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Contents FOREWORD by Martin Levin



Prayer in Progress 7 David Robinson

An Interrupted Revolution 10 Mozynah Nofal


Chelsea Sauvé

The Business of Living


Jennifer Nishi

The Lost Boys 16 Emily Howe

Mid–Life Men, Lies, Fears, and Doubts

Katie Lutz

A Memoir of Remembering


Jim Mondry

A Medium for Life


Laura Van Dyke

Surviving Flight 56 David Robinson

Finding Our Way through the Data Map

Mirror, Mirror on the Wall, Who is the Most Israeli of Them All?

Mythmaking War 49


Andre Farant

A Love Letter to Canada


Rebeca Besoiu

Picking the Wild Strawberries


Justin Poulsen

Does Canada Live Here?


Kaitlin Milroy


Ken Gracie

The Namesake 67 Sarah Ghabrial

The Apprenticeship

Apocalypse Now 69

of Mordecai Richler 20 Daniel Bezalel Richardsen

Jacqueline Scheidl

Living Skies 72

Losing Love’s Labours 24

Christie Esau

Daniel Bezalel Richardsen

“She taught Canada to dance.”


Adam Moscoe

Poised Between Two Worlds


Emma Peacocke

Like a Moth to a Flame: Beauty and Betrayal in 19th Century New York


Jill McMillan

Do You Know Where Your Money Is?


Melanie Barclay

Rise of the Supercitizen


Jolene Hildebrand

Saying farewell to the farewells


Ali Ahmed

Lunch with Lam - An Interview


The Life of Meaning


Justin Poulsen

With history as a mirror


Brian Grassie

Curiouser and curiouser: Where art and memory meet Jill McMillan


AFTERWORD by Mark Medley




FOREWORD Book reviews, or at least book reviews as they’ve existed for the past 100 years or so, are under siege. Newspapers and magazines, struggling to redefine their place in a communications universe they no longer dominate, have often found review sections among the most dispensable arrows in their editorial quiver. Books sections have either been shrunk into near oblivion in newspapers in such cities as Atlanta, Los Angeles, Washington, and even London. Reviews have become shorter (in the belief that attention spans have as well), and focused more on blockbusters and books that have been hyped. At my own newspaper, The Globe and Mail, the stand-alone tabloid Books Section that was, we hoped, a weekly nourishment for bibliophiles, was folded into another section after nine years. “Long may you run,” Neil Young sang of an old car, and I suppose I am grateful we had such a good long, relatively rust-free run.

Photo Julie Enfield

Most of the changes were owing to new technologies that competed with old ones. But if the internet taketh away, it also giveth. A few seconds’ search will lead you to a bewildering array of review sites. And that can be a problem: the array is bewildering. But there are wonderfully inventive and eager publications that continue to care deeply about books and spread the literary gospel in their several ways. I am delighted to welcome Foment to their number. And I am especially delighted because Foment is unafraid to tackle the longer, more contemplative review that has - mostly - disappeared, and unafraid too to make demands on the reader. This first edition is a rich and rewarding mix; one which I hope heralds a long and rewarding life for Foment. Martin Levin Books Editor


DIRECTOR’S NOTE Seventeen years ago the Festival was just another crazy idea. In the years since it has become more than that, more than the sum of its parts: it has become a community. A place where we gather to explore what makes us who we are, to discover new truths and to walk in each others’ shoes. A place where our differences are celebrated and our connections strengthened. Like any community, the Festival continues to evolve, which brings us nicely to the Festival Blog and to Foment - Daniel’s brain-child and the latest new development in our Festival community. Entirely volunteer driven, powered by enthusiasm and passion, this magazine exists to continue our community conversation, offering insight and perspective on a wide variety of book and authors. We can agree or disagree with each reviewer’s assessment, but I hope we can all agree to hear each other out and to see the contents of this publication as another great opportunity to connect with each other and to continue our exploration of literature and ideas. I, for one, can’t wait to dive in!

Sean Wilson, Artistic Director, Ottawa International Writers Festival


EDITOR’S NOTE Literary critic Elizabeth Hardwick, writing in The Paris Review, called book reviews an essential response to works of art, without which they would only appear in a vacuum “as if they had no relation to the minds experiencing them.” She continued that “it would be a dismal, unthinkable world with these shooting stars arousing no comment, leaving no trace,” going on to discuss critical engagement with books as so much more than “a question of right or wrong specific opinions, but of the quality of the mind.”

Stay thirsty, Daniel Bezalel Richardsen Editor of Foment Ottawa International Writers Festival

I have had the privilege of both attending and volunteering with the Ottawa International Writers Festival for the past three years. During that time I have come to love the festival’s brilliant combination of world-class authors in intimate settings, discussing important ideas through an eclectic mix of genres. I have borne witness to a sense of community developing among its volunteers, staff, regular guests, and repeat authors. While the festival does a fabulous job in fostering the engagement of published authors and their reading audience, there was a real gap in its cultivation of real-time written engagement, developing a community of home-grown literary critics. In constructive response, this magazine is a grassroots collaboration of over twenty-five volunteers who contributed by writing, editing, and designing this inaugural edition; a labour of love unique in the world of literary festivals.

Photo Wade Metcalfe

Foment means “to incite” or “stir up,” even “to nurture.” As a journal, Foment seeks to nurture “the quality of the mind” by vigorously engaging with the ideas and works of festival authors. Foment will be an outlet where aspiring writers can express their reflections. Foment seeks be a vessel which edifies, enlivens debate, and provides a thoughtful outpost on a diverse range of books. It has been an education and a thrill to bring this publication to the fore; I trust that you will find it worth your while. Enjoy the first edition of Foment, Spring/Summer 2012.





“Who doesn’t love a good oxymoron?” With this question, non–theist Christian minister Gretta Vosper takes on the formidable task of describing prayer without reference to God. The controversial writer has recently released Amen: What Prayer Can Mean in a World Beyond Belief, in which she brings her wide–ranging curiosity, acute ethical sense, and pastoral compassion to the forms and content of religious speech. Vosper writes with the background of a very powerful experience with prayer. In one of the most moving portions of the book, she recounts how her young son came under the threat of meningitis, reducing her from maternal self–confidence to “pure, unmitigated terror.” From that state in the emergency waiting room, she prayed in earnest: “God! Oh, Holy One, You who have control of the universe, hear me! Sit with me in this place. Feel my fear. Know my child as I know him. Count him among the blessed ones…” Shortly afterwards her son was brought out to her, miraculously clear of his former symptoms. Such a story could have led Vosper to write a book on how to secure the beneficial outcomes of prayer. Rather than joining that religious publication industry, however, Vosper could not bear the presumption that her own prayer had been heard when so many go unanswered. This acute sense for equity underlies her critique of prayer from the vantage of “theological non–realism”—the claim that there is no God, being, or supernatural other beyond the natural course of things. In an expression that calls to mind Ivan Karamazov’s objection that the suffering of one innocent is enough to make him “return his ticket” in God’s ordering of the world, Vosper states that nothing can make her believe in a God who would refuse to listen to a child’s prayers. She goes on to cite some heartrending instances of such young prayers denied, or modified, in light of the crushing realities of disease and famine. Vosper’s keen pastoral sense is further shown in her critique of Joel Osteen, a popular American pastor who encourages

people to claim God’s blessing for their lives with “big” prayer requests. When participants submit a request in his online forum, others are then invited to check a box underneath to express their solidarity. Vosper points out that many of the requests do not display Osteen’s soaring ambition but are nevertheless significant, such as the desire to be delivered from an abusive spouse. She is shocked that not only is there no perceptible practical intervention in such cases, but that the prayer check box itself remains empty. Given this silence, Vosper takes up an uncomfortable question intoned by the Hebrew Psalter so many years earlier but ignored in so much Christian worship today: “where, [in Jesus’ name], is God?” In registering her bold protest against misuses of theological language and ethical apathy, Vosper is incisive in challenging fellow ministers to clarity. While she can certainly be critical of other Christian traditions, she is admirably independent–minded in critiquing her own Liberal Protestant context. Alluding to the tradition’s emphases on critical scholarship and social justice, she notes the tension a lot of clergy face in retaining the traditional language of belief that often seems at odds with those pursuits. Since the core narrative in liberal theological colleges “has shifted so dramatically beneath the verbiage,” many ministers no longer say what they mean, becoming either intentionally vague or perhaps victims to a “metaphor–induced stupor.” Vosper will have none of it. Instead, to those who distance God from the horrific suffering of the world but still invoke the divine as a purveyor of good, she offers the cheeky riposte: “If it’s ineffable, leave it ineffable. You can’t have it both ways. Stop trying to eff it.” In a rare and powerful critique, she then points out that the ridicule directed against evangelicals by liberal worship leaders may stem from a sense of inadequacy regarding their own vague and conflicted views of the nature of God, which “couldn’t hold a candle to the passion and integrity with which many evangelical prayers are offered.”




