Tag Archives: Goose Lane Editions

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

Working Through Our Thoughts | Review of “All The Things We Leave Behind” by Riel Nason (2016) Goose Lane Editions

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Thought. It is the bane of our existence at times. We dwell at times with things like: memories, obsessions, fears, emotions, sentiment and so forth. We know we need to get over things at times yet  thoughts sometimes freeze us into a place that we can barely move. We need to work through those thoughts even though they may take us into an odd or uncomfortable place. And that is one of the many messages that one can pick in Riel Nason’s exquisite novel All The Things We Leave Behind.

Page 13

There’s a little sign above the front door of our family business that says “Charles J. Davis and Son Antiques” in a fancy old-fashioned script, but no one seems to notice it and everybody calls the place The Purple Barn. It’s just as well. The son, my brother Bliss, is missing, and Charlie J. and my mother are of searching, trying to find the path he took. I was left here alone and in charge. I’m not sure that promoting me to running the whole show was among Dad’s best ideas ever, but my parents already have enough on their minds that they don’t need anything except business-as-usual updates from me. I’ll head inside soon and see how it goes. My parents left yesterday.

Fans of Nason have been eagerly waiting for this book since her first novel The Town That Drowned came out and won international awards and acclaims a few years ago. And the wait has been worthwhile. Nason has crafted a story here about 17-year-old Violet who has been left alone to manage her parents’ antique store while they are in search for her older, restless brother. We read through Violet’s thoughts and emotions as she tries hard to deal with the day-to-day running of a business in a small town and trying to cope with the disappearance of her brother.

Page 104

Really, so many of the objects I’m surrounded by every day, the items in the store, ended up here because of a death. It’s true that you can’t take it with you, and something has to be done with all the things we leave behind. Families keep what they want from an estate, but there is often more left over. Our stock is what remains.

At least the things in our store usually come from the estates of old people. But just because you’re old doesn’t mean your death isn’t a tragedy. I don’t think anyone plans on dying the day they die, so essentially everyone’s life is cut short. Does anyone leave their house clean every time they go out in case they die of an aneurysm, the same way they never wear underwear with holes in case they’re in an accident? Does anyone ask themselves: If you died today, would you be ready to have your house rummaged through? Where are your Playboy magazines? Your hair dye? Your Ex-Lax? That holey underwear? Your pills? Your wig? Your everything. Every thing. All your stuff, your secrets.

What would you want people to have? Do you think they could every guess right? Everything we own has a reason for being with us. We bought it, it was a Christmas gift, we found it, we made it, we inherited it, someone left it at our place. But even we can forget where the things we have came, and their meaning changes in time.

Like The Town That Drowned, Nason may have thought she was writing a book for young adults but this novel has universal appeal. She has taken what is usually a muddle of thoughts, emotions, despairs and desires for any person to deal with and has laid them out in a linear and concise fashion. And in that act, any reader – of any age –  can ponder and learn from this tale.

Page 159-160

I slip off my sandals, move from my chair and sit on a rock at the very edge of the stream. I dunk my feet in the cool water, rest them on submerged green moss. It feels good to squish my toes, knead them, against the spongy surface. A bit of dirt stirs and I can see moss pieces begin to lift and lat. I use my toenails to dig and loosen the green edges. More fragments of moss detach and move down stream. Soon enough I feel something more solid. It’s small and flat –  metal I think. I reach down beneath my big toe and lift out an old brown penny that had been hidden under the moss. It must be one that Bliss and I threw in years ago. We used to have so much fun back here. We’d spend hours and hours. Playing, talking, laughing. I turn the coin over and over in my hand. Then I flick it high in the air, let it flip and spin before it splashes in the water.

I make a wish. But I’m not saying what for. Even though I know it’s impossible to spoil a wish for something that can’t come true anyway.

Riel Nason has crafted an exquisite novel in All The Things We Leave Behind. She has taken of flurry of thoughts and emotions and laid them out in a simple and linear fashion that gives any reader something to ponder and reflect on. In short, a great piece of literature.

