The Places Where Names Vanish
Saskatoon: Thistledown Press, 1998.
Child of “the most successful man and the most beautiful woman” in a remote Ecuadorean village, Marta knows she is different. Imagination provides her with her only escape from poverty until she meets Gonzalo, a soldier who dreams of success as a musician. When they leave Ecuador in pursuit of a new life, Marta confronts the cost of immigration. Struggling to express herself in the linguistically divided society of Montreal, where she endures poverty, humiliation and abandonment, Marta stages a desperate battle to give her daughter the sense of identity she herself has lost.
Stephen Henighan’s The Places Where Names Vanish follows an Ecuadorean girl from her village and family through two painfully restrictive, ultimately uninhabitable worlds. First, her village shuns her because of her mixed parentage, fearing the unregulated sexuality of her Black mother and envying the material prosperity of her shopkeeper father; Henighan skilfully poises Quechua and Catholic, native and foreign, material and spiritual, conflicts in motion in the village where Marta grows up. Her emigration to Canada in search of a better life with her singer/soldier husband, Gonzalo, becomes a tortured descent into different racial and linguistic politics in Montreal, where grinding poverty, tensions among the Latino community, and Anglophone-Francophone conflicts –all seen from quite a different perspective than usual– afflict the couple…Henighan’s closing description of Marta’s French-speaking daughter and her stance and status is not a comforting resolution to Marta’s various dilemmas.
Henighan’s description of village life in Ecuador and life in Montreal, seen through the eyes of an immigrant who speaks neither French nor English, is strong and credible. Language – French, English, Spanish– is both a barrier and an open portal to acceptance and identity….The Places Where Names Vanish offers a rare perspective on the Latino experience in Canada, and does so in a unique voice.
Henighan has a fine ear for the patois of his characters and a good eye for the difficulties of people caught between rocks and hard places.
Henighan gives us a view of Montreal seen through Marta’s eyes. The result is vivid, and sometimes disturbing. His knowledge and depth of feeling for the region and the people are demonstrated on every page.
The writing evokes well the desolate, sand-blown landscape and the people who live there…fine insights…While the reader can feel some lifting of spirit, Henighan never forgoes realism to give Marta a fairy-tale ending. He respects her suffering too much, and for that the author himself deserves respect.
The title of Henighan’s book comes from the fact that both Gonzalo and Marta have to recreate themselves in order to live in their new world…. Henighan, who has lived and taught in both French Canada and South America, makes both ends of the equation come vividly alive.