At the same time that she criticizes the “heady haze of metaphor” in the liberal church, Vosper builds her own intoxicating abstraction, that of Progress. Past language forms are regularly seen as shackling us from the greatness of our evolution, having “folded us in half for most of our existence.” How much better, in Vosper’s animating language, to “move our intellect outside of its previous confines, reach up (way up, sometimes), feel the stretch, and begin to move forward.” She had warned earlier that such language of Progress can easily get out of hand, needing to be grounded in humility. Unfortunately, that sobering word often appears to have been lost in her enthusiasm for forward movement. Vosper regularly ties the language of Progress to contemporary scholarship. Though claiming to be more the practitioner, her wide–ranging intellectual interests—from neuroscience and theology to psychology and contemporary film—certainly enrich the book. When she turns to “critical scholarship” in religion, though, one wonders if it speaks with quite the monolithic voice she implies. The debates between New Testament scholars Marcus Borg and N.T. Wright should provide just one example of how top–tier opinion on the veracity and relevance of ancient texts can differ. Further, noted literary critic Robert Alter has successfully challenged dominant strands of biblical source criticism for underestimating the coherence and power of Hebrew narratives. Along with scholarship on sacred texts, Vosper also references studies that gauge prayer’s effectiveness. In discussing their frequently humorous methodologies, she refers approvingly to the scientific opinion that such results are “immeasurable.” Indeed, experimental controls in this case are very hard to secure—either accounting for all possible causal forces or ensuring that some distant relative is not praying for the subject of study. Given Vosper’s acknowledgment of proper skepticism about assured scientific outcomes on the topic, then, it is rather jar-

ring to read, one hundred pages later, her pronouncement that “prayer with or without God provided equally positive results within eight weeks of twelve minutes of meditation per day.” Elsewhere, she brusquely states the transaction she observes: “We ask, [God] responds. Except, of course, when it doesn’t. Which is, with no offence meant to those who still believe, all the time.” Might such unqualified certainty not also risk offence to the scientific mind? Along with the selective use of scholarship, Vosper also deploys her acronyms to her rhetorical advantage. After acknowledging that God used to be seen as the Source, Agent, and Promise of all goodness, she finally indulges in the abbreviated form: a supernatural SAP. In place of this, she states that humanity should be seen as the properly “natural” source, agent, and potential of what is good. Here, though, she uses the elegantly italicized sap, referring to the Latin Homo sapiens to turn our attention to our inborn wisdom. This wisdom stands in contrast, of course, to belief in a revelatory source such as scripture, a position reduced to shrill absurdity by the acronym TAWOGFAT (The Authoritative Word of God for All Time). Caveat lector, this is no neutral device, and perhaps even makes her serious criticisms seem childishly peevish. Vosper’s devastating demand for clarity and consistency from those who claim that God answers prayer is in marked contrast to her own nebulous descriptions of what the progressive human community might produce. In describing her own ministry at West Hill United Church in Toronto, for instance, she writes about the importance of pursuing “healing intimacy.” While being bracingly clear that there is no interventionist God in the wings to help in that endeavor, she has a remarkably contrastive openness to what may emerge from the pews: I can tell you what I don’t think is happening, but I can’t tell you what will happen. I don’t know. You don’t know. Being honest about that is part of the non–exclusive element toward which you want to be heading. There is incred-


ible power in the spoken word when it is offered into a room of empathically charged people. That power can do amazing things. Let it operate on its own and don’t try to manipulate or control it.



For anyone who has been to a worship service that is coolly vertical, with individuals filing in, genuflecting, and leaving with hardly a sense of their neighbour, this element of Vosper’s church would have significant appeal. That said, there is a troubling vulnerability to such a community. Vosper argues in one place that God and its attendant ideals were simply too susceptible to abuse of power, gender oppression, and the like. Better to do away with the term, she argued, her passion against injustice leading her to replace bad theology with non–theism rather than, say, better theology. However, the usual suspect regimes of the twentieth century should give ample reason to fear that value–driven human communities can be the source of race and class ideologies as harmful as any pursued in the name of God. Particularly so when they claim to not know where their progress is headed, on principle. In giving account of “theologically non–realist prayers of supplication,” Vosper expresses her joy in a good oxymoron. Then, in her descriptions of the way human beings are called to traverse the borders of the self in extending community, she employs the term “transimmanence,” stretching philosophically to articulate the complexities of social identity. Given this admirable attempt, then, it is disappointing to witness her repetitive unwillingness to entertain paradox when it comes to describing how human and divine agency might interrelate. The thought of God’s plan and active will only seems to her to render us “passive,” “immobilized;” a supernatural worldview “anaesthetizes us from what we need to do.” It is right to criticize such a zero–sum game, but it is also far from many ancient and contemporary theological accounts that speak of how divine will can actually evoke and empower human agency. To cite only one such example, British theologian

Jeremy Begbie employs the aural metaphor of musical notes, suggesting that human and divine wills need not compete for the same “space” but can resound all the more fully together. Elsewhere he develops the metaphor of jazz improvisation to picture this liberating exchange. Begbie is tapping into two thousand years of Christian theology employing terms such as “participation” to name how divine agency invigorates the human performance of good work in the world. In considering the interplay of divine and human agency, it is important to note that the figure of Jesus factors very little into Vosper’s community—what we might call, with reference to Flannery O’Connor’s Wise Blood, a “Church of Christ without Christ.” In contrast to our human struggle with imperfection she only gives brief mention to the “legend of Jesus as the divine and guiltless Son of God,” which she feels serves to induce our shame. Vosper is right to critique a portrayal of Jesus in which he only appears to be human, or which only serves to highlight our imperfections. Unfortunately she does not consider the earthy Jesus rendered in the gospel narratives, whose powerful solidarity with human failure was shown in his statement that generosity shown to the poor, ill, or imprisoned was performed, in what we might call a “transimmanent” sense, to him. For such a threatening this–worldly ethic, Jesus was himself pronounced guilty and hung on an imperial stake. From there he voiced the harrowing realization of a child’s unanswered prayer with the words “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” Such a fraught moment of divine–human fissure does not feature in West Hill United Church’s “focused moments,” which are drawn from such alternative sources as an online collection of beautiful words. As the old story goes, Jesus’ followers deserted him during his most anguished solidarity with the Godforsaken. In Vosper’s progression away from the founder of the faith into which she has been ordained, it is clear that some things never change.





Can revolutions simply shake the political arena in a country without influencing the conscience of the people and shifting their heart? Perhaps that is the most unlikely scenario a revolution can cause. Ahdaf Soueif’s book Cairo: My City, Our Revolution points to the magnitude of influence the revolution had on people’s attitude, state of mind, and relationship with their country. It depicts a complicated and interlinked connection between pain and love one feels when living under oppressive governments while loving the city and country one grew up in. A feeling of helplessness is caused by living under these circumstances; Soueif writes “degraded and bruised and robbed and exploited and mocked and slapped about: my city. I was ashamed of myself for not saving her. Every one of us was. All I could do was look and listen and stay and march and insist that I love her.” So the revolution came to uplift this feeling of helplessness. And after decades of oppression and silence the revolutions of Tunisia, Algeria, Yemen, Bahrain, and Syria gave a voice to the voiceless Arabs. These uprisings, quickly termed Arab Spring, reinstated people’s faith in themselves and their ability to change their futures. Revolutions may be ugly, they may be bloody, lengthy, and destructive. But their aim is always to shake the current regime from its core and establish new powers by shifting people’s paradigms. That is exactly what the Egyptian revolution was able to achieve. However, Soueif’s book is not simply about the revolution and its ability to push Mubarak out of his presidency. Despite her detailed and almost hourly account of the revolution, her book takes the reader around the corners of the city and into her own memories of childhood, adolescence and adulthood. Soueif writes vividly her emotions as she crosses streets, and passes by old coffee shops. She tells us where her birth place was and where her mother’s grave is, all throughout the revolution, capturing the personal meaning as well as the political reality. Thus, as Soueif weaves the story with memories of her beloved city Cairo, she highlights the chronological events infused

with memories from her city. Thereby adding meaning to the already profound movement of Midan Al Tahrir or Tahrir Square. She writes of the 18 revolutionary days that ended with the fall of Mubarak. In the middle of her book she includes a section called “interruption,” literally interrupting her story about the revolution to introduce us to some of the events in the subsequent months, almost telling us to not be deceived in believing the revolution brought an end to all corruption and oppression. The army’s power and influence increased dramatically after Mubarak stepped down, and their practices were no different than his regime. Events in Abaseya and Maspero as described by Soueif were brutal and resulted in many deaths - thereby purposefully fragmenting and shaking the revolution, its image, and the people. A particularly striking element in her book, are the details she includes of those who were killed-martyrs-throughout the revolution and the subsequent events. Accounts with their families document their promise of never giving up on justice. These details depict the strength, resistance, and struggle of the revolution and current times in Egypt. An almost bitter sweet feeling is felt by her description of the achievements of the revolution yet resulting in the loss of so many young Egyptians. In reading Souief’s insights the reader is able to comprehend how the revolution changed the people. When Egyptians where determined, everything was seen as an opportunity. When the government broke off all means of communication in the country, except for landlines, they saw this as an opportunity for the people to concentrate their efforts and be fully present especially in the Tahrir Square. As Soueif starts her storytelling of the revolution we learn peoples’ eruption in protest was for bread, freedom, social justice, and human dignity. And through the revolution, Egyptians and other Arabs alike, saw the possibilities and potential they were taught to dismiss for so long. In realizing this, the revolution gave hope that the people in Tahrir Square where an ostensible utopian society was created. Everyone was proud to be Egyptian and all the ills of society disappeared. The older




generations followed younger ones with respect and inspiration. And the revolution was taken to other places around the country. Since the government had corrupted and infiltrated every aspect of Egyptian life, the revolution had to similarly be taken to every aspect of Egyptian life. Tahrir Square had become the alternative country. Soueif writes that the revolution, and Tahrir square specifically, was spontaneous and organic, but responsive and inclusive. Because the revolution had no leadership or a government to make plans, everyone carried out the spirit of the revolution in their own sphere. This also meant that unity would have been a challenge, however Soueif as well as the rest of the world marvelled at how “the Shabab [youth] had all come together in Tahrir. Through the eighteen days Liberals, Progressives, Salafis, Ikhwan, Leftists, Gama3at [Islamic Groups]and those with no affiliation, just the desire for a better, cleaner, happier life, had rebelled together, broken bread together, talked to each other, slept in the same place, defended Tahrir Square and finally died together.” All this, while keeping it a peaceful and artistic revolution. In the first few days of the revolution, popular committees replaced the State Security forces which were withdrawn so that people may be threatened by the insecurity. The absence of state provided security proved Egyptians can, and will, defend Egypt on their own. While Soueif throughout her book admires the commitment to a peaceful revolution, she ponders on the possibility that more grounds would have been gained if the revolution was more violent. However, it was the peaceful, organized, dignified, and moral presence of those in Tahrir Square, that fostered the increasing support for the revolution. If the activities were not centered on morality, artistic expressions, and values of citizenship more and more Egyptians would have been inclined not to go to Tahrir Square.

