Book: The Amazing Absorbing Boy
(Rabindranath Maharaj) Knopf Canada $29.95
If there’s one thing newcomers to Canada share with comic book superheroes, it’s the ability to change their appearance and transform into someone with extraordinary powers. The Amazing Absorbing Boy, a book by Rabindranath Maharaj, is about a 17-year-old named Samuel who discovers that his ability of “blending in with the crowd” was something he could pick up from his beloved comic book heroes.
Samuel, or Sammy, arrives in Canada from Trinidad after his mother passes away and he is sent to live with his father in Regent Park, one of Toronto’s poorest neighbourhoods.
Sammy’s problems begin with the almost non-existent relationship he has with his father, who he left Trinidad many years ago. Sammy looks forward to spending time with the man he knew only through his mother’s stories. In Toronto, however, his father has grown cold and distant, and Sammy struggles to reconnect with him.
Like any teenaged boy, Sammy gets easily distracted, but he’s also focused when he needs to be. He compares what he sees to things that are familiar to him, such as men in suits riding the subway to “molemen” characters in Superman comics. He imagines himself as a version of the Silver Surfer, who glides above everyone and sees everything from a bird’s point of view, watching the busyness of Toronto from a floating silver walkway.
Like all new immigrants, Sammy also worries about getting a job to help pay for the rent. He wants to explore the world around him, and find out why “regular” Canadians act the way they do and dress with four layers of clothing. And, like any newcomer, he constantly thinks of home – his village of Mayaro in Trinidad where his uncle owns a corner store, grown-ups are frequently found in the rum shop, and his friends spend afternoons on the beach.
Everything he sees is fresh and new, and he gains new experiences every day through the conversations he has with different people. At a coffee shop he sits with seniors who recall war stories and complain about the government; at a rally in Nathan Phillips Square, he talks to protesters who fight every week for their cause, and it opens his eyes to the many things that people can feel strongly passionate about. Sammy also talks to his co-worker Paul about the Maritimes, and he becomes fascinated with descriptions of “mysterious lamps and corked bottles strewn all over Newfoundland’s coast.”
What’s great about The Amazing Absorbing Boy is that even though Sammy deals with so many interesting, sometimes outrageous people, his story of settling into Canada isn’t all that different from everyone else’s.
This book is a good first look at literary, cultural Canada. The way Maharaj writes is very conversational and easily readable. The book is an entertaining way of exploring the craziness that big cities are famous for. The Amazing Absorbing Boy makes you feel a sense of wonder, of discovering every corner of the city – and Sammy’s adventures show that really well. Though his shyness sometimes gets in the way, that’s okay too; newcomers often aren’t sure of how to function in their new world.
Sammy’s story inspires you to explore what’s around and, more importantly, it inspires excitement over finding new things to love about Canada – basement-dwelling vampires, caped video-store crusaders, and mysterious goons included – every single day.