Priscila Uppal’s Projection (2013)

At twenty-eight years old, Priscila Uppal meets her mother in Brazil, twenty years after her mother has abandoned daughter-son-husband.

Two decades later, their relationship is a complicated one between near-strangers.

Projection UppalThey spend twelve days together and the experience is shared in Projection within a framework of movie titles.

This organizing principle reveals the tangible and intangible layers to this story, the practical details and psychological truths of projections on-screen and off-screen, and hints at the time and attention paid to this narrative.

“This is a story about mothers and daughters, disappearances and reunions, family bonds and family secrets, travel, trauma, grief, art, and the nature of the imagination. And movies. This is the story of how I became a blade runner.”

Readers who lack a runaway mother need not worry whether their interest will wane.

Priscila Uppal’s narrative is certainly an intimate one, rooted in a relationship between two individuals, but her observations certainly could apply to other complicated relationships (blood ties or otherwise).

She has been musing upon and studying, analyzing and challenging, her relationship with her mother for long enough to tease out the universals in her experience.

Relationships that have been fractured because dreams have dissipated? Not only mother-daughter relationships breakdown under those circumstances.

“Dreams are also dangerous. My mother’s heart was stuffed to the brim with dreams, and after my father’s accident she watched them poke out like pillow feathers and fly away.”

And gaps between imagination and reality? That snaps relationships in two pieces (or more) almost routinely: from marriages to business-partnerships.

“To come up face to face against the real person – whose face will never appear to you as you envisioned it – is to come up against and interrogate your own imagination and discover through cross-examination how true or how false you’ve been to this person, to the past, and to yourself. The ramifications are serious, no matter how elusive. Perhaps, more truthfully, I hoped I wouldn’t actually find her and force her to become real once again. Who you imagine others to be reflects on who you imagine yourself to be.”

What really makes this memoir hum, however, is the narrative voice. Self-aware and sure-footed: Projection is a pleasure to unravel.

“Writers’ psyches are a tad perverse. If a story presents itself, we are sometimes loyal to the story at the expense of ourselves.”

Priscila Uppal invites readers in, allows them to giggle with her at the inanities and insanities which proliferate in a situation like this, where dream and reality collide

“I’m a twenty-eight-year-old woman with a stuffed toy in her carry-on who reads and writes poetry for a living – not exactly the blueprint for a fearless explorer. I only have so much bravery and I might have used it all up today. You have no idea what you’re preventing me from doing. You’re interfering with my story. I didn’t write a visa complication into my script.”

And once she has successfully conquered that challenge (no spoilers here: that’s obvious from the bookcover), the descriptions of Brazil are also of interest (specific destinations, though identifying them is somewhat spoiler-y).

“And this is Brazil. You can set your sights on the vast blue horizon, but there are miles and miles and miles of dusty sandy beaches shifting under our feet.”

But the territory of prime concern is psychological rather than geographical.

“I may also have a version of my mother living out her day-to-day tragedy in the film set of my own mind, but at least I’m making an effort to alter my projections along with her production notes.”

There is a process unfolding on the page, and readers are engaged with the memoirist throughout, but most pointedly as the “plot thickens” and pages are turned.

(One of the ways in which she inserts humour is via her lists, for instance “Ten Things My Mother and I Share” and “Ten Things I Love about Canada”, although readers are left to scribble their own “Ten Things My Mother Never Imagined about Me” list, which might have included: “Is it possible my mother has never imagined me with a mouth?”)

Securing the motif of viewing relationships on a screen, there are many comments on specific films (which are of greatest interest when readers are familiar with the subjects under discussion) but, as always, there are enough broader observations to allow readers to make connections even so.

“We can watch a character make the same wrong decision we’re about to make, we can understand the terrible repercussions of that decision, we can identify the exact cause-and-effect relationship and chart out the line from beginning to end, but how is it we so rarely as a species put that learning into practice? Is art actually useful, or just a sophisticated distraction? Why are we so desperate to make our own mistakes? And why, after a couple of hours, don’t they fade to black?”

Ultimately, Projection is a single work in an artist’s oeuvre, in film or in ink; readers who are craving the criterion collection commentary might be disappointed that there is no tidy resolution. Even so, this is the director’s cut of the work, and Priscila Uppal is, indeed, the projection shaper.

Have you read this memoir, or is it on your TBR list?

[Aside: This book would make a fantastic selection for a bookclub and/or reading group, particularly for the sort of group that ventures into films as well. Things to talk about: oh, yes!]



  1. Karen - Booker Talk February 22, 2014 at 5:38 am - Reply

    That line about the teddy bear is wonderful. Makes me think this is something I could read. Mother/daughter relationships are so well trodden paths that it needs something with a new voice to make it interesting. thanks for the tip

  2. Lee-Anne February 18, 2014 at 11:57 pm - Reply

    I’m very interested to read your thoughts on this one. I heard her interviewed by Shelagh Rogers and was impressed by how articulate and thoughtful Priscila Uppal sounded. I have to admit feeling really surprised to hear at the end of the interview that she had not maintained contact with her mother and that she didn’t know that this book had been written and published. That made me feel uncomfortable – like she was telling not just her own story but her mother’s as well without… permission, or authorisation (those words don’t seem exactly right somehow). Did you have any discomfort with that aspect, or did she focus more on the universal of her personal story? (In the interview it certainly seemed *very* personal).

    • Buried In Print February 19, 2014 at 9:14 am - Reply

      That’s one of the aspects of the book that I think would lead to such interesting discussions in a book group, and I’m glad you mentioned it.

      I think I would have had that response if I didn’t sense that – even with the titling of the book, but throughout the narrative too – that she is clear about the fact that she knows she has projected her own wishes/dreams/desires onto her mother just as her mother has done to her, and that her mother does have her own story.

      It’s a decidedly intimate account, and it never suggests it is anything but one-sided. (But, at the same time, the experiences that she has with her mother are characteristic of all kinds of relationships, fractured and devastated, so I think the reader can still see some universal truths therein.)

      She does hint at some of the things that her mother might have felt/wanted/believed, and the disappointments and challenges that her mother faced, but I felt it was wise that she didn’t inhabit that space fully, and concentrated on her own feelings and thoughts, because as much as she knows that her mother’s perspective is different, she can’t possibly know all the ins-and-outs of it.

      And, yet, I felt there was always the sense that those ins-and-outs were there, just out of reach for me as a reader – and out of reach for her as a daughter too, seemingly – so that her mother may indeed be flawed (and aren’t we all) but certainly wasn’t some kind of monster.

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