*****

Link to Riel Nason’s website

Link to Goose Lane’s website for All The Things We Leave Behind

Link to my Q&A with Riel Nason – “It’s hard to say how long it actually took to write. It is something I worked on a bit at a time for years. Sometimes I went months and months without working on it”

“It’s hard to say how long it actually took to write. It is something I worked on a bit at a time for years. Sometimes I went months and months without working on it” | Q&A with author Riel Nason

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As the new releases for the Autumn 2016 season come out, many favourites are expected by book fans alike. One such book is Riel Nason’s All The Things We Leave Behind, which is to be released on Sept. 13. Nason first book – The Town that Drowned – earned not only fans young and old but won accolades from around the world. As Nason prepares for a whirlwind of activity just before her launch, she agreed to answer a few questions for me about her new book.
*****

1) First off, could you give a bit of an outline for All The Things We Leave Behind?

Sure. It is 1977 in Hawkshaw, New Brunswick.  Seventeen-year-old Violet is left in charge of her family’s antique shop for the summer while her parents go off searching for her missing brother, Bliss.

2) How long did it take you to write this book? Was there any research involved with the development of the plot of the novel?

It’s hard to say how long it actually took to write.  It is something I worked on a bit at a time for years.  Sometimes I went months and months without working on it.  And I also worked on two other books (quilting project books, since I am a quilter as well) in the same time period. As to research, there was some, but mostly I spent my time writing and editing.

3) I have encounter many fans of The Town that Drowned that are excited to be reading your new novel. Are there similarities between the two novels? Any differences?

As to similarities, I return to the same geographical area, just ten years later.  What happened to the river valley with the flooding and some of the things that came after are definitely mentioned in the new book.  The main characters are a brother and sister again this time, but a very different brother and sister than Ruby and Percy.  It is definitely a different type of story than The Town That Drowned.

4) Do you have any public readings/events planned for the new book? If yes, are there any dates you are excited to be partaking in?

 I am very lucky to be going lots of places in New Brunswick, to Word on the Street in Halifax and to the Vancouver Writers’ Fest that I know of so far.  It is always fun to be out at literary events.

5) Is it too soon to be asking about anything new you are writing right now? If no, are there details you care to share?

I just finished something really different than anything I’ve done yet (fiction) that I would love to see published. And I also have another fiction project that is in the very early stages.

6) Are you still using social-media platforms like Facebook and Twitter to be active with your fans? Are you hoping fans of this book will use those apps to keep in touch with you?

  I am on Facebook (link to her page here), Twitter @rielnason, Instagram @rielnason.  I do post about writing and quilting things — but I also post pictures of my cats. 🙂

Thanks so much for the chance to chat Steven!

*****

Link to Riel Nason’s website

Link to Goose Lane Editions webpage for All The Things We Leave Behind

 

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A Ship Comes Ashore | Review of “The Wind Seller” by Rachael Preston (2006) Goose Lane Editions

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Small towns can be such intriguing settings for books. The high seas have also provided keen adventures for literature. Mix the two together with a bit of historical fact and a wonderful novel will arise from the blank pages. And that is what Rachael Preston has done with The Wind Seller.

Page 13

When Hetty was a girl, schooners and their square-rigged forerunners moored cheek to cheek across the Halifax waterfront, as much a part of the scene as the Citadel and the town clock, their bows nodding with the swell, masts and rigging criss-crossing the sky from the north-end train station almost all the way out to Point Pleasant Park. Since she moved to the village Hetty has seen the odd ketch stranded, waiting patiently on the mud for the tide to buoy it up again. But never a vessel on this scale. There’s something menacing in the way the schooner, painted black almost to her keel, consumes the wharf she is moored to, the way her bow angles above the horizon as if she’s mounting the bank, threatening to climb ashore.

Drawing closer, Hetty makes out people on the tilted deck, leaning their bodies into the ship for balance, calling to each other; she catches only the cadence, their words hollowed out by the wind. The damage Laura spoke of appears confined to the bow. The jib sails hang shredded amongst twisted ropes and splintered wood, and the bowsprit is but a jagged stump. Perhaps the Esmeralda – Hetty catches the schooner’s name as a gust billows the errant and tangled sails – has been in a collision.

As the path rounds the bow Hetty sees what was hidden from her view before, dozens of people milling about on the wharf. Normally she would avoid such a large congregation of Kenomee villagers, but today Hetty is as curious as her neighbours. And for once she isn’t the focus of their gaze. Some nod at her approach, others step back to let her pass. As she wends her way through the crowd, she catches snippets of the men’s conversation – “widow maker’s snapped right off,” “squall in the bay,” “if she didn’t catch the flood.” The carnival-like excitement in the air, the buzz of speculation, lifts her strange mood.

