Book Review: Dear Current Occupant by Chelene Knight

Dear Current Occupant – Chelene Knight (Book*hug, 2019)

I read this short book in one afternoon after returning home from the library. It brought back a deep and strange nostalgia. The houses I grew up in, the neighbourhoods, the streets. Chelene Knight and I grew up in the 1990s, in east Vancouver, sometimes blocks away from each other. The map of her stories and the pictures and descriptions were breathtakingly familiar as I read her collection of essays, poems, and letters.

And yet our childhoods were also very, very different. She tells stories of “pack your bags” as she and her brother and mother moved once again from tiny apartment to basement suite. Her mother was involved with drugs and sex works and there is a recurring image through Knight’s work of her watching the light under the bathroom door, holding her breath to watch what happens to her mother. Knight is also mixed race – her mother African-American and her father East Indian-Ugandan. Her father is also largely absent from her life and one of the most heartbreaking essays comes at the end of the book, titled “never sure how the word Dad“. Knight struggles with her identity and her lack of role models, her lack of representation even in a large and diverse city like Vancouver.

The book is painfully intimate. Raw and real and beautifully written. I think even for a reader not familiar with this part of Vancouver, it would captivate and draw you in. This is a collection best read together, as themes and repeated images crop up over and over again, the way memories dog you, twisting and re-appearing as you attempt to make sense of your own past.

(Chelene Knight will be one of the featured authors at the Sunshine Coast Festival of the Written Arts this summer and I read Dear Current Occupant as part of my Writers Fest 2019 challenge.)

12 thoughts on “Book Review: Dear Current Occupant by Chelene Knight”

  1. Did you know the author? I ask because I grew up on a dirt road and found it impossible to not know everyone on it. However, in a city I know that people can live a few blocks apart and never meet.

    1. No, I’d never heard of her before this. I think she might be a couple years older than me. I also didn’t go to school in the neighbourhood so even kids my age in the same area I didn’t really know. City living is funny – I lived in an apartment building once where I never even saw the people who lived next door. Now I live in a small town and it’s very different!

    1. She has a poetry collection (Braided Skin) and then this. I think she’s been featured on the CBC recently. Maybe that’s it? Or maybe Twitter?

  2. This sounds great! I love reading books that are set in places that are familiar.
    I recently read an essay about ‘belonging’ by Chelene Knight in Black Writers Matter (a book I highly recommend!).

  3. Sounds like a wonderful book. One correction however. The reviewer notes that the authors father was « Indian-Ugandan ».   It is correct is to state that he was Asian-Ugandan. It is time that people of South Asian origin be referred to properly not by reference to a country, East India, which does not exist. As for the argument that this distinguishes them as Aboriginal peoples, it is time to stop referring to these people as « Indians « .

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