closely will be able to grasp what the revolution meant for Egyptians. Readers will also learn how the regime worked to end the revolution, and continues to manipulate both the revolution and the country in the months and perhaps the years to follow. It almost seems like her inclusion of the chapter “Interruption” and her uncertainty of what may happen next is a commitment to continue the revolution and the life of Tahrir Square. In her last section Soueif writes “our work will begin now...”

Although Soueif only gives brief description of how the revolution started, it is nevertheless an extremely insightful account of the eighteen days in Tahrir Square. Readers who have not followed the revolution



Sayed Kashua’s novel Second Person Singular opens with the story of a Palestinian lawyer living and working in Israel. The lawyer, who remains nameless throughout the novel, is presented as a self- conflicted individual, obsessed with the perceptions of others. From his car, to the books he chooses for leisure reading, to his children’s education, the lawyer is fixated on blending into Israeli society. From the perspective of third person, Kashua paints the life of the lawyer, drawing upon the complexities related to the identity of an individual who identifies as Palestinian by heritage and Israeli by citizenship.



Told in the first person, and adjacent to the story of the lawyer is the life of Amir Lahab, a Palestinian social worker living as an Israeli citizen. Through his daily activities, the life of Amir provides subtle yet important insight into the very different patterns encountered living in the Palestinian dominant East Jerusalem and working in the Jewish dominant West Jerusalem. Told in hindsight, Amir details the experience of his twenties, identifying the struggle to belong, the unique relationship he shared with a Jewish Israeli family, and the way in which it all manifested into the assumption of a separate identity altogether.

is an overwhelming sense throughout the novel, that the lawyer and the social worker, will never be quite Israeli enough. Through the narratives of the lawyer and Amir, the importance of disguise emerges, as the men struggle in their capacity to adhere to their Arab roots, while simultaneously fitting into mainstream Israeli culture. This delicate balance is embodied in the men’s ability to speak both Hebrew and Arabic fluently, thus the ability to permeate conversation in either society. This blurred identity is apparent throughout the novel wherein the protagonists utilize quotations affiliated with the Zionist movement, including: “You’ll see. If you will it, it is no dream.” Kashua, himself a Palestinian by lineage and living as an Israeli citizen, captures the burden associated with this conflated identity. Second Person Singular is in fact a prime example of the struggle identified by Kashua through his characters. Despite Kashua’s Palestinian identity, the book itself was first written in Hebrew and while it was translated into English by Mitch Ginsburg, the novel has not yet been translated into Arabic.

Throughout the novel, Kashua alternates between the story of the lawyer and that of Amir, detailing the circumstances of their seemingly disparate lives. Following the discovery of a love note, written in his wife’s hand, the lawyer’s jealous tendencies and rage surface igniting a search for his wife’s alleged lover. This heated search sparks a chain of events that ultimately force the lives of the lawyer and the social worker to collide.

While effective in its portrayal of conflicted identity, there are moments when the novel resorts to an absurd style that can at times distort the fluidity of the story itself. An example of this emanates from the intense paranoia and rage displayed by the lawyer upon finding the love note described earlier“he’d wake her up without saying a word and he’d kill her, or maybe he’d wake her up, tell her he knew everything and then kill her.” Such thoughts epitomize the mad frenzy into which the lawyer is thrown. This frenzy lasts for the duration of the novel- often distracting from the otherwise interesting plot.

Despite differences in personality- the lawyer abrasive and Amir calm- the two men are in fact very much alike in their struggle living as Arab Israelis in the back drop of West Jerusalem. Insecure as Palestinians living as Israeli citizens, the two men share a great preoccupation with the challenge of balancing two worlds, and the struggle that accompanies life as a minority in a majority land. There

Despite such interruptions to the fluidity of the plot, Kashua remains a mastermind of effectively presenting this struggle of Arab Israelis. As the creator of one of Israeli’s most popular and controversial television sitcom series, Arab Labor, Kashua is not a stranger to sharing the struggles of the Palestinian Israelis. Written with a clever hand, Arab Labor speaks to Palestinian and Jewish audiences alike, drawing praise


and criticism from both sides of the line. Kashua accomplishes this feat through his novel as well, as he draws upon the realities of Arab-Israelis, providing insight for their Israeli counterparts, and a public stage for Arab Israelis to expose their concerns. The first television show with an Arab protagonist to ever be aired in Israel, Kashua has himself overcome many obstacles within the society he calls home.



Bold in its willingness to tackle the challenges that accompany identity, Kashua’s Second Person Singular is an intriguing read that can be described as nothing less than impressive in its capacity to overcome bias and explore the depth and complexity of human identity in the face of cultural confusion. Certainly a recommended read for anyone interested in the broader cultural contexts of the complex nation-state that is Israel.





There is something truly fascinating, in coming of age stories. There is that moment when a child’s eyes are opened to the heartbreaking, innocence shattering truth that the world is not always pretty. It is the time where your safe world crashes and totters, leaving you the tedious job of rebuilding a world that never seems to be whole again. In her debut novel Daughters Who Walk This Path, Yejide Kilanko melds personal moments of her life in Nigeria with fragments from her work in Canada’s Child Protective Services as a Canadian social worker. These different brush strokes from Kilanko’s life come together to create the world in which Morayo, the protagonist, lives and the path she is forced to walk. Chronicling Morayo’s loss of innocence in contemporary Nigeria, it is a haunting coming of age story that will not be easily forgotten. Morayo is a young girl from the middle class stratum of Ibadan with a coterie of spirited and strong-willed family members. She has a sister Eniayo, born with albinism, of whom she is fiercely protective; straight-laced, traditional parents; and enough aunties and cousins to fill the pages with immense familial warmth. Her life is filled with laughter, mischief, and love, until one of her cousins comes and in the darkness of one quiet night, rips that all away from Morayo. For the rest of the book we follow Morayo dealing and reeling from the repercussions of that night; wavering between loving and hating, living and surviving, and giving up and dying. We watch as a broken girl grows, endures, and survives, walking into what we hope is a brighter, safer future. Born and raised in the sprawling university city of Ibadan, Nigeria, Kilanko creates a vivid world of bright colours, images, traditions, and sounds that will jump off the page and into the reader’s mind. On the morning of Morayo’s wedding, Kilanko creates an unforgettable image of “a little tree […] growing right through [a] rock. Somehow the tree had pushed its way through the rock, cracking it. What had once seemed so invincible was actually conquerable.” While reading it, this image became ingrained within my mind; a beautiful, hopeful im-

age that encompasses the entire book and Kilanko’s powerful voice. The text gracefully combines English and the language of her childhood bringing her world to life and endearing the characters to our hearts. Kilanko infuses her characters with such vivacity, pouring her passion into every cell in a way that this family becomes so real in the reader’s mind they could be our own mothers, sisters, aunts, and cousins. These characters mirror and reflect the opposites of each other, and are deeply intertwined; connected together by invisible and complex, yet strong, threads. Blood will always be thicker than water and binds us to our family creating a protective shield to keep us safe from harm. The blood that flows through Morayo’s veins is stronger than any pain she feels and she remains fiercely protective of Eniayo, sacrificing herself to keep her sister safe and sound. Morayo would rather silently endure the dehumanizing pain she feels than have her sister experience the agony of what she went through. Kilanko beautifully illustrates the profound depths of love Morayo has for her sister by keeping her agony and despair a secret until her monster turns his lustful eyes to Eniayo. When Morayo sees this she instinctively breaks the silence surrounding her rape in order to protect the innocence of her sister “want[ing] her to believe that life was kind,” and that “all she ever had to endure were the afin taunts she already knew how to shrug off so well.” Breaking the silence carries heavy consequences that ultimately isolate her from the sister she loves so much, forcing them onto diverging paths: Eniayo’s path smooth, easy, and pure, while Morayo’s hard and painful. Eniayo represents Morayo’s safe, secure, and happy place and their separation illustrates how, for Morayo, the road back to security and happiness will not be easy. In Daughters Who Walk This Path, Kilanko mirrors Morayo’s story and path with that of Morayo’s Auntie Morenike, who bears the haunting emotional scars of a rape. These two characters with intertwining stories exist because of each other. Morenike has been forced down the same nightmarish path as




Morayo and guides the younger girl like a mother would through the most horrible of circumstances. It is Morenike who insists that “We do not abandon the business of living because of what people do to us,” portraying Morenike as a hopeful character who has lived, thrived, and survived despite her rape. She gives Morayo the same sense of hope; she is the reason Morayo survives.

immense strength that leaves us hauntingly hopeful in this beautiful debut.