Preston has quite the story here surrounding the principal two characters; Hetty Douglas and Noble Matheson. Both are confused by the codes of conduct they are suppose to be following in their little Nova Scotian town as the 20th Century unfolds. Douglas is in a ‘marriage of convenience’ and Noble is a casual labourer suffering from a tiresome family life yet dreams of literary glory. Both witnessed the Halifax Explosion and are trying to deal with the horror of the event. Yet all their frustrations seem to take a back turn as the odd schooner and it’s crew come to town.

Page 72-73

Butler slaps Noble across the shoulders and holds out the whiskey bottle. A peace offering. “For you, my friend, a swallow of of Scotland’s finest.” In the moonlight Butler’s eyes glitter with menace. Noble licks his lips, which have dried and cracked since this afternoon, and takes the square-shaped bottle from his friend. He recognizes the label. Bushmills.

“This is Irish whiskey.”

“Irish. Scotch. It sure as hell beats Cyrus Warner’s moonshine.”

Corn liquor. Butler got his big mitts on a bottle once but Noble couldn’t take the way it scorched his throat and the lining of his stomach. He wasn’t much of a Scotch drinker to begin with – though Warner’s hooch hardly qualified as such. He liked ale and not much else. Though he’d enjoyed champagne once. Lawson’s doing. They’d shared a bottle during his brother’s leave; it was shortly after Noble’s release from hospital and just before the build-up to Vimy. Lawson told him how what was left of his company had stumbled into a shelled-out village and taken cover in one of the few remaining buildings with a roof. And a wine cellar. Empty but for a dozen bottles of champagne buried under a pile of wood. Five men grateful to be alive and one blissful giddy drunk. Laughter. Bubbles up their noses. The sweet smell of hay in the stable, a welcoming bed. Soft and dry.

Noble raises the Bushmills to his mouth and takes a swallow. His eyes water, but the kick behind his rib cage is  welcome, as is the slow, delicious feeling that he’s growing another layer of skin beneath his own. It’s been a rough day. And it’s been a long time. Because of Prohibition, any kind of legal alcohol has been near impossible to get hold of outside Halifax since the war, a fact that doesn’t sit well with a few he can think of, and no doubt a lot more besides,  no matter how it might have looked three and a half years ago to the vote-counters. He hadn’t voted himself. Not many had if you looked at the numbers. Mainly the women and those with enough money to lay in a five-year supply before the law changed. Bankers. Lawyers. Doctors.

Preston has captured here the clash of ideals and thoughts that make up the human condition. Urban versus rural. Desires versus norms. Tradition versus progress. Even love versus hate makes an appearance here. Added with a right amount of historical facts and details, a reader is thoroughly engaged with this book.

Page 155

Whitecaps have gathered in the bay. Waves slap against the sides of the Esmeralda, which in turn rubs and bangs against the wharf. Her jib stays, spanking new, tremble and twang in the stiff breeze. The job boom lifts and drops, and the bow of the schooner shudders and creaks. Noble, intent on his whiskey hunt, ears filled with wind, does not at first hear the footsteps along the wharf. Then he stiffens. Could be one of the crew, or a villager on the prowl for another bottle. He hunkers down in the bushes, heels knocking against the bottle, which he grabs, holding his breath until the person comes into view. It’s a woman, all dressed up in fancy evening attire and carrying some fancy wrap. Hetty Douglas? But then she pulls her hair from her neck and he can see it is Esmeralda.

Esmeralda in a sparkly dress and men’s boots. A contrast that common sense tells him should look absurd but which instead is unsettlingly erotic. The dress, despite lines designed to hide her curves, slithers and shimmers as she moves. Swaying fringe at the hem grazes her thighs. There’s nothing more seductive than a woman unaware she’s being watched, Noble thinks. Was the dress for Butler’s benefit? He hopes not, for Eliza’s sake more than his own. But if Esmeralda has been with Butler, why is she walking back to the schooner alone?

Rachael Preston has brought together a great novel with The Wind Seller. A perfect amount settings, intrigue and historical fact here sets the reader in a enlightening read and a memorable one.

*****

Link to Rachael Preston’s website

Link to Goose Lane Editions’ website for The Wind Seller

 

” The reaction has been very, very favourable with many reviews remarking on the character of Egg, her resilience and her vulnerability” | Q&A with author Tamai Kobayashi

Tamai Kobayashi has brought a new voice to her coming-of-age novel Prairie Ostrich. (Link to my review) and is no doubt going to be one of the best novels released in 2014. She was kind enough to answer a few questions for me.
*****
 
 
 
 
1) How has the reaction been to Prairie Ostrich so far?  Has there been any particular memorable feedback to the novel so far?
 
