Overqualified Labourer

Goodwill is a recent immigrant with a distinguished record as a “Brilliant Chemist” (please excuse the strange capitalization of certain terms in this review, the upper case lettering is what appears in Overqualified Labourer) but with “No Canadian Experience” (sorry), and with seemingly no prospects of participating in the booming mainstream of the Canadian economy. While the novel focused almost exclusively on the travails of a foreign-trained professional trying to break into the Ontario labour market may seem less than exciting, Orakwue’s account of a series of humiliating and sometimes hilarious experiences in the world of temporary factory work, super-stores and security, is actually entertaining and thought-provoking. You don’t need to be an overqualified newcomer to relate to the maddening reality of low-paid “survival jobs” as many students or recent graduates can attest to, although the added agony of having left behind an esteemed career overseas only to end up on the factory floor is understandable. Overqualified Labourer reads as an amusing satire of the immigrant experience, and is sure to make the reader look at taxi drivers and security personnel with different eyes. Orakwue’s language is crisp and entertaining, although I am not sure if the dialogue is intended to come across quite as hilarious as it sometimes does. Orakwue’s factory workers spew out lectures on the Darwinian aspects of labour integration, or the importance of getting oneself a copy of the guide to “Overcome No Canadian Experience” in order to finally slay that “Beast” of presumed incompetence. In the end, responsibility is found to rest on the individual (networking, anyone?) as well as on the structural obstacles and irrationality of the Canadian labour market. A murder- mystery sub-plot is inexplicably included in the book, a strange addition to a story that otherwise seems to be based on real experiences. (Tove Malmquist)

by Obi Orakwue, $16, 288 pgs, Obrake Books, 3401 Dufferin Street, P.O. Box 27538, Toronto, On, M6A 3B8, obrake.com

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