What struck me most about the characters were the connections between the families. Calling everyone “mummy” and “daddy”, “auntie” and “sister”, connotes a sense of familial unity, bonding the people of Morayo’s life into a sacred family unit. When Morayo is violated by a family member this seemingly unified family unit is fragmented as they try to cope with the repercussions. They become distant and internally isolated as if they are forever straining, urging for that connection but can never go back and reclaim it. Morayo’s anger towards her mother bubbles and boils because a mother is the essence of safety and security and “Mummy” was not there in the darkness of the night when she needed her. Morayo struggles with her mother’s lack of emotions towards her not understanding that her mother, like the other older generations of women, steels herself in public, only allowing herself to be emotional in private. Mummy blames herself for failing to protect her daughter and it is her private outbursts of overwhelming emotions that deepens her character and sheds a light of vulnerability on this otherwise strong woman. In the privacy of her bedroom, Kilanko describes this strong willed mother “rock[ing] back and forth, muttering and wringing her hands”, the broken mother’s “legs buck[ling]” and her “whole body trembling”. It is in this moment of brokenness that Morayo’s mother became real to me as if she reached through the pages and took my heart in her hands. I have always believed it is the characters which drives a novel towards success or disaster. Kilanko has crafted such deep and rich characters, bringing this world and the story to life. They feel so real they connect us, make us laugh their joys, and cry their sorrows. It is Morayo’s



OUR DAILY BREAD by Lauren B. Davis


Our Daily Bread is a mesmerizing novel about secrets: family secrets, small town secrets, and the painful secrets of the hated and feared mountain people. The novel immediately contrasts the good people of the small town of Gideon and the Erskine clan who live on the mountain just outside of Gideon. The story is told by three of the pivotal characters in the novel: Tom Evans, a family man who has spent most of his life in Gideon, only having left once to venture to the New York City where he met and fell in love a singer named Patty. Their two children Bobby and Ivy become very close with the other two characters from whose viewpoints the story is told. Dorothy Carlisle is friendly, polite, and minds her own business, a rarity among the gossip mongers of Gideon. She owns a small antique shop where Ivy comes to take refuge as a result of bullying. And finally Albert Erskine, the secretive and lonely member of the Erskine clan who wishes for nothing more than to escape what he has been born into, befriends “young Bobby” and tries to become an older brother figure for him. The great mystery of the novel is the Erskine clan itself, they are despised in the small town but no reason ever given. When Albert becomes close to Bobby, his secrets begin unravelling and the story of the Erskine’s slowly becomes clearer and much more disturbing. Albert frequently threatens to show Bobby the terrible situation in which he lives to prove to Bobby that the lacklustre home life that Bobby comes from is not as bad as he believes. Albert’s threat tells of secrets: “Bobby, young Bobby,” he said, with a wide grin, ‘welcome to the real world, my man. Step right up. Learn to take it, young Bobby, because the shit keeps coming and if you don’t learn to swim in it you’ll drown with a mouth full of crap. I appreciate you telling me your secrets, I do. And maybe it’s time I told you a few of my own. Why do you think I don’t take you up to my place? I got some stories to tell you, young Bobby, stories that will make you glad you got the family you got. But more important than that, I’m going to teach you how to live beyond

them all. That’s right. You are going to learn to live in spite of them, not just to spite them, if you know what I mean.” The Erskine clan has terrible secrets which are always alluded to (and every once in a while one is given away), but as the action builds toward the end of the novel and all of the secrets unravel, the Erskine clan become people who are dangerous and awful. The stark contrast between the Christian people of Gideon, most of whom belong to the fictional Church of Christ Returning, and the immoral, terrible people of the Erskine clan is pointed out at the beginning of each chapter. It is told from Albert’s viewpoint, and there is a small excerpt from a sermon of the Church of Christ Returning. Each of the sermons generally speak of the evil in the presence of Gideon, namely the mountain clan, and how they will be destroyed by God when the rapture comes. While the church itself is never central to the novel, the teachings of the church are juxtaposed with Albert Erskine in such a way as to show how deeply entrenched Albert’s status as an outsider is in the minds of the people of Gideon. Albert belongs nowhere and with no one, he is an outsider even among the Erskines because he has removed himself from their inner circle. Davis succeeds in writing a story that is both heartbreaking and hopeful. A story that truly regrets the idea of the outsider, showing the power of people coming together as good and healing. Each of the characters is sympathetic and it is simple to find something in common with all of them, driving home the idea that people are not so different from one another and therefore there should be no reason to exclude someone as an outsider. Perhaps doing so could change their life for the worse. The disturbing fact that the story of the Erskine’s is based on the factual Goler Clan of Nova Scotia is a haunting detail. To think that the horrors faced by some of the Erskines truly happened is a terrible thought and one that is hard to let go of. Had a few people of Gideon taken it upon themselves to intervene sooner, rather than be fright-


OUR DAILY BREAD by Lauren B. Davis


ened by the mountain clan the horrible deeds could have come to a much safer and better end. The novel closes with a terrible feeling of sadness, but also of hope. Out of something terrible comes the rebuilding and in this rebuilding there is the sense that the town of Gideon will no longer be plagued by the outsider and inclusivity will flourish. Yet there is a sense that perhaps the outsiders simply left in order to create this inclusive space, rather than being included. That they simply had to disappear in order to make way for a Gideon that could be inclusive. Gideon could not be a place of inclusivity with a group of such great difference existing, the Erskine clan simply cannot exist in an inclusive, wholesome, and righteous Gideon. Despite this feeling, the novel was compelling and remarkably written. It has the ability to inspire sympathy and hatred, despair and hope all at once. While the details are difficult to hear the outcome and the hope for the future end the novel on a high note. Our Daily Bread by Lauren B. Davis is a fine work which is worth reading.



WHY MEN LIE by Linden MacIntyre


The title of Why Men Lie is immediately intriguing. Add a question mark, vary the emphasis, and a range of interesting questions with an array of resonances appear that foster a hope for interesting answers. I suspect that Mr. Macintyre knew this, just as he knew that upon seeing it many women would smile and laugh while many men would frown and shake their heads. An engaging conversation begun, and only the cover read. The story centres on Effie Gillis, a professor of Celtic Studies at the University of Toronto who spends summers in her childhood home of Cape Breton. Having reached middle–age and attained professional success, she looks forward to a future defined by a measure of stability and autonomy even as she craves an intimacy made elusive by her difficult past relationships with men: her late father and uncle, her ex–husbands John and Sextus, her male friends and colleagues (her brother Duncan, MacIntyre’s Bishop’s Man, is perhaps the lone exception). Enter JC Campbell, a Cape Breton native and old friend recently returned from journalistic adventures abroad. They rekindle a friendship that quickly becomes more, and seems for a time to offer the depth and closeness that she craves. But JC has demons of his own that emerge with a vengeance after he is attacked in the street outside his Toronto home. Emotionally caught up in the case of a death–row inmate in Texas, he is by turns loving and aloof, engaged and secretive, and for long periods simply absent, variations that play keenly on Effie’s particular history and wounds. There is a great deal to like in this book. MacIntyre’s characterization is first–rate: his people look, sound, and taste real, often riding moods and impulses that they themselves do not understand. He also has a knack for vivid imagery that sticks in the mind. Effie did not get sad, her “sadness thickened, threatening to metastasize to full–blown sorrow”; JC does not recognize that he and an old friend have drifted apart but that “the friendship that once bonded him and Danny had been hollowed out by time, drained of intimacy.” The images of

Cape Breton give a feel for the place without being overdone, for example when Effie and JC arrive at the MacKay house, which was set back, past a grove of poplars, on a slight rise. Soft hayfields fell away, ripe for cutting, rippling in the gentle summer breeze. Near the house, there was an old, tilted barn and a propped–up fishing boat partly swaddled in a tarp. A dog emerged from beneath the deck and trotted toward the car, barking. JC got out, squatted down before the dog, offering the back of his hand. The dog sniffed, licked, waved his bushy tail, then turned and dashed toward the house, announcing the arrival. The book also offers real insight into what middle–age looks and feels like: the difficulty of engaging in relationships when many have proven unreliable or ephemeral over time; the simultaneous yearning for connection with others; the reality of continuing uncertainty and vulnerability, whatever one’s economic or professional status, even after decades of adulthood. Within this vividly–painted context, numerous themes emerge that are likely familiar to anyone at or beyond middle age. The difficulty of truly knowing others or being known yourself and the attendant temptation to assume that such knowledge is impossible; as Effie herself puts it, “one must never assume that she knows anybody. The human personality is like a wardrobe, with varied ensembles of expression to produce reactions in another, or a slew of others.” The notion, helpfully explored from the outside through female eyes, that men simply do not change or progress: “[w]omen… mature, accept things” while men “were all beset by similar anxieties, the same essential urges, almost all originating in the gut, the palate or the testicles.” Impotence, the absence of strength and control over one’s circumstances, particularly as experienced by men who encounter it and wonder seriously, perhaps for the first time, “what happens when it’s all gone, when you become utterly vulnerable.” Still, despite MacIntyre’s evident and enjoyable artistry, the novel felt unsatisfying.


