A True Collection of Ponderings | Mention of “Best Canadian Stories 2018,” Edited by Russell Smith. (To be Released October, 2018) Biblioasis

I received an Advanced Reading Copy of this book from the publisher

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Literature is important  for many of us who seek discourse and dialog about the human condition. We turn to it to gain a better understanding not only about the world but ourselves and our actions. And for those of  us who turn off our electronic gizmos at the end of the day in frustration and turn to literature to calmly and carefully reflect on the state of the world around us,  Russell Smith with the publishing team at Biblioasis has given us a brilliant collection to ponder the state of existence in with Best Canadian Stories 2018.

Noted writer and author Russell Smith has opened this book with a brilliant opening argument about fiction. It not only reflects on the collection well, but gives insight to what many of us feel today. I know I am not suppose to quote from unchecked materials but I lovet his comment and I hope the final copy of the book keeps it in:

Page 9 – Introduction

We all read, now, dozens of news stories, personal stories, arguments and anecdotes every day on our screens, and whether they be Facebook updates or essays, they all claim to be true stories. Fiction has always been good at seeming like a true story too. Often it is. These things are hard to separate.

Autobiographical fiction has always been written. Whole university courses teach “creative non-fiction” that encourage reporters to explore the novelist’s bag of tricks. “Autofiction,” a variant of memoir that takes the form of a novel and does not promise exact truth as a memoir would, has further confused our definitions.

In light of these borrowings, many enlightened people claim that further taxonomy would be useless and unproductive. It absolutely doesn’t matter if a piece is true or not: it should be judged by the same esthetic or moral standards.

. . . When an entire intellectual culture is immersed in the didactic, it loses its ability to see which is not didactic. Art has a role that polemic does not. there is a value to being removed from one’s ideological position for a moment of escape into the nearly-real.

These pieces in this collection are from a combination of new and established writers yet they document a series of emotions and situations that we all have been in one way or another yet may have not been considered or reflected on by us readers. These are not stories that should be rushed through or perused, but admired for the craft, skill and thought that were put into their creation.

So, the collection of Best Canadian Stories 2018, edited by Russell Smith, is a brilliant collection of works for those of us who quietly seek a better understanding of the world around us. It is a must-read coming out of the Fall 2018 publishing season.

 

*****

Link to Biblioasis’ website for Best Canadian Stories 2018

Link to Russell Smith’s website

 

Life, Love and the ‘Hood You Live in | Review of “That Time I Loved You” by Carrianne Leung (2018) HarperCollins Publishers

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Image linked from the publisher’s website

Where we live is suppose to be a perfectly tranquil area where kids are suppose enjoy normal childhood lives. Yet we all perfectly know that in anybody’s life there are a series of angst, fears, hardships, and rage that darken our days. Carrianne Leung looks at one seemingly perfectly constructed neighbourhood explores some of the issues that exists behind their doors in her book That Time I Loved You.

Pages 4-5 Grass

That summer, as they watered their front lawns, the adults leaned across their fences and spoke in hushed voices, flooding their grass with their now forgotten hoses. Us kids gathered in the street with our road hockey gear and baseballs to share whatever intel we’d acquired and trade in gory details. Mr. Finley’s brain was supposedly splattered in a million bits across his basement. My friend  Darren said you couldn’t clean brain completely out- that stuff sticks. Darren knew a lot about brains because he was into comic books and his mother was a nurse, so we took whatever he said as fact. As for Mrs. Da Silva, everybody knew she wasn’t right in the head. We often saw her walking around in her housecoat talking and laughing to herself.

Nothing like this had ever happened in our quiet suburban neighbourhood before. No one had ever died before Mr. Finley. In downtown Toronto, where the dangerous people lived, at least according to my dad, it probably happened all the time. Dad said downtown was no place for kids because it was dirty and full of fast cars and shady characters, while out here in the suburbs, we were free to play on the street, leave our front doors unlocked and generally not worry about such things. Granted, there was a neighbourhood thief sneaking around, but only small, mostly worthless things were taken – forgotten gardening gloves on the lawn, chipped coffee mugs left on the porch, a rusty screwdriver in a garage. People assumed it was some weird kid’s idea of fun. I had my own opinion on who it was, and it was not kid. But no one listened to me anyway.

Leung has done something truly clever with this book. The opening story deals with a troubled kid realizing that there something wrong with her neighbourhood. A series of suicides in the perfectly-designed residential area has sent the adults into a quiet tither yet none are openly discussing the situations out load. But the rest of the stories look into the domestics situations and – more importantly – the thoughts of the residents of the neighbourhood. Leung has documented the zeitgeist of a suburban neighbourhood and given a complex view of the human condition where no other writer has gone before.

