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Yearning, learning

Anik See’s Saudade goes beyond superficial travel

The Portuguese word saudade denotes a feeling of nostalgia for something of paramount significance, be it a time or place, now missing in one’s life. Anik See expresses this feeling through ten real-life narratives compiled in her new book Saudade.

Although the book is a collection of excerpts that are seemingly random and disconnected at times, See aims to uncover the principles essential to discovering true bliss. Themes of remembrance and loss surface throughout her short stories, linking Cuba to Australia to Alberta to Amsterdam.

See describes the importance of appreciating life without electricity, as she experiences at a cabin in Algonquin, Ontario:

“I like silence, and at the cabin I used to lie awake listening, counting the minutes between one last ember cracking and the next noise – the rustle of a vole dashing over a leaf or a bug bouncing off a pane of glass – thrilled when I lost count…and I have tried to live in similar places since. It’s an instinctual need for honest, self-sufficient living. And penance. For being so lucky.”

She could bear losing anything, she says, except memory; for when this is lost one is left with nothing but a new start. One must begin from scratch, and cannot keep the wisdom gained from mistakes made, adventures triumphed, or pain endured.

See is extremely perceptive to the timing of events. In “Rainy Summit,” an essay written shortly after her grandmother’s death, she goes for a bike ride to contemplate death, and rides until she reaches the residues of last winter’s snow, which stop her from biking on forever.

She turns back and eventually encounters a middle-aged hiker who has lived in the same place for his whole life and never reached the “Rainy Summit.” He explains: “Gosh, you live here your whole life and you think you see something new every day but you still don’t get to see it all before you die, do you?”

Irony and serendipity in sync, his query brings See clarity and newfound ambition, because she knows that he too has explained the tragedy of death and time’s fleetingness.

The author does a phenomenal job of depicting a need to travel more, travel more deeply, and become more perceptive of the real problems within a culture. Yet such involvement can be dangerous: having the gumption to delve into these situations means you cannot simply go home and forget what you know. The more one asks questions, the less capable one is of merely boarding an airplane, seeing a different part of the world, and moving on with one’s privileged life.

See is aware of the greed saturating Western society and despises it for forbidding its captive citizens from seeing the worlds’ starved, diseased victims. The pristine stretches of untouched landscape she sees, with children whose toys are scrap bits of string, induce her to search for self through minimalism; she rids herself of useless possessions as a way of life. It is a means through which See can bear to live with herself – truly a small penance for being born so fortunate.

Ultimately, See wants her readers to critique their lives, hold sacred their memories, and quench their wanderlust, so that each may have their own epiphany, and so reconsider the materiality of their existences.