Trials of the Migrant Life
Things Are Good Now, the debut collection by Ethiopian-Canadian author Djamila Ibrahim, features nine well-crafted short stories that chronicle painful quests for belonging. Its main characters are displaced people – refugees, migrants, and immigrants – with heavy dreams. Many of them have literal nightmares prompted by memories of torture, imprisonment and other such traumatic experiences they endured in their home country.
These men, women, and children also carry the weight of their dreams for the future – hopeful envisionings of security and community that are challenged in their new surroundings. They know what it means to take risks and make sacrifices without the guarantee of a better life. Their identities are shaped by cultural contexts that set them apart from their neighbours, colleagues, and friends.
In several of these sensitively rendered stories, people find kindness and derive strength from unexpected sources and situations. A lonely Ethiopian girl is frightened by an adopted family member’s Halloween costume and then receives a surprising gesture of comfort that makes her “feel that [she] mattered to someone again.” A Somali woman fears the disappointment of her parents after her marriage breaks down, but her female friends help her realize that “even in exile, we sometimes stumble on a path, a new way forward.”
Ibrahim realistically and evocatively highlights the varied approaches that her characters – most of them either Muslim or Christian – take to religious faith. Some of them are buoyed by long-held beliefs and familiar prayers while others wrestle with doubt and adopt new convictions. It is refreshing that Ibrahim does not reductively portray anyone as a mouthpiece for a particular worldview. Instead, she gives their fictional narratives a depth of nuance that leaves room for the reader to grow in their own understanding of the very real issues facing displaced people throughout our world today.