Pages 21-22 Flowers

On that day, the last day, the primroses were especially pretty. There red petals opened to kiss the summer sun. Mrs. Da Silva’s first thought upon waking that morning was to water them. She had tossed and turned all night in a restless sleep and woke up already tired. There had been no rain for days. In her faded cotton house dress, she pulled the garden hose from its long coil attached to the concrete wall of the house. She liked the ease of the garden hose, its coil, its simple tap, its reach. Everything was easy here, compared with Portugal. You had a house with a tap attached to the side wall. You turned it on and water came from the hose. After twenty years in this country, Mrs. D was still amazed. Spraying the water across the patch of grass and on the petals of the primroses was among her favourite things. Each blade of grass and small flower shook and shivered under the mist raining down. When she turned, the flowers whispered two words in Portuguese behind her back that sounded like a sigh: The letter.

Her finger released the lever of the nozzle on her hose. She stood silently in the glistening grass, her toes getting wet through her slippers. She waited to her more, but the flowers went silent. Mrs. D wondered how the flowers knew about the letter, but then she remembered that they knew everything about her, as if there were an invisible thread that ran between them. The letter had arrived two days earlier, and she had read it, memorized its contents, but the news didn’t seem real, more like a ghostly whisper from far away. Only when thing flowers uttered the words in their familiar accent, as if they too had come from her fishing village in São Miguel, did the letter feel true. There were facts in the letter. The flowers confirmed it. Her mãe, her beautiful mother, was dead.

The beauty of this book is that it documents complex situations in a simple, almost every-day language. It is easy to read yet the concepts are familiar and universal. We all have sensed the frustrations and fears of the characters involved yet may have not truly considered them or discussed them out loud. Leung’s book forces many of us to come to realize many things about the world around us that we may not have considered before.

Pages 112 Kiss

It was clear how much Uncle Bill adored Louisa by the way he held her hand when they went for walks around the neighbourhood on Louisa’s good days, or by the gentle voice he used when he asked her if she was hungry. Josie had never seen a man take care of a woman before. Although her mother worked the same long hours as her father, it was still up to Josie, her mother and her sister to do all the cooking and cleaning.

Aunt Louisa and Uncle Bill lived a fifteen-minute walk away, outside the enclave of the sister streets. Instead of hanging out with June and the other kids on Winifred after lunch in the August heat, Josie would head over to her aunt and uncle’s house to start dinner. When school began that fall, she didn’t even wait to walk home with June and dashed to their place right after the bell.

Even though her aunt was sick, they had a lot of fun together. Aunt Louisa would keep her company from a chair in the corner of the kitchen while Josie chopped vegetables or swept. Aunt Louisa, already thin, would sit with her feet on another chair, propped up with pillows and wearing a big scarf around her head. She looked to Josie like a fragile egg, her skin so pale it was almost translucent. Despite the rapid changes to her appearance, Aunt Louisa still like to talk and asked her about school and her friends in a way her mother never did.

Carrianne Leung has given readers something serious and emotional to consider in her book That Time I Loved You.  Her story lines are unique and insightful which makes this book a great piece of literature.

*****

Link to HarperCollins Canada’s website for That Time I Loved You

Link to Carrianne Leung’s website

 

When Memories Truly Become History | Review of “The Water Beetles” by Michael Kaan (2017) Goose Lane Editions

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Image linked from the publisher’s website

We all have had family members who have enthralled us with stories of their childhood. But for those of us whose ancestors endured the horrors of conflict and war, that enthrallment becomes a stunned silence when we become aware of the hardships and traumas they went through. Michael Kaan has taken the memories of his father growing up in Hong Kong during the Second World War and crafted a unique novel called The Water Beetles.

Pages 10-11

We’re stopped because it’s another hot day, and even the Japanese solders forcing us to march agree we should rest. We’ve stopped by a dense bamboo grove. Despite the soldiers’ warnings to stay visible, I want to be alone, so I’m lying close to the grove’s edge. If I lie on my back and look up, I can see only a small patch of sky, the bamboo stalks are so dense. I can also see the two beetles climbing up a stalk. The little green-and yellow one that is me, with the one leg hooked into the crook of the stem, doesn’t seem to care that he’s being followed.

The greenery reminds me of our grounds back home, of the beds and potted plants that the gardener used to touch so carefully with his tools. It reminds me of the gardens at school and in the city parks, and other things that I worry are gone or I may never see again. At the moment I’m surrounded by plants, the wild and farmed exploding next to each other in the light. There’s nothing gentle about cultivated plants – they dig and drink, and push upward as hard as the wild ones. But I prefer my memories to what is happening now. We have a garden on the roof of our house where my brother and I used to play a lot, before it became unsafe to be up there. It has a chicken coop and a vegetable plot, or at least it did when I left.

