Somewhere in the long sweep of sameness on the eastern shoulder of the 100-mile city, in a room above a garage on an anonymous street fronted by identical garages, there is an unlikely "pocket of indiscipline."
The phrase was invented by academics to describe a form of popular resistance to government coercion, according to Carole Enahoro, a Nigeria-born student of human geography. But here in these placid suburbs, there is no better example of such a thing than the garage where Enahoro herself composed Doing Dangerously Well, her first novel. A hilarious send-up of geopolitical mendacity, Enahoro's novel circles the world in search of absurdity and finds it everywhere, from an improbably romantic Ottawa to the trunk of the white Mercedes Benz in which Ogbe Kolo, paranoid president of her fictional Nigeria, sleeps every night to escape his enemies.
Diasporic fiction is nothing new in Canada - it is fast becoming our national literature - but never before has it been such a romp. If it weren't for the publication this same season of Miguel Syjuco's equally buoyant Ilustrado - another debut novel by a heavily hyphenated Canadian, set in the padded-wall funhouse of Philippine politics rather than Enahoro's Africa - it would be unique. Together, these two most auspicious first novels upend every cliché about Canadian writing - if you can still call it that.
Tall and stately in appearance, a first impression quickly sabotaged by conversation bubbling with mischief, Enahoro doesn't even try to fit herself into that tradition. Simply answering the basic question - "Where are you from?" - gives her conniptions. "It's so difficult!" she exclaims. "Are you talking about my parentage? Are you talking about nationality? Are you talking about where I live?"
She pauses to consider the most direct response. "I'm a Canadian student living in England researching Nigeria," she says. "Those are the dynamics at the moment."
For the record, Enahoro is the daughter of a Nigerian father and British mother who grew up everywhere, including Canada, and studies at University College, London. She speaks Tony Blair's Estuary English but admits to no fixed address, living with friends while working as a jack of all media trades. It was a job at Business Television (BTV) in Oshawa, Ont., that landed her in the room above a friend's garage in nearby Whitby.
"I go around the world and mooch," she says. "Each person has a Carole room in their house."
Next stop for Enahoro is Abuja, Nigeria's heavily planned capital city, where she will be investigating "pockets of indiscipline" for a doctorate in human geography. Abuja is a place where "the bureaucracy expresses itself in terms of absurdity," she explains. "I'm studying the 'bureaucratic absurd' and how satire attacks it."
Satire, she adds, "is part of the calculus of Nigeria. It's so deeply engrained."
Anybody who reads Doing Dangerously Well might wonder what more this student could learn about satire. Her story about a U.S. multinational company that conspires to privatize the Niger River is constantly and deliciously mocking, as glib about manicured corporate raiders as it is about the triple-dealing kleptocrats who embrace them and the blundering do-gooders who get in the way.
Adopting her attitude and technique from the rich oral culture of southern Nigeria, Enahoro puts satire to work with an equanimity that has already shocked some readers disinclined to laugh about the horrific natural disaster - a broken dam, a million dead - that sets the action in motion.
"Satire is a way of coping but it's also a way of contesting," the author says. "It's kind of a resistive practice. It erodes authority, it raises awareness. But also in satirizing something you're somehow fighting against it."
At the same time, simple sugar-coating is no sin in her book. Freely admitting that she is temperamentally incapable of "reading stories of horror, depressing stories and so on" - a category that includes the work of her highly acclaimed Nigerian-American colleague, Chimamanda Adichie - Enahoro uses humour to disguise her serious intent.
"There are people who think you can't mock terrorism, it's too serious," she says. "Same with the Holocaust, for example." Or the millions killed in recent wars in eastern Congo. "But I'm one of the former types who thinks that you actually have to bring some humour to it. Otherwise there are some issues that people simply can't digest."
Despite her fascination with the Congo, Enahoro has no plans for comedic tales set there. Instead, she is planning a trip to Timbuktu to finish the research for a novel about the effects of mass tourism on that fabled desert city. "It's another comedy, another one that might offend some people," she says gaily. And the furthest frontier ever for anything that might credibly be called Canadian literature.