Loosely inspired by his own mother’s journey to Canada, Dimitri Nasrallah’s Hotline follows Muna Heddad and her son Omar, two refugees from the war torn country of Lebanon, as they immigrate to Montreal in 1986 following the tragic death of Muna’s husband. In her previous life, Muna was a French teacher, but roadblocks in place prevent her from picking up her career in her new home. Her strong grasp of the French language allows her to pick up a job as a telephone operator for a weight-loss service selling low-calorie food boxes to the people of Quebec.
Dimitri Nasrallah’s portrayal of an immigrant’s experiences of Montreal in the mid-80s was a hopeful one. There are absolutely moments where Muna seemingly trends toward a breaking point as she struggles with financial woes, crisis of identity, unresolved trauma following her husband’s death and her fears of being an unfit mother, but I always felt as the reader that things were going to work out for her; something that is definitely a change of pace from some of the more difficult reads that have made up the annual Canada Reads competition. This is not a knock at books like WHAT STRANGE PARADISE or HOMES (which are great reads) but it is absolutely refreshing to experience a story more on the optimistic side.
I loved the relationships Muna (or Mona as her clients know her) goes on to foster with her company’s customers. Even later on when she’s made aware that the meals aren’t as good as they claim to be (in both taste and nutrition) she feels that she is offering a valuable service by being a person those struggling with both their weight and mental health can rely on for help.
This is another book that without the backing of Canada Reads, I would never have come across. I’m glad I did, and I expect it to go far into the competition this year when the debates begin on March 27th.