Barnacle Love by Anthony De Sa

Barnacle Love by Anthony De Sa is broken into two distinct narratives; one for Manuel Rebelo and one for his son, Antonio.  The first portion follows Manuel from his boyhood into his adulthood as he struggles with the expectations of his mother for greatness on the island of Sao Miguel, Acores, and his dream of seeing the wider world and eventually settling in Canada.  Unlike his brothers and sisters, Manuel’s light hair and blue eyes reminded his mother of her husband, who was lost at sea.  Effectively, he becomes her substitute companion and weighs him down with her expectations until he finally breaks free to live his dreams.  Unfortunately, he finds that his dreams are not so easily realized.

“Manuel used his forearms to part the stalks of corn.  His blood coursed through him.  He forged ahead, swiping at the brittle stems, nursing the anger that had pressed on him ever since he had arrived back home and Silvia had said no.”  (page 97)

De Sa uses a fast-paced narrative intertwined with folklore, tradition, and imagery to paint a picture of Manuel’s life, his homeland, and his new home in a way that they become almost surreal.  Is this man truly living his life here or is this his dream/nightmare made real.  Once Antonio takes over the narrative, the nightmare grows more surreal as family members become more like caricatures rather than people.

At times the narrative is disjointed and jostles readers from one point in time to another, making them wonder what happened in the intervening years.  However, the story does not lose its edge.  It demonstrates that love, even between father and son, mother and son, and even siblings is not always smooth and without obstacles.  Can forgiveness and love triumph over the wrongs each feels the other has done and will their dreams become reality?

“‘My husband used to say that men are all barnacles.  A barnacle starts out lie swimming freely in the ocean.  But, when it matures, it must settle down and choose a home.  My dear husband used to say that it chooses to live with other barnacles of the same kind so that they can mate.'”  (page 108)

Barnacle Love relies heavily on ocean imagery and the surreal-ness of its characters to illustrate the hurt that comes with family, but also the great love that stirs beneath its bristling core.  Anthony De Sa has created a memorable journey of Portuguese-Canadian immigrants that will leave readers wanting more and spending additional time trying to figure out the characters’ motivations.

This is my 46th book for the 2010 New Authors Reading Challenge.


  1. I won this book in a giveaway a few weeks ago and am really looking forward to it. Great review Serena!

  2. Phillip Thomas Duck says

    Interesting read! I have been enjoying checking out the website. Very nice!

  3. Sounds like a good one. I like family dramas and stories about the immigrant experience, so I’m looking forward to reading it.

  4. I had to go back and reread my review to remember my exact thoughts/feelings about the book. I agree that the narrative seems slow at times but I think that it’s really unique to see Canada through the eyes of an immigrant and a first-generation Canadian. Thanks for the excellent review!


  5. This sounds like an interesting and unusual book. I have not read much literature with a surrealist bent, so I am thinking that I might need to try this book. Thanks for the great review, and I am glad you enjoyed it!!

  6. Beth Hoffman says

    Excellent review, Serena! I’ll add this to my list.

  7. Wow, you’ve made this one sound so good!!

  8. I was just going to say that I have never heard of this author, but you have done such a great job of reviewing it that I would definitely pick it up now.