This is one of these books that takes a element from the history pages and gives readers a much more in-depth understanding of the events that occurred. Kaan has crafted the memories of his father into the story of Chung-Man Leung, who is coming of age in December 1941. Chung-Man’s life is comfortable and he is curious about the world around him but the Japanese invasion of Hong Kong throws his existence into turmoil as he and his family are faced with a trove of violence and repression.

Pages 65-66

Despite the caution of the adults around me, I caught bits of their conversations and fragments of radio broadcasts, and throughout December I pieced together what had happened to Hong Kong. On December 8, the Japanese Imperial Army, who had invaded northeastern China several weeks earlier and were working their way south, crossed the Shenzhen River that separated the British colony from the mainland. This left them only about thirty miles north of the mainland portion of Hong Kong, and so about forty miles from where we lived on Hong Kong Island. The Allied forces that had assembled there either succumbed or pulled back from the onslaught, and eventually the Japanese penetrated the New Territories into Hong Kong itself. Even as the Japanese moved inward on land, they had already bombed Kai Tak  Airport on the eight, weakening the British. The blasts we heard at my school that morning were the sound of the airport being shelled, the sound of a fatal blow.

I’m recounting this quickly, as if I were reading from a history book, but at the time I knew even less, and the adults around me didn’t know much more. We no idea where the fighting was or what progress the Japanese made each day. We only heard of it as one hears of a change in the weather, that a hurricane or typhoon is coming.

The truth is that one never know enough. Looking back into the past is a lonely game of self-delusion, watching people and events move with an inevitability that never was. the history books tell everything with such certainty. But at the time, nothing seemed inevitable to me. Somethings were impossible or unlikely, something expected, but most of all, beyond the routine of daily life, the world was a mystery. We knew little until it happened.

What makes this book truly memorable is that is a perfect mixture of fact, description and lyricism. That combination makes this narrative that will certain be reflected and pondered upon months after the book is read by many readers. The prose also seems to flow from one section to the next, only changing suddenly when something dramatic occurs. It is a read worthy to reflect and ponder over.

Pages 222-223

A harsh metallic clang woke me the next morning. I ran out of the house wearing only my underwear. A man was running through the streets striking a gong and shouting at everyone to get up. Many people were already out, and I ran back to the house to wake Leuk, Wei-Ming, and Yee-Lin. A half dozen planes flew overhead.

The Japanese had been spotted on the road just before dawn by a civil defence volunteer. The townspeople were unprepared and panic erupted. A man from the neighbouring house said he would fight and shook an old rifle in the air to the cheers of other men.

Yee-Lin was already up and packing our belongings. I got dressed, found my belt, and made sure Leuk had his too. Only Yee-Lin knew about the gold we carried , and we never talked about it. Wei-Ming would be certain to say something if she knew.

“Chung-Man, get Kei and Ming and tell them to come with us,” said Yee-Lin.

“Where to?”

“I don’t know. Into the woods. To a river if we can find a boat. There must be a way out. They may know how.

I went to the kitchen and found them already up and strangely calm.

“It’s the Japanese, isn’t it? said Kei. What should we do?”

“Run. We’re going to try to make it out. Come with use and tell us where to go. Is there a place to hide in the woods, or a boat?”

Michael Kaan has crafted a unique and enlightening piece of literature with The Water Beetles. He has taken his father’s memories and created a story worthy for all us readers to ponder and reflect on. It is a must read for sure.

*****

Link to Goose Lane’s website for The Water Beetles

A Brilliant Mix of Personal Emotion and Fact That Is a Great Read | Review of “Home Ice: Reflections Of A Reluctant Hockey Mom (2018) ECW Press

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Image linked from the publisher’s website

Fiction always helps us understand the human condition in a lyrical fashion. But when a writer crafts a non-fiction work about an important element of our society, we readers are granted an wonderful and personal insight to our lives around us. As the Fall 2018 new releases come along, and the winter sport season is beckoning our engagement, noted fiction writer Angie Abdou has documented her thoughts and emotions as her young son begins to play amateur hockey.  And her new work – Home Ice: Reflections of a Reluctant Hockey Mom – gives brilliant insight to the role of athletics and youth in this day in age.

Pages 1-2 Prologue: “Have Fun! Try Hard!” Reflections of a Hockey Mom

“Have fun! Try hard!” That was the coach’s rallying cry for every pre-Novice hockey game during my son’s first year in the sport. “Have fun! Try hard!” I love it. The slogan applies to so much in life – work, writing, marriage. If you have fun and try hard, the rest often sorts itself out.

