Review of Black Teeth & Other North End Souvenirs
“Replete with small epiphanies and unabashed impressions, this curiously titled memoir chronicles first-time author Ryszard Dubanski's personal odyssey as a Polish immigrant kid living in Winnipeg's North End during the 1960s and '70s.
Currently residing in Vancouver, Dubanski teaches communications at the University College of the Fraser Valley. One of his stories, Fat Girl, was recently adapted into a screenplay.
From the outset, Dubanski pulls no punches in recounting his bittersweet journey through childhood and adolescence. Written in a frank, conversational style, the book begins with a quirky vignette about the writer's first day of school. On this occasion, he endures teasing because of his blackened teeth, the result of an inadequate diet during years spent in a displaced persons' camp.
Though the teacher intervenes on his behalf, the feeling of being different never leaves Dubanski. 'Being a DP kid . . . a displaced person, a refugee, I knew what it was to be an outsider,' he writes.
'While my address was in the 'Peg, the place where I ate my perogies and changed my socks, our home's psychic core lay on the other side of the planet.'
It is the ongoing tension between the culture of his home and the Canadian way of life that sustains the reader's interest. The chapter titled Click explores Dubanski's ambivalence towards Polish culture and the maddening, split-second transition required to straddle his two distinct worlds, Further adding to Dubanski's confusion is his parents' eternal obsession with the Second World War. In the pages of Midnight Mom, he ruminates about his mother's fascination with combat movies, while in the chapter Fool of Cool, he considers his parents' war-ravaged psyches and their impact in shaping his life.
Yet in spite of his concerns, Dubanski remains buoyant, as evidenced in his teenage misadventues and escapades with friends. Ironically though, some readers may find these details less intriguing than his existential musings in other chapters.
Throughout the book, Dubanski shares vivid memories of the North End of his youth as a poor working-class district with a large eastern European immigrant population. In his portrayal of the area, he includes detailed mention of the railway tracks near his Alfred Avenue home, the neighbourhood delis and the nearly extinct phenomenon of family-owned grocery stores with living quarters in the back.
As well, several venerable institutions such as Holy Ghost School, St. John's High and Kelekis, are fondly recalled.
Black Teeth adds a page to the legacy of Polish immigrant experience in Winnipeg. Dubanski's story will appeal particularly to local nostalgia buffs and readers with a cross-cultural bent.”
More Reviews of this title
“Black Teeth and Other North End Souvenirs is a memoir of growing up in the ethnic neighbourhoods of Winnipeg's North End in the 1950s and 1960s. The author, Ryszard Dubanski, is a Polish-Canadian writer who now lives in Vancouver.
This book is reasonably well written and interesting. Probably the most interesting theme of this book is Dubanksi's coming to terms with his Polish ancestry. As a child and adolescent, he is indifferent to his Polish roots, wanting only to conform to the dominant Canadian culture. As he matures, however, he embraces his Polish heritage. He describes the Polish language as "beautiful yet melancholy, romantic and even melodramatic at times, full of dramatic cadences and emotional signifiers." In fact, Dubanski speculates that his most basic sense of identity is neither Polish nor Canadian, "but simply Other." He sees himself as a "displaced person."
This slim volume does not take long to read. It effectively evokes a bygone era in Winnipeg's North End.”