 
 
 
A: The reaction has been very, very favourable with many reviews remarking on the character of Egg, her resilience and her vulnerability.  The ostriches have been a hit, with discussions of the role of birds in the book.  Readers have pointed out the “fresh take” that Prairie Ostrich gives to the coming of age novel.
 
 
 
 
2) Who are your favourite writers? What are you reading right now?
 
 
 
 
A: I love reading Anne Carson, her poetry and her essays.  Have just finished Kate Atkinson’s Life After Life, and Ruth Ozeki’s A Tale for the Time Being.  Donna Tartt’s Secret History is waiting for me on the shelf.  I am a fan of Junot Diaz and Haruki Murakami.  I loved Hiromi Goto’s Darkest Light – a YA title.
 
 
 
 
 
3) When you write do you get inspiration from your own life or from the lives of others for your stories?
 
 
 
 
A: Any inspiration from my life or from the lives of others, from films and novels – all this gets twisted in the maw of narrative.  Transformed in the guts of writing.
 
 
 
 
4) Have you done any public readings of “Prairie Ostrich” If yes, how was that experience for you?
 
 
 
 
A: I have done several readings, in Toronto, in Waterloo, in Hamilton.  Each reading was different.  But it is still difficult, to find that perfect read, that pace.
 
 
 
 
5) Has Prairie Ostrich been read by any book clubs as of yet? If yes, did you participate in the discussions at all?
 
 
 
 
A: I believe it is being read in Edmonton, or will be read soon.  I haven’t received any feedback yet.
 
 
 
 
6) You seem to have a presence on Facebook? Does being on FB help you with your writing at all?
 
 
 
 
A: It is more a connective line to other writers, to events and readings.  Some go to meetup/writeups but I don’t think that is my kettle of fish.  Interesting, though.
 
 
 
 
 
7) Are working on any new writing right now? If yes, are there details you can share with you fans?
 
 
 
I am trying to write 1) a speculative fiction dystopian novel 2) a collection of children’s short stories.  Trying.
 
*****
Tamai Kobayashi has brought a new voice to her coming-of-age novel Prairie Ostrich. (Link to my review) and is no doubt going to be one of the best novels released in 2014. She was kind enough to answer a few questions for me.
*****
1) How has the reaction been to Prairie Ostrich so far?  Has there been any particular memorable feedback to the novel so far?
A: The reaction has been very, very favourable with many reviews remarking on the character of Egg, her resilience and her vulnerability.  The ostriches have been a hit, with discussions of the role of birds in the book.  Readers have pointed out the “fresh take” that Prairie Ostrich gives to the coming of age novel.
2) Who are your favourite writers? What are you reading right now?
A: I love reading Anne Carson, her poetry and her essays.  Have just finished Kate Atkinson’s Life After Life, and Ruth Ozeki’s A Tale for the Time Being.  Donna Tartt’s Secret History is waiting for me on the shelf.  I am a fan of Junot Diaz and Haruki Murakami.  I loved Hiromi Goto’s Darkest Light – a YA title.
3) When you write do you get inspiration from your own life or from the lives of others for your stories?
A: Any inspiration from my life or from the lives of others, from films and novels – all this gets twisted in the maw of narrative.  Transformed in the guts of writing.
4) Have you done any public readings of “Prairie Ostrich” If yes, how was that experience for you?
A: I have done several readings, in Toronto, in Waterloo, in Hamilton.  Each reading was different.  But it is still difficult, to find that perfect read, that pace.
5) Has Prairie Ostrich been read by any book clubs as of yet? If yes, did you participate in the discussions at all?
A: I believe it is being read in Edmonton, or will be read soon.  I haven’t received any feedback yet.
6) You seem to have a presence on Facebook? Does being on FB help you with your writing at all?
A: It is more a connective line to other writers, to events and readings.  Some go to meetup/writeups but I don’t think that is my kettle of fish.  Interesting, though.
7) Are working on any new writing right now? If yes, are there details you can share with you fans?
I am trying to write 1) a speculative fiction dystopian novel 2) a collection of children’s short stories.  Trying.
*****

Sharing the Confusion and Pain of Coming of Age | Review of “Praire Ostrich” by Tamai Kobayashi (2014) Goose Lane Editions

The coming-of-age novel is a very important type of book. Not only is a reader given an outlet to share their pain they received from when they grew up but others learn how to avoid causing upset to others. It is great to see new voices creating new coming-of-age novels using the 1970s and 80s as settings for their stories, giving new awareness to problems of the human condition. One such novel is Prairie Ostrich by Tamai Kobayashi.

