Book Review: Too Much on the Inside

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Too Much on the Inside Danila Botha, 227 pgs, Quattro Books Inc., $18 

Aptly set in the heart of Toronto’s mecca for self-expression, Queen St. West, Too Much on the Inside depicts the inner conflicts of four young individuals from South Africa, South America, Israel and Nova Scotia. Danila Both’s first novel serves to reflect the alienation and loss of identity behind the veneer of multiculturalism in Canada’s largest city.

Botha’s greatest achievement lies in the power of her highly authentic and often disturbing portrayal of these disparate voices. Motivated by political violence, personal tragedy and the suffocating expectations of family and church, desires for escape are exposed through personal flashbacks weaved throughout the plot. However, it becomes apparent that geographical distance does not ensure immunity from the torturous ruminations and memories of their previous lives.

A former ballet dancer, Marlize, leaves her native South Africa after an unspeakable crime dismantles her family. Dez feels smothered by his Catholic upbringing in Belo Horizonte: the expectations of which lead him into an ill-judged marriage despite his insatiable sexual curiosity. An obligatory stint in the Israeli Defence Forces, followed by a failed relationship, spur Nikki’s quest for independence and self-discovery in Toronto. A chance encounter in a record store leads her to embark on a doomed relationship with the emotionally damaged Lukas, the description of which is both harrowing and illuminating in its honestly. A sensitive and artistic individual, Nikki’s attempts to heal Lukas and cope with his intensely self-destructive actions only exacerbate his angry and violent outbursts, thereby shattering her self-worth: “I didn’t want to fight him because I wanted him to hurt me.”

Not without hope, Botha’s characters are nothing if not resilient. Recently landed immigrants, and indeed anyone who has experienced the simultaneous elation and dread that accompanies embarking on a new relationship will see themselves here. Too Much on the Inside will surprise you with its insights and comfort you with its wide appeal. (Susan Carolan)