WHY MEN LIE by Linden MacIntyre


There are a few somewhat clichéd elements to the story (small–town girl moves to the big city and makes good; modern woman strives for independence from her own personal patriarchy; childhood abuse defines adulthood), but these are of minor importance, and in any case are real elements in real stories. More significantly, while Why Men Lie does a very good job of communicating human struggles and problems as experienced in middle–age, particularly male ones, its insight is largely confined to this level. That is, the reader is ultimately left with little insight into answers, or even potential answers, to the questions raised by the book. This seems to be part of the author’s point: insight on that level is difficult or impossible to come by, not least because people cannot be reliably known at a deep level. Thus, the reasons for male behaviour cannot be known with any confidence, as much as we might want them. “[Q]uestions without the possibility of answers aren’t questions at all, just accusations,” so that, like Sextus, we might as well burn our life’s manuscript. But good art necessarily gropes towards insight of this kind, even when answers are elusive and cannot be known finally or fully. MacIntyre’s title and story contain questions; as the reader, I wanted him to try to answer them, however imperfectly. And he could have done so. For example: perhaps men lie and ‘get weird’ because their identities are too much defined by strength and control, and so they cannot abide encounters with their own weakness, their own impotence and finitude, that have real bite (say, JC faced with losing his work in the form of his laptop). Exploring connections like this would be an attempt to address one of the questions he has raised, but the book does little of the sort. I wanted it to. I still do.



Furious, restless, nervy and sexually wound up all the time, he was a bundle of energy – and, he hoped, of talent. He had to get out, or else he would explode. He was nineteen years old. The decampment of Canadians to foreign locales in pursuit of excellence was nearly de rigueur in Mordecai Richler’s day. What made Richler unique, then, was not only his singular commitment to the writer’s craft, but his choice to situate his literary talent firmly in the Montreal terroir. As a result, he undertook the abiding grapple with Canadian identity with the distinction of a man who had already found his writing “voice” abroad.



Charles Foran’s Mordecai has already been feted more than any other work in Canadian literature since its hardcover publication in October 2010. The tome is a testament to the towering, albeit controversial, presence of a literary giant, one who conjures instant recognition by first name alone. While there have been several Richler biographies in the past decade following his death in 2001, Foran’s work aspires to be the most comprehensive. Foran does a remarkable job of letting his subject come through without imposing his own judgments and analysis. Richler’s precocious determination to be a “‘real’ writer” as opposed being one of the “Canadians who wrote books” chartered his path to take flight to Europe in his late teens. This move paradoxically, on his return, led to a greater verisimilitude in the ‘local’ characters who would populate his books. As Foran recounts: His [Richler’s] sole ambition was to write a great novel, one that would last. All other things would have to come second. Such convictions would shortly be transformed into a lifestyle, and a living, in England, where such talk sounded neither pretentious nor vaguely demented. In Montreal, outside that small circle of friends, it came across as both. Born in 1931 to Lily Rosenberg, a respected Orthodox rabbi’s daughter, and Moses

Richler, “a gentle, passive man” and neglected son of an equally pious mercantile family, Richler arrived to a Montreal cowed by the Great Depression. Foran’s rich description of the urban realities of the city from this era sets a compelling tone at the start of the book. In this fraught context, Foran sensitively portrays the evolving nature of Mordecai’s relationship to a mother who strangely mistakes overbearing self–pity for compassion and a downtrodden father who nevertheless ages with humanity. Foran’s childhood account offers fascinating glimpses into Richler’s own approach to his children and wife. The coming of age of post–war Jewish writers was spearheaded by Saul Bellow, whose Adventures of Augie March portrayed a virile protagonist bent of making a mark on his world. This marked a rupture from the shtetl–based mindset of their immigrant parents, expressing “a new narrative of striving and self–defining.” Following in Bellow’s strain, Richler holds his place in the pantheon of luminaries who altered North America’s literary landscape, such as Philip Roth, Bernard Malamud, Isaac Bashevis Singer and Cynthia Ozick. In this company, Richler’s contribution has frequently been overlooked as a ‘minor Northern light.’ His relative neglect has been seen as an accident of history: “a train ticket to Chicago for a train ticket to Montreal had been the difference… and separated Richler from the literary sons of Jewish immigrants raised in [America].” Moreover, the fact that no single work of Richler was acknowledged with an international literary prize (except for Solomon Gursky Was Here, which won the Commonwealth Writers’ Prize for Best Book in 1990, but missed out on the Booker) plays an unfair part in diluting the magnitude of Richler’s oeuvre. Possessing a fecund imagination, Richler proclaimed to one of his early editors that he had “at least three novels buzzing around in my head.” Gaining notoriety in his later years for a brashness–construed–as–arrogance, Richler in his early years was the very model of diligence and industry. There


are many instances where he remarks that “I am not yet truly original but I am trying” and “I don’t thk [sic] I am great, but if I work hard might be very good.” His fervent conviction of his calling as a writer braced with his artistic vision is enviable. As he confesses in his letter to his close friend, William Weintraub, in 1954:



Out again. Up to wander the neighbourhood bookshops. So many books! Who– how–why are they written??…Once you go after a truth, you can only get so close…. There is no fame big enough or money bribery enough to compensate for the pain that goes into the making of a novel. (Even the mixed joy of publication is paltry, aspirins for cancer.) So why do I write?… Nearest I can come to it is, ‘I have to.’ While Saul Bellow cast a looming shadow over his contemporaries, his Montreal birth meant that the early autobiographical elements in Bellow’s novels were knowingly absorbed by Richler. In Herzog, for instance, the early childhood of the protagonist was set in the same literary turf that Richler was carving out as his. This “Herzog mode” made Richler characterise life as it unfolded, and his emulations of Bellow’s own obsession with dynamic observation, enhanced the dimensions of his characters’ inner lives. But the biting, sardonic wit was Richler’s own, and no one did it with quite as much verve. Indeed, it’s hard to think of a contemporary equal outside Howard Jacobson or Gary Shteyngart. With this stratagem, Foran effectively invites the reader to receive Richler’s portrayal as is. As a result, the labelling of the book as ‘Biography & Autobiography’ is perhaps warranted. Multiple parts of the book feature Richler’s own letters and words without comment. Nevertheless, Foran overreaches in his occasional appraisal of other authors, such as when he describes Bellow as not “particularly funny” or A.M. Klein’s Jewish–centric themes as “self–serving artistic weakness.” Beyond mere reportage, Foran’s portrayals of Richler’s frolics in Ibiza, Paris, and Lon-

don are steeped in such resplendent prose that it makes one want to seek exile in the hopes of such a moveable feast. However, Foran never loses his wry realism: “Existential sex and anti–bourgeois fiction writing, caustic café banter and European cultural worldliness, didn’t translate into a job.” The sojourn at Paris threatened to end as an escapade bereft of any real achievement. The incident of the renowned London literary agent Joyce Weiner reading the twenty– one year old Richler’s manuscript of The Acrobats — the very night this “farouche” young man dropped it off — despite her initial doubts, makes one rejoice for serendipity. While it would take Richler a few tries to nail his form and “writing voice,” this significant connection rescued him from the horrible prospect of “wasted potential.” Richler’s abiding sense of otherness was deftly captured by another “outsider,” M.G. Vassanji in his Penguin Extraordinary Canadians series. Being raised in an Orthodox Jewish household suffused Richler with a Hebraic psyche. He would famously (if carelessly) say at age twenty–three that, “I don’t believe that there is any such thing as a Jewish outlook or Jewish problem or Jewish spokesman. Each man has his own problem (part of that, of course, might be his being a Jew).” This, one suspects, has parallels with Richler’s concern to not be regarded as a ‘Canadian writer’ instead of a writer who was good, irrespective of his origin. And, ostensibly, to avoid being, in the words of a Times Literary Supplement review of Richler’s Son of a Smaller Hero, “in danger of becoming fascinated by the problems of Jewry, to the exclusion of all else.” Far from denigrating Richler’s particularities, there is sufficient evidence to glean that his very strong sense of ethics were an inheritance from Judaism. In a previously unpublished manuscript discovered in Richler’s London flat, he is depicted scolding a group of Jewish students at a conference for being “distorted, mean–minded, self–pitying.” The revealing portion of his more expansive sense of Jewish ethos comes near the end of this speech: “There is more


to Jewishness than observance. There is invention, imagination, a cherishing of the book, reverence for scholarship, appetite for life, sensual appreciation, and, above all, humanity, tolerance…” These are stirring words, words to live by, as indeed he did.