Page 7-8

Egg Murakami is eight years old and her feet are perfect. Not everyone can say that. She dangles her feet over the edge of the bed and clicks her tongue. The crisp autumn light spills over the ledge of her window, throwing shadows across the floor. Mornings are new, like a fresh sheet of paper. Mornings are new, without any mistakes. she can hear her mother in the kitchen, the metallic clatter of the kettle on the stove. He big sister Kathy twists the tap in the bathroom, a squeak that runs through the pipes in the floors. It is almost peaceful. Nekoneko, her puppet Kitty with the homemade eye patch, stands guard on her bedside table, gazing over the smash and scatter of Lego and dinky cars strewn on the faded russet rug. beneath her window lies the barrens of southern Alberta, the stunted grass that sweeps into the Badlands. To the right the sagging barn with its long wire pens, Left, the stubble fields that roll to the horizon. She taps her heels together. The low groan of the barn gate rumbles through the air. The ostriches burst from their enclosure, shaggy feathers hovering above the ground, legs a blur of spindly angles, as if in flight after all. Across the pen, down the line of the fence, they run with a frantic energy – then stop, stiff, as if confronted by an immovable object. The ostriches spin, twirling, their swings spread as if to greet the day, heads held high in a dizzying, exuberant dance.

Kobayashi has written an excellent story about eight-year old Egg Murakami. Her family is not quite dysfunctional but not a perfect family unit since her brother’s death. Mama Murakami drinks to excess and Papa has moved into the barn on their family ostrich farm. And big sister Kathy is in love with her best friend. The story deals with Egg’s day-to-day exploration of what life is suppose to be like and what it really is.

Page 17

The doors of the bus fly open and the aisle is a mass of gangly legs, jutting elbows, the shove and holler as the stampede to the yard begins. Egg hunkers down and waits – the rush is like rattling stones in a soda pop can. When she hears, “Last one off is a dirty, rotten egg!” she stiffens, but no that is not for her. With the big kids out of the way, Egg peeps her head above the green vinyl seats to make sure the coast is clear. Then she grabs her bookbag and lunch box.

Egg steps off the bus into the dazzle of light. First day of school and everything is new like a stack of birthday quarters. She taps her feet together. The blue whale has a heart the size of a car, and the speed of light is the fastest ever. These are facts. Irrefutable. Egg holds the word on her tongue as she steps toward the playground. The grit of the dirt crunches beneath her feet; she likes the shuffle-scratch sound. she takes a deep breath. The freshly mown scent of the football field tickles her nose and the white gravel of the baseball diamond actually seems to sparkle. A part of her, that twisty tight part of her deep in her chest, loosens ever so slightly as the warm brush of light glows against her skin. School is books too, the best Dictionary of all and Evangeline Granger in the library. A once upon a time and a happily ever after.

It’s a new year and everything can be different.

Kobayashi has documented the thoughts of a eight-year old well here. All the joy and angst, the fun and the fears, the happiness and the sorrows, the errors and the confusions are written about here as well as some new emotions other writers may have overlooked.

Page 55-56

Later that night, when Egg creeps down the stairs in her slippery socks, she sees Mama in the living room, slumped in the big chair. The television is on the late night show of Onward Christian Soldiers. A pledge of ten dollars a month gets you a Bible with a golden pin. The choir, all dressed in white, sings with an unearthly fervour “Are You Washed in the Blood?” but Mama does not stir. The electronic glow of the screen bathes her in a ghastly pallor. Dead dead dead and Egg almost screams.

“Egg, go upstairs.” Kathy’s voice comes from behind her. Kathy’s hand is on her Mama’s shoulder, jostling her.

“She’s not dead, is she?”

“No,” Kathy says with a glance at the bottle on the coffee table. “She just  . . . could you turn off the television?”

Egg clicks off the set. She can smell the acrid liquor, like the clinging scent of gasoline.

“I want to help.”

“Go to bed, Egg. You’ll be in the way.” Kathy leans forward. With a deep breath, she loops her mother’s arm around her shoulders and lifts her to her feet. Kathy eases her Mama up the stairs, the creak and stagger, the scrape along the wall, the groan of the mattress springs as Kathy rolls her mother into her bed.