I wrote the slogan in red crayon on a torn piece of paper and taped it to the laptop where I spend my days either teaching creative writing students online or pounding out my own stories. the slogan stands as a reminder that, sure, okay, I will likely never make the writer’s equivalent of the NHL and, yes, I know, I cannot expect a pot of gold at the end of the novelist’s rainbow. I can though, enjoy the process. I can take pride in my work. I can always push myself to do better. I can find meaning in the challenge. And those things – in and of themselves – can be enough They have to be.

If hockey began and ended with that “Have fun! Try hard!” philosophy. I would have no reservations about my son’s participation in the sport.

Abdou has explored in detail some serious points in our understanding of sport in our society. I know for myself, when I was younger, I never was comfortable with athletics. The goal of my fellow classmates and their coaches was always to win or score big, never the concept of sportsmanship, camaraderie or achieving a personal best. Abdou has documented here a multitude of angsts, frustrations, fatigues and an occasional joy as she spent a year being a hockey mom to her young yet determined son Ollie has begun to play a popular and demanding sport.

Pages 88-89 Chapter Four: Kids In The Colosseum

(G)ood thing Ollie is not in charge. He’d have them all hitting at eight years old. Like other kids born late in the year, he was eight for most of his first year Atom. As absurd as this idea sounds – as much as full contact for eight-year-olds is the brain-storm of a roughhousing boy with no understanding of long-term consequences – hockey leagues have allowed kids as young as eight to hit.

Hockey is a different game with the hitting than without the hitting. I’ve seen that even with Ollie’s young age group. Some star kids back right down and become invisible as soon as play turns rough. Sometimes they go straight to the bench, not interested in engaging at all in the body contact. Other kids, the ones less agile but stronger, suddenly shine. Since body checking is part of the sport at elite and professional levels, kids who aspire to that level want to learn how to do it right. They want to play the real game. They don’t want to work hard until fifteen or sixteen or seventeen and then find out they’re the kind of player who disappears when on-ice play gets physical. I get it. Through the eyes of Mark and his boys, I can understand why some argue for the inclusion of hitting as young as Pee Wee.

But when I hear a young player’s body crack hard into the boards? When I see a kid motionless on the ice? I have to agree with the doctors.

For those of us who just watch sports for leisure and enjoyment, we rarely think about the punishment and abuse that athletes have endure or consider the stress, cost and anxiety that the family members of those athletes face. Abdou documents both these facts in through both in citing professional studies and through personal anecdotes. The result is a book that is both insightful and lyrical.

Pages 114-115  Chapter Six: Until Hockey Doth Us Part

“Mom.” Ollie’s voice comes quiet, tentatively, from the backseat. “Why do you and dad sometimes seem like you hate each other?”

“I’m sorry, Ollie.” I will not cry. I have 250 kilometers of winter driving and a weekend at the rink. If I start crying now, I don’t know how I will stop. “We don’t hate each other. We’re just tired.”

“Well, why don’t you take a rest?” That’s Ollie – always thinking of a solution, always trying to help. Other people’s pain hurts him more than it should. I know Ollie more than anyone, and I should behave better than I do. But, god, I’m exhausted. I feel the fatigue as an ache in my bones. I’m so tired my face hurts.

Would a rest even help me and Marty at this point? We’re so sick of each other.

(. . .)

Hockey works to dived couples in this way, almost always. The children on Ollie’s team all have one parent in the stands, the other busy elsewhere with the remaining demands of family life.

Much ink has been devoted to instruction spouses how to co-parent a hockey player after a divorce, how to divide the financial obligations and time commitments, as well as how to create a situation in which the athlete can thrive rather than being affected by negotiations around the marital collapse. However, there is no research that suggests the blame for these divorces might, in part, be our society’s overcommitment to organized sport for children and the many ways that commitment creates stress and drains energy that could other wise be directed to fostering healthy familial relationships.

Angie Abdou has given us another excellent cultural artifact with her non-fiction book Home Ice: Reflections of a Reluctant Hockey Mom. Abdou has mixed fact and bits of her personal life to give us readers a unique insight into athletics and our society. Definitely an insightful piece of literature.

*****

Link to ECW Press’ website for Home Ice: Reflections of a Reluctant Hockey Mom

Link to Angie Abdou’s website

A Survival Tale But Also One Of Pride | Review of “Moon Of The Crusted Snow” by Waubgeshig Rice (To Be Released Oct. 2018) ECW Press

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Image linked from the publisher’s website

I received an Advanced Reading Copy of this book from the publisher.

What if the world as we know ended not with a bang or even the proverbial whimper but with dead silence? All our communication devices fall dead, no goods or services would come in for needs and no health or emergency services would be available. Would we be able to cope and continue? That is the realm that Waubgeshig Rice explores in his new novel Moon of the Crusted Snow.

