“Escape to Etobicoke” is a short story in the collection The Book of Ifs and Buts by Rabindranath Maharaj. I was drawn to this collection for a couple reasons. I liked the title. I liked the book cover. I liked the name of the author. After reading the little blurb about him on the back, I thought he was someone I could relate too. (Maharaj immigrated to Canada from Trinidad, just like my parents.) Therefore, I had to buy his book of short stories.
Like other stories in the collection, “Escape to Etobicoke” is about the issues immigrants face when moving to Canada. The main character, Robert, was journalist at a prominent Trinidadian newspaper. Now he tutors a boy in English. He tries to make his life work here. He talks about the relatives he stayed with, also immigrants, formerly teachers. Now they’re shift workers. He talks about their children, who are Canadian, who speak differently, act differently from their parents and what that does to their family. He faces difficulties trying to make this new life for himself and refuses to go back to Trinidad.
The story takes the form of a letter to a friend. I’m never sure with letters-as-short-stories. Is this really the way someone would write a letter? I don’t think so. Maharaj actually seems to address this issue. In the letter, the writer, referring to the language that he’s using, says that he’s not a poet. The reader remembers that he is a journalist and so then presumably has a way with words.
I like that the main character describes what he has come to learn as the difference between Americans and Canadians. I also like the way he describes the hardships faced by immigrants. He does this without being melodramatic or begging for sympathy. It’s a description of his experiences. You get the feeling that perhaps “Escape to Etobicoke” started as an actual letter that Maharaj wrote to someone back in Trinidad. I suppose there's a lot I like about this story and the collection it comes from.