As Egg hovers by Mama’s doorway, she realizes Kathy has done this all before. A queasiness shifts in the pit of her stomach.

Prairie Ostrich by Tamai Kobayashi is more than likely one of the most profound books of this year. A true coming-of-age novel that documents the  complexities of growing up. It is a must read.

*****

Link to Tamai Kobayashi’s website

Link to Goose Lane Editions page for Prairie Ostrich

 

Considering the archealogy of our lives | Review of “Sisters of Grass” by Theresa Kishkan (2000) Goose Lane Editions.

When we look back at our ancestors, we often look at their belongings but do we really consider their thoughts, wishes and emotions. Theresa Kishkan has those of us who read her book doing that in  Sisters of Grass.

Page 12

I hear the stories coming down from the high plateau, attended by coyotes and burrowing owls, the tiny swift shape of a bat. One might be her story, Margaret Stuart of Nicola Lake, a gathering of small details that might make up a life. Weathers, generations of insects to riddle the fenceposts, a watch of muslin from a favourite gown. The grasses are beautiful in moonlight – pinegrass, timbergrass, brome grass, giant rye. And now it seems to me the beautiful uncut hair of graves.

Kishkan has crafted two stories together linking them to a piece of land and a small wooden box of items. We have Anna – a curator of a small museum in our time – and we have Margaret Stuart – the original owner of the box who was living back in the 1900s. Kishkan has connected the stories together with well-thought out words that deserved to be savoured.

Page 29

In a hankerchief edged with fraying lace, the smell of lavender. A few brittle seeds caught in the threads. I rub them between my fingers and am taken back to my own grandmother’s house in Halifax, where hedges of the grey-leaved plants lined paths and where bundles of their dry flowers kept the rigid piles of ironed sheets fresh. Gifts sent from that coast arrived with sachets tucked into pyjama pockets or wrapped in an apron constructed of scraps of polished cotton and lengths of crocheted lace, the bittersweet odour rising from the box as it was opened. And this box, too, has its incense, a prelude to the rituals of discovery and accompaniment.

The air of the valley’s history is rich with the smoke of artemesias burned to clean and protect, clouds of tobacco smoke bringing the souls back from the dead. And the smell of evergreens laid about to protect against witchcraft, illness, the tips rubbed on the bodies of girls to keep away evil. The rising of durst as graves are swept with the branches of wild roses. When we make our campfire, I burn a branch of sage for my own safe passage through this world of ghosts, my hands rich with the oil of lavender, Margaret’s little bag of earth.

Kishkan has mixed many great elements to come up with this great read. It is a coming-of-age novel mixed with reflections on the land. The past is intertwined with the present throughout the narrative. Native cultures mix with European settlers. Urban and rural ideas cross each other. And young and old often talk and learn from each other. In short, this is a book that causes readers to contemplate not only their own lives but the lives of their own ancestors.

Page 49

Margaret was quiet, thinking of the girl beneath the ground on the ridge above Lauder’s Creek. Not lying on her back, as though sleeping, but with her knees drawn up to her chin, bound there with bark twine. Had the girl seen the coyote pups leaping and rolling in the dry grass when they first left the den, did she watch the eagles on Hamilton Mountain before it was called that and wonder how it must feel to hang in the air so high and still, did she bury her face in blossoming sage, sneezing ash she inhaled the tiny flies that sucked at the nectar? Most of all, was she related to Margaret, through blood down all the generations? And was she afraid to die and leave the world? The Indians at Douglas Lake had believed that the souls lived in a western world, underground. Now that most of them were Christians, it was heaven where the soul went, taken upward on wings, as though by eagles. But Grandmother Jackson still read the stars like an old storybook, saying, “We think those stars as the children of Black Bear, and we call that grey trail, the tracks of the dead.” When Margaret visited, they’d stand outside the cabin after dark to listen for loons, and Grandmother pointed out the stories of the tribe written across they sky. The moon and his sister, shadows and smoke, the dog following the cluster of stars that William called the Pleiades. When the two women, young and old, stood in the darkness, Margaret thought that she never wanted to leave. she wanted to learn to make baskets and medicines and stay in her grandmother’s house forever. Yet it was not quite home.

Theresa Kishkan has mixed a great number of elements together to come up with Sisters of Grass. It is a well-crafted novel that deserves careful consideration while reading it.

Link to Theresa Kishkan’s website

Link to Goose Lane Editions page for “Sisters of Grass.”