As to Richler’s infamous provocations on the place of Quebec in Canada, Richler’s position as an “outsider” Anglophone added moxie to his already abrasive style. In spite of the controversy this style engendered, Foran’s narrative allows for a more nuanced illustration of this aspect of Richler’s position. Firstly, Richler’s affection for Canada, particularly Montreal, is evident in his writing; even if hidden underneath the soil of satire. Richler returned to Canada in the early 1970s because he feared “the work has thinned by too long an absence from roots.” Upon his return, his London– raised son Noah Richler felt his “lingering doubts about his father’s nationality” settled by “watching him watch hockey.” Such affection for Quebec existed in tension with Richler’s loathing for nationalism, which reeked of a backward inwardness wherever its allegiance lay. In his own words, “false cultural frontiers, art as a patriotic production, makes for hysteria.” He even went as far to say that the Canadian– American border was “foolish, unnecessary and artificial,” which prevented access to “the most exciting events on the continent.” It comes as no surprise, then, that Richler found the ascendant Quebec nationalism deeply problematic. As he saw it, “independence is a bourgeois conceit; it would be at a cost to workers and farmers.” This sentiment, which so mirrored Pierre Trudeau’s, cemented a rapport between the two men. Foran reports that Trudeau was one of the few men to whom Richler showed deference. Moreover, Richler’s brazen manner, coming from a man who was rarely “held to account for things he had written that weren’t true, let alone fair or appropriate,” jarred. While he also respected Trudeau’s rival René Lévesque for his social democratic tendencies and his unimpeachable integrity, francophones mostly felt that,

…[Richler] could say almost nothing that wouldn’t be interpreted as nasty; his motives could only be, in the eyes of many French Quebecers, dark and self–serving. Québécois, by and large, did not read his fiction, and did not understand or appreciate his sensibility. Living in a different language and largely part of a different culture, they remained oblivious, in literary terms, to the satiric tradition he was writing from. This misunderstanding came to the fore in the publication of the now notorious long– form essay in the September 23rd, 1991 issue of the New Yorker titled Inside/Outside, where Richler eviscerates Quebec’s signage laws. The fact that it came from a podium of such a prestigious American magazine stung deeply, and Richler was denounced everywhere in the French language media. The residual stains of this tussle lingered even after his death, at which Benoît Aubin wrote, “English–Canadians has lost a hero, French–Canadians had lost a villain.” This is unfortunate, for Richler actually carried more goodwill than venom toward French– Canadians. “I wasn’t ridiculing the people;” he insisted, “I was ridiculing the law.” Apart from his writing and its attendant controversies, it is Foran’s descriptions of Richler’s family life that endear the reader to the man himself. His forty–year marriage to Florence Mann, the love of his life, illuminates an exquisite tenderness which regularly surprises those accustomed to his brash public persona. In contrast to his ambitious drive, his marriage shows a thankful receptivity to life: in Foran’s memorable phrase, Richler would “be forever and genuinely grateful to her for loving him.” These affections would be made explicit in his novels, such as Barney Panofsky’s borrowing from Ovid’s Metamorphoses (a Florence favourite) to depict his love for his wife Miriam in Barney’s Version. Beyond that, Foran’s backstory and in Richler’s rarely going outside without leaving her personal notes which were “always pithy, often funny;” playfully, touchingly giving “Special Confidential Instructions” to his daughter Emma who would be hosting her mother when


she would be visiting her alone in France. This devotion spilt over to his five children, who in turn “adored their attentive glamorous mother and revered their inattentive, unkempt father,” in Foran’s florid phrasing. Richler’s soured relationship with his mother was a point of mystery, but a letter to her by Richler, published in full without commentary, shows a stubborn, honest–to– God, principled man who is a devoted son to his self–pitying, manipulative mother. The irresolution of this relationship, in light of Richler’s later reconciliation with his father and older brother, is a true tragedy.



For a figure who admonished others not to “look to writers for morality lessons,” Richler offers us an exemplary life in which literary greatness could remain grounded in meaningful relationships. In a generational shift in which Richler’s name may be losing its recognisability, Foran’s account is crucial to showing why it is impossible to understand contemporary Canadian literature without Mordecai Richler. Foran’s account is vast: while perhaps not the place to start for a neophyte, it is certainly the place one’s encounter with this great writer must end. Such a life deserves just such a book as this one.


LOSING LOVE’S LABOURS Daniel Bezalel Richardsen

Percival Chen is an ebullient man, even though a patina of stoicism coats the rich samovar of his personality. The protagonist in Vincent Lam’s debut novel, Percival is a member of the wa kiu - a community of expatriate Chinese - who has made his domain in Cholon, the Chinese-dominated district of Saigon. The Headmaster’s Wager portrays the trials of Percival and his supporting cast across a backdrop of war and colonial succession involving an array of masters: the French, the Vichy French, the Japanese, the French (again), the Americans, and finally the Viet Cong. The character of Percival looms singularly large in the novel; as David Sax writes in The Walrus, “there is no one else to root for.”



For most of the narrative, Percival appears to embody a cold callousness which in no way lends to his likability. Lam, who initially conceived of Percival’s character from his grandfather William Lin, does however offer sufficient detail to elicit sympathy for the man. Percival’s father Chen Kai left rural China by himself in a quest to discover the “Gold Mountain,” which turned out to be Saigon. The young Percival, who had already lost his mother, longed to be re-united with his father who instead dispatched him to Hong Kong. It is there that Percival, né Chen Pie Sou, was christened with his anglicized name. Then, as the war in the Pacific loomed, the Japanese mercilessly razed Hong Kong. The foresight of Percival’s father to provide his son with a French laissez-passer while he was still in Hong Kong makes the “peasant” Percival Chen suddenly very desirable in the eyes of Sai Tai, a wealthy Hong Kong heiress who seeks a way of escape for her daughter Cecilia. As it happens, Cecilia has already left Percival smitten, even if the feeling is not mutual. In a portentous meeting where Sai Tai scornfully appraises Percival, she concludes Then take my daughter with you to Indochina. Better that she escape with you, though almost worthless, than stay here and be devoured by Japanese dogs. Remember, I am choosing you as an op-

tion preferable to dogs. Come tomorrow at the same time for your wedding. Cecilia is relentlessly cruel to Percival, and her unabated taunting of her new husband sets the tone for their relationship. Percival exhibits genuine affection for her nonetheless, and a near masochistic persistence in showing it. Lam vividly conveys this dynamic in a scene in which Cecilia bit his lip, but “he kissed her through angry insults, smeared her face red with his blood.” Longing deeply for a peace that never comes between them, Percival exposes his heart when he says to Cecilia, “I may not be what you wanted, but I love you.” This is hardly the profession of a dour man, pace those reviewers that regularly depict him as such. Percival and Cecilia have a son, Dai Jai, who provides for a frail cord of civility between his parents, although they inevitably part ways. Percival instills in his son a stern ethno-centrism through which he disdains the local Annamese, embraces his “Chinese heritage” and tries to avoid any meaningful liaison with a native girl. Dai Jai is a wooden character, whose only merit is to involve himself fatalistically in delicate, dangerous situations from which Percival must extricate him. After gaining notoriety for standing out as Chinese in a changing, nationalistic Vietnam, Dai Jai is first rescued from prison for a gargantuan ransom, only to then be sent to China (which Percival naively and uncritically extols) to avoid being drafted in a Vietnamese army that didn’t take kindly to its Chinese soldiers. Dai Jai’s development is limited, and he features mainly as a foil for Percival’s displays of paternal protection. The void left by Dai Jai’s departure if filled by a tryst with Jacqueline, a métisse of mixed European and Annamese ancestry and thus the very sort of woman Percival admonished Dai Jai to never get involved with. Percival “wins” her as a bet from a game of mah jong, instinctually and impulsively winning an improbable round against a nemesis, Cho. Jacqueline, in addition to offering a feminine tenderness Percival has never known, bears Percival a son – Laing Jai. While she appears to be


mostly submissive to her now patron, she strongly challenges Percival regarding his feigned neutrality to events as only sang yee or business was the concern of the Chinese in Vietnam.“Beyond what the news means for you business, do you have any thoughts?” To which Percival responds,“If I did, I would keep them to myself.” Still, some of Percival’s inner thoughts do spill out, such as when he drunkenly blathers to a chef at one of his grand parties: You know this country. Blood falls in predictable torrents like the monsoon rains. Again and again it drowns everything, and then is swallowed by the earth. You are a chef. Tell me, the food that is grown here is so tasty – do you think it is the blood that makes the earth so full of flavour?



The novel’s subtle man of intrigue is Teacher Mak, a fellow wa kiu, who acts as Percival’s assistant, steady hand and contact point to the world outside Percival’s narrow interests. Percival trusts Mak completely, a bond forged through shared suffering under the Japanese secret police, the Kempeitai’s, brutality during the Japanese occupation. The deeper undercurrents of the relationship remain mostly hidden beneath the superficial cordiality shared between the men, the strength of which is strained and tested in unforeseen ways as the plot unfolds. Vincent Lam’s previous works--a collection of short stories, a medical advisory, and a biography--all centre on themes related to Lam’s work as a doctor. In contrast to the extensive clinical descriptions in Bloodletting and Other Miraculous Cures, this novel shows a new reticence in medical scenes. In interviews, Lam confessed the pressures of following up his Giller Prize-winning work and the extensive consultation and edits which finally led the completion of his first novel. While it is laudable for Lam to hold back on those areas in which he has made a name for himself, doing so risks forfeiting his distinctive strength as a writer.

lence, some hauntingly vivid, such as the self-immolation of a monk at the height of the civil war in Vietnam: He selected a match. He looked at this small item for a moment, closed it in the striking surface of the packet, pulled, and then erupted with the noise of a small explosion, the air sucked in. He did not cry out at first, but only hunched forward, the contours of his body and robe all softened by the violent caress of undulating fire. Flame dances as if part of the saffron garment, and the seated man’s mouth was a black hole within his melting face. Somewhere within, the throat shrieked, gave agonized testimony. The colour of the fire and the fabric were one, until the fabric darkened to char. The voice was silenced and then there was only the sound of fire like water, like lapping waves. By the end, as Percival is again called to save his kin despite his emotional and physical wounds, I found myself rooting for this man to whom his sons mean, “all that I am worth and more.” I was also deeply sorrowful as he “begged his excitement to eclipse his sadness” as he dealt with the loss of love from a meaningless sexual encounter. Despite Percival’s charmless shortcomings, then, beautifully emotive lines such as these render Lam’s protagonist deeply sympathetic. Lam’s debut satisfies, and his streaks of deeply-felt prose leave room for much more to be expected from this young writer, who has boldly taken a step forward. The Headmaster’s Wager tells the tale not of an anti-hero, but rather of a flawed one.