The book brilliantly opens with the protagonist Evan Whitesky hunting a moose. The winter season is almost upon him and his northern Anishinaabe community and food stocks from the south are expensive. He is grateful that his culture has taught him how to respectfully hunt and appreciate the wilderness around him. As he hurries to finish slaughtering the moose he has captured, he notes that his cell phone has no service. He finds that fact odd but doesn’t give it a second thought. Little does he realize that the outside world has changed, and he, his family and his community are about to be challenged for their survival.

Rice has written a great book about trust, family and survival here but his book gives insight into Anishnaab society and culture. He shows the pride of ways of the people and their beliefs. Rice has written book here covering some important elements of the human condition, that should be considered and pondered upon among serious readers of literature no matter what their background or origins may be.

Moon of the Crusted Snow by Waubgeshig Rice is a brilliant read and a unique one. It has a in-depth narrative but also shows a pride in the ways of a culture that is complex and unique. In short, it is a great addition to the 2018 fall collection of new books.

*****

Link to ECW Press’ website for Moon Of The Crusted Snow

Link to Waubgeshig Rice’s website

Learning The Value of Actions | Review of “Net Worth” by Kenneth Radu (2018) DC Books

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It is consider crass to talk about money yet it is important in our society to maintain our comfort and our dignity.  So it plays an important role in the human condition where it comes into play how we attempt to gain a better financial position or loose our status in society. And those are the themes that Kenneth Radu brilliantly explores in his collection of short stories entitled Net Worth.

Pages 2-3 Lottery

Unlike the television ads about lottery winners, Annie did not leap like a drug-addled rabbit, or immediately dream of travel to first class hotels, or buying real estate in Italy or a pied-à-terre in Paris. She slumped on her chair in front of the monitor in her bedroom where she kept her desktop computer, and heard the beating of her heart. All the numbers matched. Then she rose, forcing herself to walk. Trembling as if someone had broken into her apartment, she opened the kitchen drawer where she kept the knives. To collect the money she would have to present ticket herself to the lottery commission who, according to the terms of purchase, had the right to publicize the win and publish photos of the winner.

Her picture would be in the papers, on the lottery website, possibly YouTube for all she knew; she might even have to appear on Tout le Monde en Parle, a show watched by millions, and everyone in the country would know how chance had affected her life. How could she keep herself safe? The trembling came not just from fear, somewhat easing because she knew that no malefactor had broken into the apartment, but more from anxiety about the inevitable public glare focused on her unassuming person, about journalists repeating invasive and stupid questions to a woman who rarely spoke in public, questions about how she felt and her plans for the money, and, and, and . . .

Radu is an expert in recognizing the complexities of human nature, and writing about them in a simple and enlightening fashion. And that is what he has done with this book. The emotions and thoughts around money are deep and complicated. This collection of stories explores those constructs and the actions they bring forth. And for those of us readers who are quietly curious about human nature, this book is a treat for us to ponder and reflect upon while reading it.

Page 15 Millionaire

People didn’t want to work these days the way he did. Nina, too, had worked. Hard work paid off; no one could tell him otherwise. If Nina had found him interesting enough to marry, her well-off parents just had to swallow their pride or lose their beloved daughter for good. So maybe she did have a leg up on the ladder of success, that extra push that family wealth always gave, but together they’d built what she now left him. They’d agreed on most things, as far as he could remember, aside from favouring her daughters in ways he’d disliked. Hadn’t argued about the lack of money except over how much she should give the kids as an allowance, and how much to charity, and to less fortunate members of the family. But what the hell? Look at him now, basking in prosperity on the June day, anticipating the memorial where everyone would agree that, if money were a backyard pool, he’d be swimming in it.

Radu has mixed the perfect combination of observation and intellectual thought in these stories. The language is simple, direct and even blunt at times,  yet to a thoughtful reader, the message that Radu reflects about money and finances is enlightening and thought-provoking. These stories are truly a unique read that shouldn’t be rushed through.

Page 39 Trust Fund

The woman dragged her two children on a toboggan through the graveyard. It had been in the family for years, a long wooden toboggan no longer common, and displaced by plastic substitutes and cartoon character snowboards in the stores. When she was a child, she had sped down a bumpy hill, sometimes with friends, often alone, rarely with her father. Her mother hated the winter and stayed indoors to make soup, hot chocolate, bread, cookies and all sorts of good things. She had tried making them herself to give her boy and girl a sense of what real food tasted like, especially since Marc’s death in September, six moths ago almost to the day: not that she planned on pulling Mathieu and Grace to his headstone. Both of the kids had been old enough to cry over their father’s death and look woeful at the funeral, but young enough to recover from the loss, she hoped, without growing up permanently traumatized or otherwise deranged from grief like psychotic kids in movies acting out their rage over daddy’s death. No, they were good, of that she was sure. Mathieu had wrapped his arms around his younger sister so she wouldn’t slide off the toboggan. Grace was still a wriggler.

