Saturday, January 8, 2011

Girl Unwrapped by Gabriella Goliger

As the daughter of holocaust survivors who immigrated to Canada, Toni Goldblatt is used to negotiating life as an outsider. In addition to being Jewish, Toni realizes early on that another thing sets her apart: her attraction to women. After a childhood spent as a tomboy in the streets of 1950s Montreal, Toni falls in love for the first time with a counsellor at Jewish summer camp. Her coming-out journey takes her to Israel shortly after the end of the war in 1967, then back home to Canada, where she learns to stand up for herself.

The book is divided into five parts, named for where they take place. The first part (The Mountain) and the last two (Loulou's and The Ghetto) are the strongest. The cast of characters is broader and more lively in these sections. In the final section, Toni's mother is given more depth and Toni herself sheds her awkwardness as she comes of age. It ends on a satisfying, hopeful note.

Scenes in the lesbian bar, Loulou's, are reminiscent of Marie-Claire Blais' classic Nights in the Underground, which is set in about the same era. For more stories of lesbians in Montreal, read Bottle Rocket Hearts by Zoe Whittall and the story 'Are You Committed?' in This One's Going to Last Forever by Nairne Holtz.

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