Olivia Chow's memoir lays bare her life's most painful moments
Andrea Janus, CTVNews.ca
Published Tuesday, January 21, 2014 7:28PM EST
Last Updated Tuesday, January 21, 2014 8:29PM EST
NDP MP Olivia Chow's new memoir, “My Journey,” lays bare the details of some of her life’s most painful moments, including the abuse suffered by her mother and brother at the hands of her father, and the death of her husband and partner in politics, Jack Layton.
The memoir, which hit bookstores Tuesday, also recounts an early career with sculpting and painting before Chow found her calling as a community activist, school board trustee, Toronto city councillor and then Member of Parliament.
The emphasis on her professional accomplishments and how her personal experiences influenced her decision to run for public office has some early reviewers questioning her motives for writing the book.
Chow told CTV News Tuesday that she is “pretty serious” about her deliberations over whether to run for mayor of Toronto in the election scheduled for this October. But the speculation and the criticism over whether her book is a pre-campaign publicity stunt doesn’t bother her, she says, because she’s focused on “the goodness inside us.”
“You can call it love, you can call it whatever you want to call it, it doesn’t matter. If we touch that in each other and find it in ourselves and reach each other, then we make a much better country or city or neighbourhood,” Chow said.
“And if people want to be cynical, they are missing that part of goodness in themselves and others. That’s OK, that doesn’t bother me. I just wish those people that remain cynical and negative to transcend it.”
Chow says she wrote the book primarily because she had so many people asking her how she was doing after Layton’s death in August 2011 that she figured she should share her story publicly.
She includes a detailed description of Layton’s final weeks, particularly his last day, and the grieving that followed, and calls revisiting that time “the toughest part” of writing the book.
She says the most difficult moments are not holidays like Christmas or Valentine’s Day, but the smaller, quiet moments “that all of a sudden catch you. You stop and then you just go right down deep and dark.”
She says she has learned to cope with her grief by focusing on two things: living in the moment, and her faith.
“Listen, we don’t have answers for everything, we don’t know why people die at the time they do, we don’t necessarily understand everything that is around us in this universe,” Chow told CTVNews.ca in a telephone interview Tuesday evening.
“That’s what faith is about, that it’s okay if we don’t know. We don’t have to be angry about it, we can just accept it. That’s also important because some people ask me, ‘Aren’t you angry that at the height of Jack’s accomplishments he was taken away?’ And I say, ‘Well, why be angry, because we have no control over death, or life for that matter.’”
Chow also writes about her childhood, growing up first in Hong Kong before arriving in Toronto in her early teens. She chronicles abuse her father inflicted on her mother and older brother, but spared her, and which only got worse after the family arrived in Canada. Both of Chow’s parents struggled to find jobs akin to their work as educators in Hong Kong and, as a result, the abuse got worse and her father suffered a mental breakdown.
She said her story is not unlike many other immigrant families that arrive in Canada and struggle to fit in. She hopes that by talking about her earlier experiences she will help those in similar situations.
“I think it’s critically important that we talk about domestic violence or men’s violence against women, and find a way to end it,” Chow tells CTVNews.ca. “We have to have better services for people suffering from mental health, because service right now is too fragmented.”
Similarly, she wants to remind anyone dealing with grief that life can carry on after the death of a loved one.
“If the book can provide any solace to anyone, then it would have been worth talking about it,” she says.
And while she remains cagey about her intentions for Toronto’s upcoming civic election, she says she’s open to a career move that would take her out of politics entirely.
“It depends on where I can serve best, and it depends on the opportunities, so I really can’t tell at this moment,” Chow says.
“But as long as I can make a difference and am able to be true to what I believe in, which is putting faith in action, then I will continue along this path. At this time, it’s pretty political. So we shall see what’s next.”