Click amount to donate direct to CounterPunch
  • $25
  • $50
  • $100
  • $500
  • $other
  • use PayPal
Support Our Annual Fund Drive! CounterPunch is entirely supported by our readers. Your donations pay for our small staff, tiny office, writers, designers, techies, bandwidth and servers. We don’t owe anything to advertisers, foundations, one-percenters or political parties. You are our only safety net. Please make a tax-deductible donation today.
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

Portuguese Canadians

by

“Coming of age novel”: the term makes me want to gag.  It’s been that overused–probably ever since Mark Twain’s The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, with the highest arc being J. D. Salinger’s Catcher in the Rye.  I like both novels but not the slew of later works trying to get so much mileage from these earlier writers.  Yet the term has become such common parlance that we all know what it means.  And, yes, it certainly applies to Anthony De Sa’s Kicking the Sky.  De Sa is Canadian, of Portuguese extraction, and I have to confess that I did not know anything of Toronto’s Portuguese community until I read his engaging and often riveting story.  It’s reminiscent of Mordecai Richler’s The Apprenticeship of Duddy Kravatz, about the Jewish community in Montreal in the 1940s, but bleaker.  De Sa’s story takes place three decades later, during the 1970s, and is based on an historical incident in 1977, when the body of twelve-year-old Emanuel Jacques (that’s his real name) was discovered on a rooftop in the Portuguese community, several days after the boy had disappeared.

What the main character, Anthony Rebelo (yes, he’s a rebel) wrestles with is his overbearing parents—particularly his mother.  Once the boy’s body is discovered, she and the other parents in the neighborhood become overly-protective.  That’s natural, of course, but exacerbated by the fact that almost all the adults in the area, on or near Yonge Street, work during the day.  Both men and women, so they can’t oversee their children as carefully as they would like.  After Jacques’ murder, these parents suddenly put the brakes on their children’s activities.  Good reason: the boy’s body was sexually abused.   But pre-adolescent
kickingskyand early adolescent boys, particularly, who are used to climbing over the rooftops, bicycling down sleazy streets and generally running wherever they want, don’t like what has happened, even if they now have a more immediate fear than they had before.

Into this cauldron of risky activity are the known men who drive through the community when the adults are away, poking their heads out of their cars, and offering the young boys hard cash (often large amounts) for sexual activity.  We see this several times in De Sa’s novel.  It’s way before gay pride and most of the men are closeted, probably married, but constantly, it appears, in search of forbidden sexual activity.  Moreover, Anthony is physically attracted to a twenty-year-old man who has recently rented a garage in the area; and it is pretty certain that that guy, James, supports himself by male prostitution.  But the men in the cars want younger boys and that’s where the parents’ legitimate fear resides.  You could say that the Portuguese community is being attacked from outside by sexually repressed men, and the horribly mutilated body of Emanuel Jacques, when it is discovered, brings the issue into the daylight.  Everybody knows that this sexual exploitation has been going on for years but suddenly it can no longer be ignored.

Antonio has a sister and a brother, who are older than he is, and an aunt who lives near-by, but although they can be helpful and understanding at times, they also have their own problems.  His aunt has escaped into her own fantasy world, repressing
the fact that her American husband has been killed in the war in Vietnam.  Worse, he was black, which didn’t sit well with Antonio’s parents; but the young narrator can talk to her more honestly than any other adult—other the mysterious James.  And James, in order to mask his homosexuality, has invited a fifteen-year-old pregnant girl to move in with him.  Antonio also lusted after her, before she became pregnant, and becomes totally confused by her decision to live with James.

The center of the novel pivots on a rather bizarre incident involving limpets Antonio’s family feast on one evening.  The young boy believes that he sees an image of Jesus in a limpet shell, after he had eaten one of the mollusks.  Pretty soon, his father and others see the image also and, more strangely, an old woman who suffers from crippling arthritis in her hands believes that she has been cured of her affliction after she touches Antonio.  The boy’s father quits his job as a manual laborer, sets up a shrine in their home—complete with a dais where he has his son sit—as worshippers flock into the room by the hundreds once the miracle of the woman’s arthritis becomes common knowledge.  All visitors are encouraged to leave money in a collection plate as they leave the room.  Soon the family has escaped their life-long situation of living close to poverty.  Even the Portuguese priest for the community tries to get into the act.  He threatens to shut down their racket unless they pay him fifty percent of the loot.

