A review of Kate Heartfield’s “Gilbert Tong’s Life List” in Shades Within Us: Tales of Migrations and Fractured Borders Edited by Susan Forest and Lucas K. Law (Laksa Media Group, 2018).

By Derek Newman-Stille

Kate Heartfield writes a tale of ecological refugees and birding in “Gilbert Tong’s Life List”. Initially these would seem to be disconnected themes, but she uses the cataloguing of birds as a way to explore notions of migration and global movements. Birds are frequently treated as symbols of freedom and perhaps that is what they represent for Gilbert’s father, who became an avid birder when he and other Kiribati moved into a refugee camp in Canada after their island was submerged in rising waters. The Kiribati people are confined in a refugee camp, keeping their spirits up with the possibility of Canadian citizenship even though the Canadian government fears the economic impact of their refugee status. They are denied health care, access to Canadian education systems, and freedom of movement outside of the camp.

Although the camp is on Canadian territory, it is treated like a foreign nation and fenced off. Refugees are treated as prisoners in the enclave and left without a sense of home or connection to their own territory and culture. They are encouraged to assimilate, but not given access to the country that they are assimilating to. Everyone is given an RFID tag to prevent them from accessing Canada. They are aware that they are living as fugitives, forever homeless.

Within this environment, where refugees (especially young ones) are aware that compliance with Canada’s rules won’t actually benefit them or protect them in any way, so they seek out other ways to cope with their imprisonment, engaging in illegal activities just to survive in their exiled and imprisoned nation. Gilbert has to deal with the disconnection he feels with home, the need to bend the rules to survive, and his father’s compliance with rules that don’t benefit anyone in the Kiribati community. He is engaged in a struggle between maintaining a sense of Kiribati culture and family identity as he has become migrational like the birds his father studies.

To discover more about Shades Within Us, visit

To find out more about Kate Heartfield, visit


Ageing into Climate Change

A review of Rati Mehrotra’s “Children of the Sea” in Cli Fi: Canadian Tales of Climate Change (Exile, 2017)

By Derek Newman-Stille

In “Children of the Sea”, Rati Mehrotra links the changes that come with ageing to the changes that come from environmental damage. In Mehrotra’s tale, age becomes a subject of stability in a changing world and an older woman lives through massive climate change while constantly revisiting memories of a time before global environmental catastrophe. 

Auntie Benita is the stable figure as her world changes, watching it shift from her African home. The tides encroach on her home like the memory of all of the destruction and damage that has come from other places through the impact of colonialism and industry. Even the “solutions” to the ecological issues disempower her, located elsewhere and often exploitatively taking advantage of her. Benita watches as an ark ship leaves her planet to seek out another one, trying to bring humanity to another planet and colonize and terraform it since human impact on our own planet has terraformed it into something no longer inhabitable. She has observed failed attempts at reversing global warming as the water from melting icebergs gradually encroached on her home, and finally even saw the bodies of her family members altered and changed to adapt to aquatic life that would become a reality on our world. 

Landscape and memory intersect in this tale, entwined through Benita’s experience, but also through loss as Benita’s memories retreat from her and the tides gobble up the land. Yet, Benita is also able to be a gage for change, observing how her world shifted throughout the years of her life and serving as a witness for readers to remind us to notice how our landscapes change and make alterations to our lifestyle to prevent the kind of crises she experiences.

To discover more about Rati Mehrotra, visit her website at
To discover more about Cli Fi, visit Exile’s website at