By: Celina Caesar-Chavannes
My Goodreads Review: 4/5 Stars
“…I started to realize that my burden was lessened whenever I used my voice to speak about uncomfortable issues. The heaviness was still there, but I started to understand that the burden of responsibility I was feeling was not a burden at all — it was an opportunity for me to embrace the present and use my position to stir the pot.”
Celina Caesar-Chavannes was a Member of Parliament in Canada for the Liberal Party between 2015 and 2019. During this time, she becomes well known in the Canadian political world for making waves and speaking up for herself and others. She exposes what she feels is the true Liberal Party led by Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and doesn’t hide her true feelings for him. Chavannes writes this biography to tell her story, starting with her childhood and continuing into her political career. She recounts her family’s story of immigration to Canada, the struggles Black families face, her success academically, her road to being an entrepreneur and her introduction to politics.
This is a story full of emotion, and there is so much to unpack from her book. She recounts some aspects of her life with such detail that you can feel the pain those moments caused her. There is never a moment where Chavannes hides the emotional roller coaster she falls into, and she is candid about her struggles with mental health. She walks the reader through her insecurities and her path to finding her voice.
I really enjoyed this autobiography. I must admit, when I read biographies, I usually find my interest in them trails off near the end, but I think Chavannes does a great job at keeping her book a reasonable length and keeping her readers’ interest.
The story of her childhood really interested me (maybe that’s the history nerd in me). It always surprises me how similar immigration stories are for people who come from very different parts of the world. The part that struck me the most was when she tells the reader that her family had to leave her behind when they initially moved to Canada. For some readers, this may seem shocking, but, in reality, many families had (and probably still have) to make this tough decision, including my own. My grandmother had to leave her daughter in Greece after she was born, the rest of the family went to Canada, and my aunt wasn’t brought over until she was five. Immigrant families face extremely difficult decisions every day, which will impact their family’s survival, and these decisions are rarely easy. I felt for Chavannes and how she must have seen this as a child as I do for my aunt when I think about the trauma she felt when coming to Canada to meet the parents she never knew. This event majorly influences Chavannes relationship with her family.
Chavannes then takes the reader through her life as a Black child and teenager in Canada. She shows glimpses into the challenges Black families face. As a High School teacher, it brought me so much sadness reading about how teachers treated her and her brothers when she was in school. The fact that Chavannes also felt like she needed to make sure school administrators knew the Black students at her children’s schools had people looking out for them was incredibly disappointing. Teachers play such an influential role on kids, and when they are not supportive of their students, they negatively impact that child’s life. I was thrilled to see Chavannes rise above those teachers and continue in her academic success. Even with the obstacles she eventually faced at the University of Toronto, she rose up and fixed her mistakes to create a very impressive resume for herself.
I also absolutely loved hearing about her time in politics. Many aspects of her story completely shocked me, but unfortunately, some things didn’t. The Liberals, like so many other parties before them, offered a different message, a message Chavannes was excited about. She wanted to get involved politically to enact real change in Canada. But, unfortunately, she experienced resistance at every turn. Her stories of party politics, her emotional pain of being used by the Prime Minister and her overall lack of job clarity were extremely disheartening. It seems far too many people get into politics for the fame and the paycheque, and not enough want to make any lasting changes. This was by far the most compelling aspect of this autobiography but also the most upsetting. In the end, when she decides to leave the Liberal caucus, you can’t help but feel pained for her, all the emotional abuse she encountered following her until the end.
All that being said, I did feel like there were some holes in her story. For example, we learn a lot about her relationship with her mother when she was growing up but, the reader never hears how that relationship is today. I know the book is dedicated to her but, does this mean all is forgiven? I also would have liked to hear more about her relationship with her father and her brothers. It seems a lot of emphases is put on her relationship with her mother, but little is mentioned about the other people in her family. I think it would have been interesting to see what role the men in her family had in shaping who she is today.
Also, although I enjoyed reading about the party politics she experienced while in office, I felt like I needed to learn more about what projects she took on and where she focused her work. Most of her biography was airing out her frustration with a role that seemed purposeless, as well as her frustration with the lack of proper communication with the Prime Minister’s Office. For this reason, I feel like I didn’t get to hear enough about all the things she accomplished while in office.
Overall, this is an excellent autobiography and, finally, a story discussing Canadian politics rather than American. Her story is essential for women and minorities to read and be encouraged by. She shows her mistakes and her flaws to help others learn from them. She exposes the Liberal Party and the Canadian political system in good detail.
Have you read Chavannes’s biography yet?