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Ibi Kaslik

Biographie

Ibivola Kaslik (Toronto, 1973) est écrivaine, journaliste et professeure de « creative writing » à l'université de Toronto. Elle a étudié l'écriture créative et la littérature anglaise à l'université Concordia de Toronto. Son premier roman Skinny (2004) est devenu un best-seller aux États-Unis et a été nominé pour le « Books in Canada First Novel Award 2004 » et le « Borders Original Voice Award 2006 ». La traduction française par Julien Ramel est parue aux éditions Intervista.

Son deuxième roman, intitulé The Angel Riots, une tragicomédie qui raconte l'histoire d'un groupe de rock débutant, fut nominé en 2008 pour le « Ontario Trillium Award ».

Durant sa résidence d'auteur, Ibi Kaslik a travaillé à Radical Road, un roman qui a pour thème le difficile équilibre entre maternité et réalisation personnelle dans la société nord-américaine.

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Texte d'Auteur

Pen-pals

In 1958 Germain Veranko, a young Belgian accounting student, responded to an ad seeking an English pen-pal in the International Youth Hostel magazine and found my mother, a young English student from Yugoslavia who was seeking to improve her written language skills. It was the fashion, in those days, to have an English pen-pal, my mother tells me. Thus began a fifty-year correspondence between Germain and a young Hungarian high-school student, my mother.

Germain arrives at Villa Hellabosch -which I have taken to referring to simply as The Villa- on a summery April evening. After a glass of wine, and a brief tour of the lush estate, Germain's brother-in-law, driving a slick Mercedes or a BMW, a common as racing bicycles and spandex here, takes me to Germain's family home in suburban home in Waragam. There, I meet his lovely wife Denise and we speak in broken English, use hand gestures as I reach into the recesses of my ancient and limited Canadian French to communicate with her over a light dinner of cold-cuts, bread and the requisite Belgium assortment of cheese. Over our meal, Germain tells us stories of obtaining a visa to travel to visit my mother, in the early 60s, then-Yugoslavia. He describes the hassle of organizing the necessary paperwork for himself, and his two travel companions, and the officiousness of the Sebian customs agents and police in general with incredulity. It strikes me that the cumbersome and ridiculous bureaucracy of communism amuses and confuses Europeans as much as it does North Americans. Germain mentions that, at the time, his family was worried and perplexed by his journey. Why travel to the Balkans? Why bother travelling to such a fraught, complicated and misunderstood country?

**

Belgian is very similar to Canada, from its Flemish separatist politics, which are similar to our Quebecois language issues, to its bucolic landscapes. Both nations are economically and politically stable, attracting little international interest. The landscape at Vollezele is reminiscent of Maritime farms: except the fields in Belgian are excessively tidy, as if ordered by a large obsessive-compulsive giant: every grain of dirt, every blade of grass, every sheep and horse and cow in stringent obsessive order. The only difference in Canada is the expanse of land prevents any type of neatness or order: there is a wilderness, a limitless that creeps into every expansive Canadian landscape making every vista untamable, unmanageable.

In Belgian objects, from brick houses, to cement fence posts, to books and people, appear sturdier, made to endure. When I give a copy of my second novel to group of Flemish writers and publishers they comment immediately on the low quality of cheap paper it's printed on. At dinner with the same group, they talk about the First World War, everyone has a historical or personal connection, a mine story. Tradition and history blend seamlessly here, WWI still palpable, present as the bluebells sprouting up in the forest around the Villa. I think the Flemish can relate to William Faulkner's quote about the American South: "The past is never dead. It's not even past." But perhaps the accusatory anti-Anglophone, Je Me Souviens, engraved on Quebec's license plates is even more appropriate; for here, there is the unmistakable sense of remembering, which seeps in and permeates everything, from the leaves to the shadows at night.

**

Despite his family's resistance and objections, Germain was determined to travel to communist Yugoslavia to meet his Hungarian friend, my mother, whom he only knew through words and pictures. They spent a few days in Novisad, where my uncle Steve, my mother's junior by three years, showed the young Belgians around. My grandmother cooked for them and my grandfather-who died when I was three- was the consummate host. Suddenly, Germain produces a folder of letters; black-and-white photographs with corrugated edges; more recent pictures of my family at Christmastime, during happier times, and photocopies of reviews of my novel. It is odd to see these fragments of my life, my family history, presented to me proudly, by a stout man I have only known for three hours, in an unfamiliar context. The black-and-white photos are in pristine condition, unlike the folded, yellowed and crimped piles of sepia in my parents' house, sun bleached and thumbed over, like a well-loved book. I am struck by two photos in particular: one is a portrait of my mother with a gentle smile on her face, her strikingly full Jackie-O cheeks, her pointed collar and upswept hair. The other is of my very young parents: my father in a military uniform, on a brief leave from the Yugoslav army, hoisting up my diapered toddler brother. I have the same photo framed in my apartment in Toronto. It was the last photograph taken before my mother emigrated to Canada a few weeks later. The last time she saw my brother and my father, for nearly three years.

**

The Verankos house is a full of secret crooked, random, Mother-Goose add-ons: doorways leading to narrow passages where I have to bend down to stalk through hallways with uneven ledges. It is a problem to be solved by the next generation, Germain laughs, as he leads me through to uneven steps that lead to rooms with a preponderance of baby bassinets, cribs and seats, three of which are arranged around the guestroom bed like empty auditorium seating for infants. The Verankos have two children, a forty-three year old businessman, and a twenty-seven year-old daughter. The children were born sixteen years apart, a gap close to the decade, which separates me from my own brother. I have the pleasure of meeting their younger daughter, Sofie-Ann, later in the evening with her boyfriend, whose model-perfect looks are distracting, and am shown three Baptismal books of their granddaughter. Before I head to sleep, I watch Germain carefully put away the photographs of my mother and my family in a plastic sleeve. He lingers for a moment, sliding his thumb lightly over the image of my young mother, remembering.

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Villa Hellebosch
15.04.13 > 13.05.13

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