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No Crystal Stair

3.27  ·  Rating details ·  109 ratings  ·  16 reviews
No Crystal Stair is an absorbing novel that explores an increasingly difficult contemporary reality: functioning as though White while surviving as Black. Marion Willow, a proud young widow, must work at two jobs to ensure that her three girls develop lifestyles not hindered by class and colour. The bitter-sweet experience of Marion's elegant American expatriate neighbour. ...more
Paperback, 247 pages
Published November 18th 2004 by Women's Press Literary (first published April 1997)
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Average rating 3.27  · 
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 ·  109 ratings  ·  16 reviews

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Sep 07, 2012 rated it it was ok
Shelves: can-lit, cbc-reads
There is a great story to be told here, sadly this is not the author/book to tell it.
The lives of the Black people living in Montreal in the late 30's-early 40's is fairly unexplored. Where did they come from, when and why Montreal? - truly interesting questions, and surely many intriguing stories exist.

Sarsfield is not a writer, she is more like a historian, and that is how the book read. It felt like she had a list of every fact of history, every issue faced by Black Montrealers (and some Am
Ai Miller
Jul 08, 2017 rated it liked it
Shelves: gay-fiction
So I want to say upfront that I read this book mostly because somehow it ended up on my gay reads book list? And uh not to spoil anything, but I did not read any relationships that could be construed as gay, I don't think, unless you're counting the fact that Langston Hughes appears as like a Very Background Character? So if you, like me, had it up on one of those types of lists, uh... not that I could see.

That being said, this is one of those cases where I really really felt like knowing more
Feb 02, 2020 rated it liked it
I got a kick form reading about Montreal's iconic locations like Rockheads Paradise ( no longer), Bens restaurant (closed) and the Westmount YMCA (still going strong !). The story is interesting but the telling is a little plodding. A valuable portrait of life in the 40's for Montreal's Black community. ...more
Apr 06, 2018 rated it liked it
... Life for me ain’t been no crystal stair.
It’s had tacks in it,
And splinters,
And boards torn up,
And places with no carpet on the floor—
But all the time
I’se been a-climbin’ on, ...
(Langston Hughes, Mother to Son)

A brief glimpse into racial and gender inequality of 1940s Canada, told through the story of a widow and her daughters.
Feb 20, 2020 rated it liked it
No Crystal Stair by Mairuth Sarsfield is the Canada reads selection for 2005 in non-fiction and an interesting story by an African Canadian. Her story is familiar in terms of her efforts to work hard, be honest, raise her daughters properly, and be a part of her community. But, racism exits as much in Montreal, Canada during WWII as in the United States. Life is not easy or fair.
Aug 21, 2018 rated it it was amazing
I enjoyed this book for all its cultural and literary references. I am a little bit biased as it represented my culture (Ghana), but it also made reference to historical issues, of which some of us may not have an awareness.

Set in a black community in Quebec during the 1940s, this is a story of a courageous woman making her way in a world that does not recognize her diversity or culture. Marion Willow, widowed with three girls, works two jobs to provide for them. Upright and self-sufficient, she is determined that her children will grow up to be dignified and educated despite the difficulties of being black. Marion is surrounded by a supportive community, including Edmond Thompson, a longtime friend of her deceased
Three O'Clock Press
No Crystal Stair is an absorbing novel that explores an increasingly difficult contemporary reality: functioning as though White while surviving as Black. Marion Willow, a proud young widow, must work at two jobs to ensure that her three girls develop lifestyles not hindered by class and colour. The bittersweet experience of Marion's elegant American expatriate neighbour, Torrie Delacourt, could help the girls survive Canada's subtle racism, which, though not legislated, wounds and herns them in ...more
Apr 28, 2014 rated it liked it
Marion Willow is a widow with three daughters living in Montreal during World War II. She is part of the black community and works two jobs to give her daughters a home and an education. The struggle to keep a job, maintain certain standards, and to cope with subtle racism is a challenge. Some of the individuals faced a further challenge of working as a white person while living in a black community. Increased popularity of the jazz music during the 1940’s played an important part in the culture ...more
Joelle Anthony
Sep 20, 2014 rated it liked it
Three and a half stars, really. I enjoyed this, but I think it was more the visit to 1942 Montreal that intrigued me. There wasn't much of a story, but the characters were pretty interesting and well done. Sometimes the writing was really good and other times I had to re-read to figure out what the heck was going on. Sometimes I never did figure it out. I'm really glad I read it though, and blew through it. ...more
Rob & Liz
Apr 26, 2008 rated it liked it
The subtle racism which existed in Canada in the years of WWII(And still continue today in different forms). Marion is a strong widow who tries to give her children the upbringing that they will need to suceed in this society. She has to acknowledge the help of Torrie ,a woman who is her rival for the attention of Edmond Thompson.
Kathleen McRae
Mar 15, 2014 rated it it was amazing
Excellent book! Set in Montreal In the early forties it brings to life the racism practised in Canada as opposed to the US and the rich culture of the Jazz era
Shar Wallis
Oct 12, 2012 rated it it was ok
A black perspective of Montreal during the 30s & WWII.
Dec 16, 2016 rated it it was ok
Clumsily written, and unfortunately lacking in plot and character development.
Marnie Wellar
Oct 04, 2015 rated it really liked it
I registered a book at!
Sep 12, 2016 rated it really liked it
Really well written novel describing the history of Montreal through a Black lens. 3 sisters and their mother's struggles. ...more
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