“Coconut Dreams” nostalgically depicts the complex dynamics of South Asian immigrant families

Coconut Dreams
Derek Mascarenhas, 264 pgs, Book*hug, bookhugpress.ca, $20

Rajesh might not be the first name you think of for a dragon, but upon hearing it, isn’t it perfect? In addition to inviting readers to question dragon nomenclature, Derek Mascarenhas’ Coconut Dreams, explores one family, the Pintos, in 17 interlinked stories, from the birth of their patriarch, Felix, in a Goan cemetery all the way to their children’s lives in suburban Burlington, ON.

Many of the stories adopt the perspectives of the Pinto children, Ally and Aiden, and sing with nostalgia as Mascarenhas paints familiar childhood experiences, such as delivering newspapers in a neighbourhood, watching The Lion King, telling bedtime stories about elephants who live in mountains, and receiving love letters written into wooden decks.

Mascarenhas also explores looser linkages to the family. For instance, through vignettes of lovelorn uncles, and one aunty who is “afraid of men,” in “One Hundred Steps.” A stand-out story in the collection is “Fallen Leaves,” where Aiden describes how he and his friends “dropped our haul of stolen candy and climbed, jumping and pushing one another in the rich people’s leaves. We laughed at the wealth they were unaware they had thrown away, and tossed their leaves in the air like lottery money.” In emerging from the pile of leaves, Aiden becomes the victim of a racist incident and the reader is left breathless as to his fate.

Coconut Dreams soars in its intimately felt details, nostalgia, subtle investigations of belonging, and much-needed complex depictions of South Asian immigrant lives, proving to be a notable new voice in Canlit.