If I Tell You the Truth
If I Tell You the Truth
I stared into the mirror
after everyone went to bed
studying my features
as if they were pieces
of a jigsaw puzzle
that had to be solved
with only half the box. (p. 97)
Sahaara Kaur has never known her father. It’s one of many secrets that her mother, Kiran, keeps from her, along with the circumstances of Kiran’s arrival in Canada and the reason she lives as an undocumented immigrant. Sahaara, a gifted visual artist, scrabbles at low-paying jobs, trying to save enough money to sponsor her mother as a legal immigrant.
But when Kiran is turned in to immigration officials by an employer, Sahaara learns to her horror that she is the child of sexual assault and that her mother fled her home in the Punjab for safety in Canada. Determined to seek justice for her mother, Sahaara is prepared to return to India to confront the powerful and dangerous man who might be her father.
In free-verse poetry, prose and illustration, author Jasmin Kaur picks up the threads of the story introduced in her first novel, When You Ask Me Where I’m Going. With a much more focused narrative line, Kaur’s second novel follows the voices of first Kiran and then her daughter. Sahaara is a child of two cultures, but she is also a child of uncertainty, and her adolescent search for identity is made more complex by her mother’s secrets. When Sahaara learns the truth, she must face the reality of her birth father’s cruelty and understand that he is part of her as well.
Kaur gives effective and emotional voice to vulnerable communities. In Canada, the author explores the insecurity and lost dreams of undocumented immigrants who cannot access the security and safety of citizenship. In India, Kaur examines the culture of sexual assault and the voicelessness of women who are not believed. Kiran has suffered trauma in both worlds, and her powerlessness keeps her from speaking out. But Sahaara refuses to be silent, and she is driven by her sense of justice to tell the truth, and she encourages her mother to do the same, no matter what the consequences. During a hair-raising chase through Mumbai that follows a confrontation, Sahaara assures her mother, “I do believe you. Always have, always will. And there is nothing that you could have done that justifies what he did to you.”
If I Tell You The Truth is a story of courage, but it is above all a story of love. Despite their conflict, the tender affection between Kiran and Sahaara makes their lives rich, and the love of friends and elders creates a community that nurtures them both.
Wendy Phillips is a former teacher-librarian. She is the author of the Governor General's Literary Award-winning YA novel, Fishtailing and the recently released Baggage.