“Mom, Mom, you’re going right by it!”

Net Worth by Kenneth Radu is certainly one of the most unique reads I have come across in the 2018 publishing season. The language is simple yet the concepts it brings forward are thought-provoking and enlightening. In short, this book is a great piece of literature.

*****

Link to DC Books’ website for Net Worth

 

Pondering Life During The Summer Months | Review of “Warlight” by Michael Ondaatje (2018)McClelland & Stewart

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It has been a while since I posted on here. The summer so far has been long and lethargic. Like many people, the heat has forced me to reflect and ponder my existence on this mudball circling the too-bright orange ball in the expanse of space. And the plot of Michael Ondaatje’s latest coming-of-age novel – called Warlight – proved to be the right meditative device for my mind to reflect upon.

Pages 6 Part One – A Table Full of Strangers

In 1945 our parents went away and left us in the care of two men who may have been criminals. We were living on a street in London called Ruvigny Gardens, and one morning either our mother or father suggested that after breakfast the family have a talk, and they told us that they would be leaving us and going to Singapore for a year. Not too long, they said, but it would not be a brief trip either. We would of course be well cared for in the absence. I remember our father was sitting on one of those uncomfortable iron garden chairs as he broke the news, while our mother, in a summer dress just behind his shoulder, watched how we responded. After a while she took my sister Rachel’s hand and held it against her waist, as if she could give it warmth.

Ondaatje is the master wordsmith who knows his craft and this book proves his skill. The story deals with Nathaniel and the time of when he comes-of-age of  awareness of himself and the world around him. Set in post-war London, England, Nathaniel and his sister are abandon by their parents and left under the care of a shady character by the name of “The Moth.” Ondaatje divides the plot of the book into two sections: the first where Nathaniel tells the story of he and his sister growing up while dealing with “The Moth” then the second part where Nathaniel – older and we assume wiser – tries to understand and comes to terms with that era of his life.

Pages 31-32 Hellfire

My sister didn’t return until late that night, long past midnight. She appeared unconcerned, barely spoke to us. The Moth did not argue with her about her absence, only asked if she had been drinking. She shrugged. She looked exhausted, her arms and her legs were filthy. After this night The Moth would intentionally grow close to her. But it felt to me that she had crossed a river and was now further from me, elsewhere. She had after all been the one to discover the trunk which our mother had simply “forgotten” when she’d boarded the plane for the two-and-a-half-day journey to Singapore. Now shawl, no cannister, no calf-length dress she could swirl in on some dance floor during a tea dance with our father, or whoever she was with, wherever she was. But Rachel refused to talk about it.

Mahler put the word schwer beside certain passages in his musical scores. Meaning “difficult.” “Heavy.” We were told this at some point by The Moth, as if it was a warning. He said we needed to prepare for such moments in order to deal with them efficiently, in case we suddenly had to take control of our wits. Those times exist for all of us, he kept saying. Just as no score relies on only one pitch or level of effort from musicians in the orchestra. Sometimes it relies on silence. It was a strange warning to be given, to accept that nothing was safe anymore. “‘Schwer,'” he’d say, with his fingers gesturing the inverted commas, and we’d mouth the word and then the translation, or simply nod in weary recognition. My sister and I got used to parroting the word back to each other –  “schwer.”

In a nutshell – and like many writers who document coming-of-age stories well -Ondaatje has given us readers a context in which to compare our own upbringings with. It is an important element of the human condition and reading stories about other people’s childhood helps in coming to terms with our own. And Ondaatje’s well-thought out prose aids in keeping the story alive in our minds as we ponder our days of youth.

Page 135 The Saints

When you attempt a memoir, I am told, you need to be in an orphan state. So what is missing in you, and the things you have grown cautious and hesitant about, will come almost casually towards you. “A memoir is the lost inheritance,” you realize, so that during this time you must learn how and where to look. In the resulting self-portrait everything will rhyme, because everything has been reflected. If a gesture was flung away in the past, you now see it in the possession of another. So I believed something in my mother must rhyme in me. She in her small hall of mirrors and I in mine.

Gifted writer Michael Ondaatje has once again crafted a brilliant work of literature which deals with important elements of the human condition with his latest work Warlight. It is a perfect read to ponder over during lethargic summer days.

