Saga Boy: My Life of Blackness and Becoming by Antonio Michael Downing (344 pages)
This Memoir Takes Us on a Wild Journey of Discovery
New Grant, Trinidad, 1980s. Saga Boy begins with lush descriptions of Antonio Michael Downing’s early childhood “down south” — the wild, greenery of the rainforest, the scents of a favourite snack from a roadside vendor, the sound of church hymns and the voice of his grandmother, Miss Excelly singing.
When a death in the family shakes his foundations, Antonio is uprooted from his simple, familiar life and transplanted to northern Ontario to live with his aunt in the tiny town of Wabigoon. This is the first of many stops and transformations in his life.
Antonio makes the most of his mouthy determination and innate street smarts to carve out multiple identities for himself. As a castaway son of the colonies, Tony becomes Michael then Mic Dainjah then Molasses, and finally, John Orpheus. Throughout his life he channels the persona of a “saga boy”, a confident, well-dressed, Trinidadian playboy. This is a journey that inspires him to lean on his gifts of music and artistry, and consider the meaning of family and legacy while confronting his own inner demons.
Artist, Musician, Shapeshifter — A Caribbean-Canadian Creation
If you like family drama, twists and turns, and stories about self-discovery, this is a great pick. Reading this memoir felt like reading the recipe for pelau, a Trinidadian rice dish with a mixture of peas and meats thrown in. A little bit of this and a little bit of that coming together to make something satisfying. All of the parts of this story — the experiences and hardships — helped me to understand Antonio’s struggles to find his place in the world on his lifelong journey to becoming and belonging.
I liked cycling through his transformations — the wannabe punk rocker in Sioux Lookout, the focused athlete in Cambridge, Ontario — and his adventures, which included a stint in a band touring with Liam Gallagher of Oasis. Each point on the compass of his life, the triumphs and tragedies, seemed to highlight a need to be accepted and loved.
I also really enjoyed reading about his connection to his grandmother and his devotion to her memory; it leaps off the page. And I loved the parts of the dialogue written in the Trinidadian dialect.
I would describe Miss Excelly as his earliest experience of true love. She’s a powerful example of how family legacy shapes and sustains him throughout the highs and lows of his life.
The Bottom Line: 5/5 Brookie Stars
The idea of home as an emotional place, not just a physical place, reverberates throughout this memoir. I felt as though I was walking along with Tony as he relived the headiness of victories and the sting of disappointments.
This is a book about survival, about turning the spotlight on the darkest places of memory and making sense of what is found. Because of that, the end feels like a homecoming, an amalgamation of all Antonio’s selves coming together in understanding, forgiveness, and acceptance. It feels like a win.
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Keisha Paterson is a lifetime writer of sticky-note poetry who enjoys comfort foods, self-care holidays, and Hawaiian dance. A prolific wanderer, she loves to discover and take home old orphaned books and eclectic records. She is an office manager, private yoga instructor, and freelance editor in Toronto.
Favourite Book: Wouldn’t Take Nothing for My Journey Now by Maya Angelou
Favourite brunch spot: Sisters and Co.