It is forgivable to forget that Toronto is the prevailing backdrop to the stories and poems collected in the anthology TOK: Writing the New Toronto. The anthology itself is not exactly about Toronto—devoid of any superficialities of Toronto pride and a “what Toronto means to me” mentality—choosing instead to showcase a continually shape-shifting Toronto.
Edited by Helen Walsh, TOK is the first installment of the series—presented by Diaspora Dialogues and published through the Zephyr Press—bringing to life a mosaic of Toronto voices. Collected from both emerging and established writers, TOK includes stories and poetry by David Bezmozgis (author of the 2005 Toronto Book Award winning novel, Natasha and Other Stories), Helena Frei, Christine Estima, Edward Lee, Shyam Selvadurai (author of Funny Boy, which won the W.H. Smith/Books in Canada First Novel Award), and many others.
Reading TOK parallels the process of befriending the city—a slow journey of discovery and understanding. These stories and poems will not immediately throw you into heaps of excitement or adventure. That is not to say that this book is lacking those qualities; instead, these selected stories and poems opt to slowly unravel themselves, showing you a world of Toronto you may have never thought existed. If you take TOK on the subway, on the streetcar, or to work with you, the stories and poems will become more and more alive. You will wonder about the people who pass you by and what secrets they may have hidden from you and everyone else.
Each page unfolds with subtle delicacy, showing you stories about a Spanish café worker who gets paid in food, living underground beneath the rumble of streetcars; a father who finds himself becoming more and more distant from his trilingual daughter; poems about waiting in Union station; I-Spy games from the Connections section of a Toronto weekly; and many others. Although the stories in TOK can sometimes feel lethargic and almost chore-like, sifting through the book is like partaking in the metamorphosis of a Toronto mosaic. Thus, once the hearts of the collected works are upon you (and you remember through little details, like familiar street names, that this book is Toronto), you will find that it was well worth the effort it takes to ease into this anthology.
If you’d like to hear some of this TOKing for yourself, you can join Diaspora Dialogues at the Toronto Women’s Bookstore for some readings of TOK: Writing the New Toronto, book two. Featuring TOK contributors Devyani Saltzman (author of Shooting Water), Catherine Hernandez (author of the Dora-nominated play Singkil), short story writer Michele Chai, and novelist/playwright Evan Placey. The reading will take place tonight at 7 p.m. (73 Harbord Street).
TOK: Writing the New Toronto is available through the Zephyr Press for $19.95.
Photo courtesy of Diaspora Dialogues.