*****

Link to Penguin – Random House Canada’s website for Warlight

One of Most Well-Crafted Reads of 2018 | Review of “I’ve Been Meaning To Tell You: A Letter To My Daughter” by David Chariandy (2018) McClelland & Stewart

 

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There is no doubt that many of us feel anxiety about the future. Everything from the rise of populist leaders to the rise of the costs of the items that we need to exist can cause our blood pressure to ‘rise ‘ (Then add to our health to the list of things to be anxious about.) Yet we still want our younger loved-ones to have some confidence for their future. David Chariandy has felt those same fears and desires when he considered his daughter and her future and has brilliantly shared those views in his new book I’ve Been Meaning to Tell You: A Letter to My Daughter.

Pages 9-10 The Occasion

But I find myself wondering just when a child begins to dwell in that place of tomorrow. I wonder, most often, about your life in the place of today, and what you have already seen and heard, have already understood and been made to feel. I wonder if there are moments, despite your tough postures, when you have felt neither confident nor safe. I wonder about the persistent message sent to girls in the news, in movies, in language and image, and in the rhetoric of politics and business, especially girls who share your ancestry but who have not had your special opportunities. I wonder about the electronic “tomorrow” that you are already navigating in your basement room, when at night you peer into a screen and the world casts its lurid energies upon your brown face.

This slim volume is the most profound cultural artifact that I have encountered this year. Its 120 pages are filled with personal and emotional thoughts that Chariandy was kind enough to craft into a book and share with the world. He takes some personal moments with his daughter that are heart-wrenching (A moment where a father/daughter visit to a buffet is ruined when a bigoted patron butts her way in front of him and remarks “I was born here. I belong here.” Or the joyful events of his daughter’s thirteenth birthday being grimly overshadowed by bitter politics and the Inauguration of President Donald Trump) Chariandy has given us serious readers a voice to confirm our concerns about the state of the world.

Pages 51-52 The Test

You did not create the inequalities and injustices of this world, daughter. You are neither solely nor uniquely responsible to fix them. If there is anything to learn from the story of our ancestry, it is that you should respect and protect yourself; that you should see, truly see, the vulnerability and the creativity and the enduring beauty of others, in the desperate hope for a better life, either migrate or are pushed across the hardened borders of nations and find themselves stranded in unwelcoming lands. We live in a time, dearest daughter, when the callous and ignorant in wealthy nations have made it their business to loudly proclaim who are the deserving “us” (those really “us”) and who are the alien and undeserving “them.” But the story of our origins offers us a different insight. The people we imagine most apart from “us” are, oftentimes, our own forgotten kin.

A reader can sense the quiet thought and crafted tone in this book that Chariandy has down in his previous novels. He is reflecting on his reality and the reality of his daughter and giving a us all a unique perspective to consider. It is a book that isn’t all preachy doom and gloom but it isn’t a book that is sunshine a rainbows either. It documents a reality that is in flux and needs to be considered and reflected upon.

Pages 107-109

You are a complex girl, my daughter. For some of my friends back east, your preferences for sushi and skiing and jackets of Gore-Tex instantly identify you as a “Vancouverite.” Your mother once, much to my dismay, pronounced you a “camper.” And for a short while, you yourself like the term “tomboy,” with is promised alternative to the categories of “girl” and “boy.” For some of my relatives, you are Black; for others you are Indian. And as a girl of African, South Asian, and European heritage, some may consider you still another identity, that of being “mixed.” Sometimes there is unfair privilege in being mixed, and of thereby avoiding certain degrees of prejudice simply because you might be lighter skinned that other Black or South Asian girls. Other times, there is a foolish denigration associated with being mixed. Of course, as you prove abundantly, there is beauty in being mixed; and I have heard some well-wishing folk proclaim people like you the happy future for humankind, imagining that racial prejudice will come to an end when everyone, through countless inter-mixing, achieves the same features and tone of brown. Forgive me dearest one, but I don’t share this hope. The future I yearn for is not one in which we will all be clothed in sameness, but one in which we will finally learn to both read and respectfully discuss our differences.

And you are a Canadian too, an identity that contains a specific story, promotes specific benefits and ideals, as well as specific illusions and blindnesses. Not so long ago in Canada’s history, a girl like you might very well have been denied citizenship, security, and belonging. As your father, I wonder about the extent to which you can now envision a just future for yourself here. My question is far from unique in the world today, and it links you to young visible minorities in the U.S. and Britain, Australia and Germany, and many other countries.

David Chariandy has proved himself a truly gifted and enlightened writer by sharing his book  I’ve Been Meaning To Tell You: A Letter To My Daughter with the world. It is an emotional and well-crafted read and no doubt, one of my favourites reads of 2018.

