What We’re Reading Now – Dear Current Occupant: A Memoir by Chelene Knight

Review By Grant T. Smith


book reviewFor the second time, I am going to review a book that is not a business book. I heard from some readers that they appreciated the last such review. Others wrote or spoke out to say they like when I stray from my norms and offer challenges of a different nature.


This book affected me in a very powerful way and allowed me to play with shifting my perspectives on life. When that happens, I like to share it with people who might be open to shifting perspectives. My readers, and you specifically, are such people.


Today’s book, Dear Current Occupant: A Memoir, by Chelene Knight, was launched on Sunday 25 March at the Cottage Bistro on Main St. Having finished the book shortly before, I was on hand for the celebration. About 50 people gathered in this little café with a small stage. We enjoyed a great local acapella group called What it is! and listened to two strong opening readers, before the main event (more on these opening readers can be found at the bottom of this blog).


Knight opened with a reading I had already put into my review, so I figured I must be doing something right:

Dear Current Occupant – Pink building, Broadway and 12th

… She wanted help. She wanted to get better. She said strange things. She knocked on my door when Mama wasn’t home. She said things like “Don’t forget to take out the trash cans on Tuesday” and “Let the dog out.” ”You should tell your mother to put apples in your lunch bag.” “Your mother has died, but let the dog out.” None of it was true. We didn’t have a dog. My mother was alive. I always ate apples.


The basic premise of the book is to tell the author’s experiences growing up in Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside. One of the main vehicles she uses is to write a letter to the current occupant of the many buildings in which she lived. Knight grew up in a Vancouver that I will never know, except as I can visit it through her book. I want to share a paragraph from the epilogue:

Genres are crossing, blending, merging, melding and molding into new subgenres, and this is what happened with Dear Current Occupant. And just like genres, the same thing can be said when it comes to belonging – the bending. I can never let go of the bending. The squeezing to fit into a place, a home. How many doors have to slam shut? How many windows can I look out of, trusting that the view will remain the same?


Perhaps important to understanding the preceding paragraph (although I am not certain) is to know that Knight’s mother is an American-born Black woman. Her father is an East Indian Ugandan man who was kicked out of his country for not being black. Her childhood was one of poverty and parental drug use. I understand Dear Current Occupant to be, at least in part, an exploration of home. An exploration of home in a city, of home in a skin, of home in a culture and perhaps an investigation into whether one even has a home, at a time and a place.


The book is like no other I have read, a blend of poetry and prose, of fact and imagery. The language is out of this world or at least out of my world. The rhythms and structures move one through time and space, bring tears and laughter and apparently red shoes – although I missed the red shoes. Typical.


If you are like me, why should you read this book? I have always known confidence in my place, my home has always been complete, I have owned my skin and I have owned the power of being born male. This is the privilege of birth, born white, born in the suburbs of Vancouver, born into a professional household, a university education was assumed and security of person was assured. Knight’s world, in downtown Vancouver, for God’s sake, is as foreign to me as the journey I took to Cambodia last month. To read this book is to experience another reality and to grow from the journey.


Thank you Chelene, for sharing this part of your world with us.


Oh, and finally, when you read business books, the language of your review is not challenged by the text you read, for you stand on the same ground. Writing this review has been a huge pain, because I have been constantly aware of my inadequate words.



A note on the opening readers:

Simone Chnarakis is a 14-year-old girl who is currently a grade 9 student attending sir Charles Tupper Secondary. She was born in Vancouver B.C. and is half Jamaican and half Greek

Jónína Kirton is a Métis/Icelandic poet/author and facilitator. She was born in Treaty One (Portage la Prairie, Manitoba). She currently lives in the unceded territory of the Musqueam, Sḵwxwú7mesh, and Tsleil-Waututh. A Room Magazine Editorial Board member, she is one of the co-founders of their new reading series, Indigenous Brilliance, an exciting new partnership with Massy Books.