I found it rather difficult to put down De Sa’s Kicking the Sky.  It’s not a great novel, but it’s certainly compelling reading, and the novel’s ethical center carefully addresses issues of reality and morality is a serious manner. This is De Sa’s second novel.  Hopefully, there will be a third.

Anthony De Sa: Kicking the Sky

Algonquin, 316 pp., $14.95

Charles R. Larson is Emeritus Professor of Literature at American University in Washington, D.C.  Email: clarson@american.edu.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Charles R. Larson is Emeritus Professor of Literature at American University, in Washington, D.C. Email = clarson@american.edu. Twitter @LarsonChuck.

More articles by:

2016 Fund Drive
Smart. Fierce. Uncompromised. Support CounterPunch Now!

  • cp-store
  • donate paypal

CounterPunch Magazine

minimag-edit

Weekend Edition
September 30, 2016
Friday - Sunday
Henry Giroux
Thinking Dangerously in the Age of Normalized Ignorance
Stanley L. Cohen
Israel and Academic Freedom: a Closed Book
Paul Craig Roberts – Michael Hudson
Can Russia Learn From Brazil’s Fate? 
Andrew Levine
A Putrid Election: the Horserace as Farce
Mike Whitney
The Biggest Heist in Human History
Jeffrey St. Clair
Roaming Charges: the Sick Blue Line
Rob Urie
The Twilight of the Leisure Class
Vijay Prashad
In a Hall of Mirrors: Fear and Dislike at the Polls
Alexander Cockburn
The Man Who Built Clinton World
John Wight
Who Will Save Us From America?
Pepe Escobar
Afghanistan; It’s the Heroin, Stupid
W. T. Whitney
When Women’s Lives Don’t Matter
Julian Vigo
“Ooops, I Did It Again”: How the BBC Funnels Stories for Financial Gain
Howard Lisnoff
What was Missing From The Nation’s Interview with Bernie Sanders
Jeremy Brecher
Dakota Access Pipeline and the Future of American Labor
Binoy Kampmark
Pictures Left Incomplete: MH17 and the Joint Investigation Team
Andrew Kahn
Nader Gave Us Bush? Hillary Could Give Us Trump
Steve Horn
Obama Weakens Endangered Species Act
Dave Lindorff
US Propaganda Campaign to Demonize Russia in Full Gear over One-Sided Dutch/Aussie Report on Flight 17 Downing
John W. Whitehead
Uncomfortable Truths You Won’t Hear From the Presidential Candidates
Ramzy Baroud
Shimon Peres: Israel’s Nuclear Man
Brandon Jordan
The Battle for Mercosur
Murray Dobbin
A Globalization Wake-Up Call
Jesse Ventura
Corrupted Science: the DEA and Marijuana
Richard W. Behan
Installing a President by Force: Hillary Clinton and Our Moribund Democracy
Andrew Stewart
The Democratic Plot to Privatize Social Security
Daniel Borgstrom
On the Streets of Oakland, Expressing Solidarity with Charlotte
Marjorie Cohn
President Obama: ‘Patron’ of the Israeli Occupation
Norman Pollack
The “Self-Hating” Jew: A Critique
David Rosen
The Living Body & the Ecological Crisis
Joseph Natoli
Thoughtcrimes and Stupidspeak: Our Assault Against Words
Ron Jacobs
A Cycle of Death Underscored by Greed and a Lust for Power
Uri Avnery
Abu Mazen’s Balance Sheet
Kim Nicolini
Long Drive Home
Louisa Willcox
Tribes Make History with Signing of Grizzly Bear Treaty
Art Martin
The Matrix Around the Next Bend: Facebook, Augmented Reality and the Podification of the Populace
Andre Vltchek
Failures of the Western Left
Ishmael Reed
Millennialism or Extinctionism?
Frances Madeson
Why It’s Time to Create a Cabinet-Level Dept. of Native Affairs
Laura Finley
Presidential Debate Recommendations
José Negroni
Mass Firings on Broadway Lead Singers to Push Back
Leticia Cortez
Entering the Historical Dissonance Surrounding Desafinados
Robert J. Burrowes
Gandhi: ‘My Life is My Message’
Charles R. Larson
Queen Lear? Deborah Levy’s “Hot Milk”
David Yearsley
Bring on the Nibelungen: If Wagner Scored the Debates
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail
[i]
[i]
[i]
[i]