*****

Link to Penguin Random House Canada’s website for I’ve Been Meaning To Tell You: A Letter To My Daughter

Link to my review of David Chariandy’s Brother

Link to my review of David Chariandy’s Soucouyant

Understanding Ourselves a Bit Better Through Our Sport and Our Literature | Review of “Writing The Body In Motion: A Critical Anthology on Canadian Sport Literature” edited by Angie Abdou & Jamie Dopp (2018) AU Press, Athabasca University

writing

For those of us who  read, do it to sincerely understand the world around us better. And in understanding the world better, sincerely learn about ourselves a bit more. Well-crafted fiction gives those of us who read the ultimate opportunity to do so but rarer and rarer are readers given the notions to contemplate what they have read. One such book has given me pause to reflect on some of my serious past reading and that book is Writing The Body In Motion: A Critical Anthology on Canadian Sport Literature edited by Angie Abdou and Jamie Dopp.

Page 5 Introduction by Angie Abdou

The lessons of these literary works – and the essays about them – extend beyond the sporting arena. According to the course website of Don Morrow, who taught one of Canada’s first sport lit courses at the University of Western Ontario, sport literature is never just about sport; rather, it explores the human condition using sport as the dominant metaphor. Similarly, Priscila Uppal, perhaps the most well-known Canadian scholar and writer to focus her attention on this topic, explains that the best sport literature functions as “metaphor, paradigm a way to experience some of the harsher realities of the world, a place to escape to, an arena from which endless lessons can be learned, passed on, learned again” (2009, xiv). Many of the essays in this collection, therefore, examine the various ways in which sport functions metaphorically. Our authors also consider various recurring themes of sport literature, including how sport relates to the body, violence, gender, society, sexuality, heroism, the father/son relationship, memory, the environment, redemption, mortality, religion, quest, and place.

While I read literature quite a bit, I rarely read any academic analysis. And while I am not the most athletic person around either, this book awoke certain understandings about the human condition that I had never considered before.  Both Abdou and Dopp are personally well-versed in both athletics and literature (No fears of any calls of cultural appropriation with this work) and they have brought together a collection of analysis from some of the most noted academics into some of the great classics of Canadian fiction that is thought-provoking and enlightening.

Page 11 W. P. Kinsella’s Shoeless Joe: The Fairy Tale, the Hero’s Quest, and the Magic Realism of Baseball by Fred Mason

Baseball is probably the sport most written about by fiction writers; indeed, as David McGimpsey notes, “baseball has in fact gained a highbrow, literary reputation that no other American sport, and very few objects of American culture, enjoy”  (2000, 2). McGimpsey (2000, 2) notes that the genre of baseball literature have many consistent tropes: baseball is a natural, God-given sport; it allows people to be judged on quantifiable merit; it is connected to the simplicity of childhood; it brings fathers and sons together. More cynical tropes can also be found: baseball can be corrupted by its fixed monopoly at the professional level, and its “purity” is always under threat, with a nostalgic not to “how it used to be.” W. P. Kinsella’s novels and short stories have contributed heavily to the genre of baseball fiction, beginning with Shoeless Joe in 1982 (Steele 2011, 17), and his work almost always expresses some of these tropes.

There are some interesting thoughts and discussions in here, again, not just about sport but about the human condition. Many people who engage in athletics do so not just for the physical aspects of the activity but to join in with other humans in some sort of social bonding. Yet, for me, when I had originally read some of these titles, I had missed that important fact. Reading these essays caused me to rethink some of my views of those works and made me want to re-read them.

Pages 94 Hockey, Zen, and the Art of Bill Gaston’s The Good Body by Jamie Dopp

Yet Bonaduce’s journey towards enlightenment is more complicated that it might first appear. Much of this complication has to do with The Good Body’s portrayal of hockey. The novel suggests that Bonaduce’s somnambulistic life is largely a consequence of his pursuit of the hockey dream, and that hockey (or at least professional hockey) is emblematic of the kind of like that might lead a person into somnambulism. But the story also suggests that there is more to Bonaduce – as well as to hockey – that a focus on “little things which . . . don’t mean dick.” The one Buddha figure in the novel turns out to be a goalie whose characterization draws a comic parallel between the ambiguity of Buddha figures and the stereotypical weirdness of goalies – adding further complications. The novel implies that, for all their differences, hockey and Buddhism share uncanny parallels to one another. The encounter between Zen and hockey in The Good Body, then, leads to a fascinating and multilayered (not to mention often hilarious) meeting of cultures – an encounter that, I think, is part of what is most impressive about the art of Bill Gaston.

There is a lot more than looking at athleticism in Writing The Body In Motion: A Critical Anthology on Canadian Sport Literature. The book documents elements of the human condition as we engage in sport. It is certainly an enlightening read and one worthy of review for anyone who ponders over literature.

*****

Link to AU Press’ website for Writing The Body In Motion: A Critical Anthology on Canadian Sport Literature

Link to Angie Abdou’s website

Link to Jamie Dopp’s website