's sister remarks:
"You feel what you feel: Canadian. It's good. You're definitely not Polish anymore, just your own wierd hybrid."
Giant is one of the five 2013 Toronto Book Award nominees. The winner will be announced October 9. To read Giant, place a hold or see a librarian at any branch for assistance. Good luck to all the nominees!