Still, this potency comes through in Lam’s many descriptions of vio-





On February 19, 2007, the Ottawa Citizen dedicated its front page to Celia Franca, the English–Jewish dancer of modest upbringing who “taught Canada to dance,” as the headline went. In a career marked by interminable ambition and inevitable controversy until the day of her death at the age of 86 in 2007, Franca built the National Ballet of Canada (NBC) from scratch. She made it a company worthy of international acclaim, and tirelessly challenged Canada’s historic ambivalence towards developing and expressing a cultural voice on the global stage. In her new biography, The Pursuit of Perfection, Carol Bishop–Gwyn allows us to see what even Franca’s closest friends and family members could never fully approach: a ‘comprehensive’ understanding of Celia Franca — daughter, dancer, teacher, director, entrepreneur, and three–time wife. Moreover, we gain insight into the image Franca constructed of herself, as emphasized on the outside by her famous visage of white makeup, penciled eyebrows, and red lips. This book’s evolution was far from straightforward. During her retirement, Franca agreed to work with biographer Frank Rasky, incorrectly assuming she would profit from sales of the book. With Rasky’s death and Franca’s insistence on controlling all content, the project was shelved. Thankfully, Bishop–Gwyn came upon Rasky’s remarkably candid interviews with Franca and, complemented by significant original research, produces a superb account of Canada’s chief dance pioneer. Throughout the book, we hear Franca’s verbatim commentaries on unfolding events — both personal and professional — and it is here where we most acutely understand why Franca inspired admiration, awe, and fear simultaneously. Born in London’s East End to poor Jewish parents, we learn of Franca’s humble beginnings and her discovery of a passion for performing. While her parents recognized and encouraged her talents, they disapproved of her pursuing a professional career. Nevertheless, she garnered her first professional gig as a chorus girl at the age of 14, and continued dancing, often in the dreariest of con-

ditions, to avoid being called upon to join the war effort. What she lacked in balletic perfection – she had short legs and arched feet, for instance – was more than made up by her dramatic intensity, musical instinct, and sheer boldness. In an illustration of the latter trait, she failed to show up for her first performance with the famed Sadler’s Wells Company at London’s Royal Opera House because she feared she would become bored performing the same role for three months. At only 29 years of age and wearing a dress sewn by her father, Franca ended her ‘job interview’ with the influential and deep–pocketed National Ballet Guild Committee with the words, “I think you need me.” As she wrote to a friend, “I have already announced that when I get there, I give the orders and no one else.” Franca believed her Board existed simply to raise the funds needed to support the Artistic Director’s sole vision. This degree of confidence and, perhaps, arrogance — foreshadows what became a roller coaster of administrative fights that lasted even beyond Franca’s official resignation from the National Ballet of Canada. Bishop– Gwyn wraps all of this tumultuousness into truly riveting pages of hearsay testimony. Franca’s fearlessness and tenacity, though off–putting, proved essential to getting the National Ballet of Canada up and running. While she believed — from the moment she stepped off the plane in Toronto — that Canada would have a national ballet company, her founding board had not even arrived at a name for the potential company. It was not until the National Ballet of Canada’s first major success in the US that Canadians finally imbued confidence in their national ballet company. As Franca observes, “a cultural endeavour needed to receive praise from the United States or Great Britain before Canadians themselves would give it any recognition.” She demonstrated complete disregard for politeness or “class” when she appeared onstage in the middle of a show and pleaded the audience to donate to “Save the Ballet.” Also, without Franca’s penchant for taking financial and artistic risks, it is unlikely the National Ballet of Canada would have scored a major coup by being the first company to pres-


ent Prokofiev’s Romeo and Juliet, which today continues to hold blockbuster status.



Bishop–Gwyn emphasizes the many individuals who were, whether she admitted it or not, instrumental in shaping Franca’s development and supporting her vision for the NBC. Whether out of admiration or flat–out fear, people were drawn to Franca and she, in turn, had an uncanny ability to mold people to dedicate themselves to her. An understanding of these relationships – from loyal friends like Franca’s short–term successor and alleged “puppet,” David Haber, to sworn enemies like National Ballet of Canada School headmaster Betty Oliphant – is vital to grasping how Franca built her company. Clashes and partial reconciliation with superstar dancer Rudolph Nureyev are particularly well described in the book. However, the book takes an overly psychoanalytical and speculative turn in its exhaustive analysis of Franca’s three failed marriages. While she had a reputation for dropping relationships once they reached a point of no longer being useful to her immediate objectives, Franca did have a circle of trusted friends with whom she could be herself. These included prima ballerinas Karen Kain and Veronica Tennant, and Ottawa ballet teacher Merrilee Hodgins, who founded the Ottawa School of Dance. Franca’s involvement with the school not only propelled it to become a foremost centre of excellence for English classical training, but gave Franca an opportunity to continue nurturing young talent. This was largely what kept her from lapsing into a complete depression, particularly as her third husband Jay Morton’s health — and affection for Franca — declined. Readers may be surprised by the largely sad tone of The Pursuit of Perfection, considering that when viewed in whole, the National Ballet of Canada is a remarkable success story for the arts in Canada — one that continues to pay dividends today. As for Franca, she received every conceivable accolade and honour — with the blaring exception of an Order of the British Empire (OBE) from the Queen — including a several honourary de-

grees which Franca treasured since she never attended university. Moreover, she was a bona fide celebrity who was on a first–name basis with Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau. Yet, history will not be able to erase the reality that Franca led a highly painful, often isolated life, disconnected from her family, and made many a dancer or administrator cry in reaction to her harsh criticism. In a note written during the time she was being ‘escorted’ out of her directorship of the National Ballet of Canada, Franca sounds almost suicidal, conceding that her husband no longer loved her and that there was no longer anything for which to live. Still, as Karen Kain notes, never for a moment did she sacrifice her integrity and commitment to her vision for the National Ballet of Canada. Moreover, oftentimes her so–called “theatrics” were misplaced for genuine concern. When she encountered obstacles to establishing the National Ballet School in the late 1950s, she was really expressing heartfelt despair at the thought of the school not being approved by her Board of Directors. Perhaps intentionally, Bishop–Gwyn’s biography leaves many questions unanswered regarding the life and legacy of Franca. For instance, we never arrive at a consensus on the degree to which Franca suppressed her Jewish heritage throughout her professional career. In addition, Bishop–Gwyn presents such a plethora of divergent views on Franca Franca’s tenure at the NBC, including some surprisingly pointed criticisms from a representative of the Canada Council for the Arts, that we do not arrive at a clear overall understanding of how dancers and administrators today look back on the Franca era. The Pursuit of Perfection is a fascinating character study of a woman who gave every ounce of her stamina to build a great ballet company for Canada. What began with rehearsals in a converted shelter for homeless men has become a globally renowned company, attracting the world’s top choreographers and appearing at the most legendary venues on the planet. With Karen Kain, one of Franca’s protégés at the helm, her legacy lives on. Yet while Franca gave dance a home in Canada, and no matter how




much she was celebrated for it, she never truly found a sense of belonging and identity, feeling always the foreigner. Bishop– Gwyn has given us a rare chance to unravel Franca’s heavy facade of self–confidence to reveal — often through Franca’s own words — the woman behind the makeup. Some ballet goers may prefer not to peak into the often grimy backstage world for fear of discovering the illusory nature of performance. Yet in this highly accomplished book, the magic of ballet becomes more, not less, spellbinding. The Pursuit of Perfection is an excellent read for all those fascinated by the performing arts in Canada.





