GUEST COLUMN: Books in the Sarnia Library Helped Me Adjust to a New Life

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Delia De Santis

Growing up in Italy, we didn’t have any books except a prayer book.

Delia De Santis

Sometimes my mother would borrow a book from school and read to us. But we couldn’t keep it for more than a week and couldn’t always hear the end.

My father immigrated to Canada in 1954 and my mother, brother and I followed two years later. I was 13 and when I found out I could borrow free books from the public library two blocks away, I was elated.

I started taking out loads at times. I didn’t know English and actually learned the meaning of words before I could pronounce them. When I found an Italian-sounding word (derived from Latin), I discovered the rest of the sentence.

My older brother had studied English in Italy and quickly began to speak fluently. One day he bought a book called The woman of Rome. Thinking this would be a juicy story about a prostitute, I asked her if I could read it. “It doesn’t matter,” he said, and walked to his room.

One day, I snooped around and located the book under his mattress. But the next time I looked it was gone and he made sure I couldn’t find it.

Over the years, I have borrowed hundreds of books from the Sarnia library. I was interested in Russian, French and American classics. I later turned to Canadian literature and was absorbed by the works of Margaret Lawrence and Hugh MacLennan, as well as short stories from my favorite writer, Alice Munro.

Years have passed, and one day in a thrift store I spotted a copy of The woman of Rome in translation. I bought it immediately. I was mature at the time and knew this was not a book about hot sex, as my young mind had assumed as a teenager.

Written by Alberto Moravia, it is a novel about passion and betrayal and explores multiple themes. In the context of Rome, he exposes immorality in a segment of society and lays bare the corruption of fascism.

Lately I’ve had a lot of time to think about my early years as an immigrant. It was not easy to adjust to a foreign country, but I am grateful for the access I had to so many books in the Sarnia library.

You don’t have to be rich to read, and reading has given me so much pleasure while giving me new knowledge.

But, best of all, it has enriched my life with fond memories of my life as a transplant in Canada.

Delia De Santis is a fiction writer living in Bright’s Grove


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