Author Sonja Boon’s heritage is complicated. Although she has lived in Canada for more than thirty years, she was born in the UK to a Surinamese mother and a Dutch father. Boon’s family history spans five continents: Europe, Africa, Southeast Asia, South America, and North America. Despite her complex and multi-layered background, she has often omitted her full heritage, replying “I’m Dutch-Canadian” to anyone who asks about her identity. An invitation to join a family tree project inspired a journey to the heart of the histories that have shaped her identity. It was an opportunity to answer the two questions that have dogged her over the years: Where does she belong? And who does she belong to?
Boon’s archival research—in Suriname, the Netherlands, the UK, and Canada—brings her opportunities to reflect on the possibilities and limitations of the archives themselves, the tangliness of oceanic migration, histories, the meaning of legacy, music, love, freedom, memory, ruin, and imagination. Ultimately, she reflected on the relevance of our past to understanding our present.
Deeply informed by archival research and current scholarship, but written as a reflective and intimate memoir, What the Oceans Remember addresses current issues in migration, identity, belonging, and history through an interrogation of race, ethnicity, gender, archives and memory. More importantly, it addresses the relevance of our past to understanding our present. It shows the multiplicity of identities and origins that can shape the way we understand our histories and our own selves.
“Timely, compelling and illuminating in equal measure, What the Oceans Remember, which scrutinizes the lives and legacies of several generations of slaves and indentured labourers in Suriname, also confronts the rights and responsibilities we bear in relation to our ancestors. In this ever-questioning memoir, Sonja Boon maps emotional registers and bureaucratic statistics as honestly as she navigates theoretical currents and ethical anxiety. Weaving desire, dreams, and personal memory into the historical record, Boon succeeds admirably in making silences speak and fragments cohere in a fine example of creative non-fiction.” – Lydia Syson, author of Mr Peacock’s Possessions
“What the Oceans Remember addresses the complex and complicit question ‘Where are you from?’ by taking readers on an extraordinary trip through continents and countries, and to cities and their archives, to help us understand how the stories of our ancestors tell us something about ourselves. Boon’s exploration of the seductive spaces of the archives and the crossing of various kinds of borders brings to mind the work of Saidiya Hartman (Lose Your Mother), Maggie Nelson (The Argonauts), and complements the work of writers like Sara Ahmed as well.” – Minelle Mahtani, University of British Columbia, author of Mixed Race Amnesia: Resisting the Romanticization of Multiraciality, host and creator of Acknowledgements and Sense of Place
“What the Oceans Remember is breathtaking in scope. Reaching across continents, oceans and histories, it shows us what it means to live in the shadow of freedom while unfree; how the colour of a person’s skin can determine if they are seen or invisible; how the word home can exclude; how the beauty of music can be a balm; how the invaluable quiet of an archive can quake with unearthed voices. Unrelentingly honest, sometimes harrowing, steeped in rich and startling insight, and conveyed in transparent prose – elegant as silk, tough as steel.” – Lisa Moore, author of the story collection Something for Everyone