Walking on Heads, a novel by the late Dania Matiation, was presented at the Sunshine Coast Arts Centre in Sechelt Feb. 23 by a group of her friends and family in an event that was one part loving celebration of Matiation's life and two parts interest in the subject of her book.
The author referred to the man who came into her life during her last year as "my charming imposter" - a handsome Dutch guy who, she did not find out until later, was a fraud.
Though the story has been fictionalized, the facts are based in truth.
Matiation worked on the Coast for many years as a nutritionist for Vancouver Coastal Health, and in the book, her fictional character Anni is vaguely described as a teacher. The parallel is close enough - Matiation had an interest in educating the public about diet. In 2010 she published her book Food Swings about our complex relationship with food, and later she wrote Motherwords, maternal words of wisdom for her children.
At the book launch she was remembered with love by her family and particularly by her daughters. Lara Matiation sang an original composition that she had performed for her mother before she died. Definitely Diva, three singing friends of Matiation's, followed with a poignant a cappella tune about the power of women.
When one of Matiation's daughters was diagnosed with cancer and subsequently died, a part of her died as well. During this vulnerable time, a man she had previously met on a dating site returned to her life with solicitous queries about her sick daughter. GJ, as he is called in the book, seemed compassionate, helpful and an intelligent academic who was doing international work for the Dutch government. He moved in with the author after abruptly leaving the apartment of his female "roommate," and he explained that he had not had time to grab his wallet and credit cards. These items did not make an appearance in all the time they were together and the two lived on Matiation's meagre disability allowance, much to her dismay. While still in mourning over her daughter's death, Matiation was hit with the same cancer diagnosis. Twice in one family seemed too much to bear.
When GJ was suddenly called away to Holland to give a keynote address and later to Africa doing developmental work, his ticket was paid for by Matiation. There followed a long series of emails from the man describing his adventures in Africa and giving excuses as to why he couldn't return or reimburse the money - emails that turned out to be so many elaborate fictions.
At the book launch, Matiation's friends Bronia Kingsbury and Patrice Pollack read from the novel, describing some of the characteristics of the charming imposter. Friends in the audience who had met him described him as intelligent and caring. They were taken in as well. Sadly, when Pollack and the other hosts asked the audience whether anyone else had experienced this type of relationship founded on lies, many hands shot up.
One of the most interesting aspects of this book is Matiation's research into pathological liars. She gives it a name, antisocial personality disorder, and attempts to understand the lack of scruples of those who create fictional lives and hurt others in doing so.
There is a deep underlying sadness in this book that is expressed in anger on Matiation's later blogs in which she exposes GJ. The reader can only wonder why she chose to hug this hurt to her so savagely during the last months of her life when she could be enjoying the love of her friends. Perhaps the key is in her sense of justice - her evident desire to expose the fraud, caution others and, by blogging and connecting through Facebook, find a bond with other women who had also suffered the imposter.
The cover of Walking on Heads is taken from a work by local artist Nadina Tandy. The book was published through Granville Island Publishing, available for $17.95.
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