I Live Here puts human face on oppression

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      By Mia Kirshner, J. B. MacKinnon, Paul Shoebridge, and Michael Simons. Pantheon, 320 pp, $34, hardcover

      With the tag line “There are too many untold stories,” I Live Here brings to life those who blend into the crowds we see on the news every day.

      I Live Here consists of four books packaged together in something like a quadruple record-album sleeve. Each of the books—which read like zines or graphic novels—focuses on an area where people have been displaced: Ingushetia, Russia, where many Chechens have fled the ongoing violence in their own republic; Burma, which many have left for Thailand because of military oppression; Malawi, where an estimated 20 percent of residents of the capital city, Lilongwe, are HIV–positive; and Ciudad Juárez, Mexico, where economic migrants toil in maquiladoras.

      There’s a heavy dose of Canadian star power here, with actor Mia Kirshner and author J. B. MacKinnon supplying the editorial direction and much of the text, and Paul Shoebridge and Michael Simons of Adbusters creating a visual style reminiscent of that magazine’s high-impact collage look. Ann-Marie MacDonald, Lynn Coady, Joe Sacco, and Julie Morstad also contribute.

      Kirshner took on the project because “sometimes I think that the world is dying, melting, and forgetting.” Some of her journal entries, which form the backbone of each book, focus too much on her own personal history, while others succeed in bringing you to the four places she visited.

      The collection can be confusing. The sleeve notes purport to tell you whether each piece is fiction or nonfiction but are often difficult to reconcile with the books. As well, there are some brutally violent images. But the reality is that violence is a key part of these stories.

      One of the strongest pieces is “Twenty Poems for Claudia”. Lauren Kirshner, an author and Mia Kirshner’s sister, has created a narrative based on family photos, notes by friends, and missing-person posters related to one of the hundreds of murdered women of Ciudad Juárez. She reflects on the strangeness of her task: “Claudia, I’ve written your story five times, scrapped every one of them. I was trying to explain things that I had no way of knowing. Now I know what the problem was. I was thinking of myself instead of you. How I wanted things to make sense, to find logic in the fragments. Your story is not logical.”

      I Live Here makes a strong attempt to bring to life the world’s oppressed in a way the news media cannot.