GUEST COLUMN: Books from Sarnia Library helped me adjust to new life

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 the school and read to us. But we couldn’t keep it more than a week, and didn’t always get to hear the ending.

My father immigrated to Canada in 1954 and my mom, my 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 thrilled.

I began taking out armfuls at a time. 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 would figure out the rest of the sentence.

My brother, older, had studied English in Italy and became fluent quickly. One day, he bought a book called The Woman of Rome. Thinking it would be a juicy story about a prostitute, I asked him if I could read it. “Never mind,” he said, and went to his room.

One day, I snooped and located the book under his mattress. But the next time I looked it was gone, and he made sure I never found it again.

Over the years, I have borrowed hundreds of books from the Sarnia Library. I became interested in Russian, French, and American classics. Later I turned to Canadian literature and became engrossed in the works of Margaret Lawrence and Hugh MacLennan, and the short stories of my favourite writer, Alice Munro.

The years went by, and one day in a thrift shop I spotted a copy of The Woman of Rome in translation. I bought it immediately. I was mature by then and knew it wasn’t a book all about sizzling sex, as my young mind had assumed back in my teens.

Written by Alberto Moravia, it’s a novel about passion and betrayal and explores multiple themes. Set against the backdrop of Rome, it unveils the immorality in a segment of society and bares the corruption of Fascism.

Lately, I’ve had a lot of time to think about my early years as an immigrant. It wasn’t easy adjusting to a strange country, but I am grateful for the access I had to so many books from the Sarnia Library.

One needn’t be rich to read, and reading gave me so much pleasure while provided me with new knowledge.

But, best of all, it enriched my life with good memories of my transplanted life in Canada.

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