Speaking to the Ottawa International Writers Festival, Peter Hobbs described In the Orchard, the Swallows simply as a love story. It is also the story of a return from the underworld. The narrator has been imprisoned for fifteen years, having affronted a powerful local politician by falling deeply in love with Saba, the politician’s daughter. In the Orchard begins and ends in media res; it takes place in the bubble of time between the prisoner’s release and his departure from his boyhood village to seek his family and to make his life elsewhere. We first encounter the unnamed narrator as he describes his walk through the dawn to the pomegranate orchard that once belonged to his family. Hobbs’s beautiful writing captures the narrator’s suspension between his horrific years in gaol and his re-engagement with the world. It is a time of introspection for the narrator, and the structure of the novella allows him to examine some of the conflicting beliefs which he holds without obliging him to choose one definitively over another. The narrator wonders if love itself is doomed in this world. In a letter that may never reach his great love, he writes “We come from the same earth, you and I, the same people. We speak the same language, drink from the same water tap. We know the same sun, the same sky. So if even we must be divided from one another, what hope is there for the rest of the world?” Yet when the narrator asks his heart whether he still feels love for her, “then the answer leaps swiftly back . . . yes.” This love “was the strongest thing” he had, the sole thread connecting him to the gentle, fearless boy had been. The strength of love is what preserves the narrator’s potential to live in harmony with his fellow-beings. It protects him from being consumed with fantasies of revenge, like other prisoners he came to know. Even thwarted love is powerful. When the narrator is released, he desires “only peace . . . to be better than the person” he currently is, and more like the kind and scholarly widower Abbas, who has taken the helpless, waif-like narrator into his home. At the end of one chapter, the

narrator tells his addressee that he thinks “some of the damage will not heal, even after the memories” of prison “are faded” – yet the opening words of the next chapter are exuberant: “How I love this paper!” The narrator’s time in prison, glimpsed in letters that the narrator composes for Saba, has been truly hellish; he attributes his endurance to the love that Saba has inspired. In prison, the unfortunate inmates all share one ill-lit, ill-ventilated room, and are chained to its floor. The guards, from time to time, torture the prisoners. The narrator comes to understand “their actions” as “guided by neither justice or retribution, nor even by malice, but by something far more banal, far more terrible. Simply, they were bored. They . . . roused terror and agony in our eyes just so that they might be briefly relieved of the boredom of their jobs” and to remind themselves that they are different from the prisoners. Although politics is a very secondary concern in In the Orchard, the ill-management of the prison taints the shadowy Americans whom the narrator mentions in passing. These agents in the ‘war on terror’ are aware of the sub-par conditions and chaos, but seem indifferent to the prisoners’ welfare, and even to their identities: “Some were sold to the Americans as terrorists or insurgents. I am not sure any of them actually were . . . The Americans offered reward money for them, and did not seem to care who they were.” The narrator’s tragedy has nothing to do with global politics, but subtly suggests that some of the apparently dangerous men caught up in the ‘war on terror’ may be like the narrator – victims of injustice or ill luck. The signs of the narrator’s fifteen-year ordeal persist on his body; his legs are so thin that a doctor’s hands can fit “completely” around them, and his skin is scarred. Imprisonment has sunk into his very bones, so that he walks “half bent over” and his “joints protest” when he tries to “improve [his] posture.” He is resigned to his condition, of having “for the remainder of [his] life . . . something about [him] that is misshapen.” Hobbs is particularly sensitive to the ailing body; this shows


itself in how keenly alive the narrator is to the pleasures of the physical world. He is overwhelmed with pleasure at the scents of baking bread from the tandoor and of a garden full of roses; his evocations of sensory pleasure bring delight to the reader, too.

ling at the world high in the branches, the bright sunlight filtering through.” In eating the arils of a ripe pomegranate, he is tasting the Edenic sweetness of life itself.



In the Orchard, the Swallows’s plot unfolds over a short period; its compressed timeframe creates less of a sense of urgency than of timelessness. Hobbs refashions myths and focuses intently on the natural world, providing an imaginative space that does not move to the rhythm of the twenty-first century. The nameless narrator’s devotion to Saba echoes the story of Majnun and Layla. The Persian poet Nizami retold Majnun and Layla’s story in the twelfth century, and it has been canonical throughout the Muslim world ever since. Layla and Majnun fall in love, although their families are separated by a blood feud rather than by social standing. Layla’s family spurns the match, and her admirer loses his reason; ‘Majnun’ even means ‘madman.’ Majnun wanders in the desert, inscribing his poetry on the sand, just as Hobbs’s narrator writes letters without any idea of how they might reach Saba. Muslim artists often painted Majnun in chains. The narrator’s progress through In the Orchard is also like the obverse of the Persephone myth. In the place of Hades’ kidnap of Persephone to institute a forced marriage, Saba’s father has the narrator arrested and thrust into the underworld of prison to prevent a union between Saba and the narrator. As a teenager being transferred from one prison cell to another, the narrator yearns for his father and his family to come and save him – as Persephone’s mother Ceres does. Persephone, however, is obliged to spend the winter months every year in the underworld – because she absentmindedly ate pomegranate seeds while beneath the earth. For our narrator, eating the pomegranate seeds anchors him in this world and anneals his past and his present selves: “The memory of that taste,” he writes, “is no less than the memory of my childhood.” It takes him back to being a child “riding on his father’s back, marvel-





Set in 1871 in the slums and back alleys of New York City, The Virgin Cure is Ami McKay’s follow–up to her successful debut The Birth House. In her latest offering McKay follows the ordeals of a twelve–year old girl named Moth, her unusual moniker one of the few things left to her by her father. Still smarting at her husband’s desertion years ago, Moth’s mother ekes a bare living telling fortunes while numbing her disappointments with liberal doses of Dr. Godfrey’s Cordial, an opium–laced syrup. Despite a fraught home life, Moth has but one immediate ambition, to stay at home just a little longer: “Thirteen, I’d tell myself, any time Mama started to go on about servants’ quarters and maid’s wages. I’ll stay with Mama until I’m thirteen. I hoped by then to find a way of becoming something on my own, something beyond Mama’s expectations.” Instead Moth’s world is rudely shaken when her mother sells her into domestic service, sending her off in the middle of the night with only her ragdoll to comfort her. In this world of grinding poverty and little opportunity, everything seems to have a price, including children’s bodies. It is this commodification of young girls that forms that central conceit of the novel. As the title suggests, and as Moth so bluntly puts it, “Girls sold matches and pins, then flowers and hot corn, and then themselves… The most valuable thing a girl possessed was hidden between her legs, waiting to be sold to the highest bidder. It was never a question of yes or no. It was simply a matter of which man would have you first.” Through a series of misadventures, which includes fleeing her unusually cruel mistress, Moth discovers an added layer to this sexual certainty, namely of well–appointed “infant schools” that groom young girls for prostitution. In such a brothel, Moth finds temporary refuge and is lulled by the lush trappings of wealth and the companionship of other “almost whores,” young girls like herself. Marketing its girls as “clean” attracts a range of wealthy clientele, including those who would seek the so–called “virgin cure” as a treatment for syphilis.

Despite the risks and seeing few other options, Moth accepts that her best chance for a better life rests in selling her virginity for the highest possible price. Complicating this decision, however, is the relationship that develops between the girl and Dr. Sadie, a visiting physician. The doctor encourages Moth to seek a different future for herself yet the alternatives Dr. Sadie suggests seem little better than a life of prostitution, revealing again the narrow opportunities afforded girls from Chrystie Street. The final outcome seems inevitable but nonetheless shocking. Though she deals with uncomfortable subject matter (and timely, given that belief in the “virgin cure” persists in some AIDS– stricken regions), McKay creates an accessible and richly realized world populated by a cast of Dickensian characters. As she did in The Birth House, she similarly incorporates historical ephemera, ranging from adverts to newspaper clippings, to enhance the world of which she writes. She also prefaces the novel with a letter to the reader, penned by Dr. Sadie, which combined with various asides written by the doctor serves to complicate the narrative voice of the text. While usually interesting, these additions occasionally overwhelm and distract from the main narrative. At times they also seem redundant when on occasion they simply reiterate information that is already skillfully included by the author in the central text. Aside from such stylistic concerns, however, the novel’s main hindrance is Moth herself. As a character she sometimes reads a little flat. This may be down to her pragmatic view of world, a certain resignation that comes from having too many responsibilities and too few choices from a young age. Or it may be partly influenced by timing, as narrative is ostensibly told by Moth years after the fact. Consequently the voice is not that of a young girl, which would have added to the emotional resonance of the novel, but rather that of a woman. Moreover, despite the perilous world that she must navigate, a real sense of danger is often lacking. Indeed, save for one or two critical moments there is little sense of urgency in Moth’s story. She only encounters the brothel a third of the


way into the novel and some of the ordeals she faces before that seems contrived. Dr. Sadie, too, inspired by one of the author’s ancestors, would benefit from a stronger backstory. While she may come across a tad virtuous she is nonetheless an interesting character and one is left wondering why an educated and privileged woman would end up working among the indigent poor in 19th century New York. According to the author’s notes, McKay originally thought the narrative voice would be that of Dr. Sadie and it seems a shame that the doctor does not have a greater presence in the novel.



Still McKay does deliver an eminently readable novel that highlights historical and contemporary concerns about gender, sexuality, class, and power. She successfully explores how the uncertainty wrought by poverty leads people to make difficult choices while her rich use of language makes the dirt, stink, and hardscrabble existence of slum–dwellers come to life. As she writes, “we came from rear tenements and cellar floors, from poverty and pride. All sneak and steal, hush and flight, those of us who lived past thirteen, fourteen, fifteen years old, those of us who managed to make any luck for ourselves at all – we became New York.”





In 2008, as the world economy melted down led by the U.S. housing market, a select few American Hedge Fund managers cashed in the insurance policies that they had taken out on products they knew to be faulty and made billions of dollars at the expense of those invested in their falsely propped up funds. As Canadians, we sat back on our high horse, grateful that this type of fraudulent behaviour doesn’t happen here. Or so we thought. As it turns out, these things do happen here, with greater frequency and impunity than anywhere else in the developed world. Bruce Livesey in The Thieves of Bay Street outlines chapter after chapter of frauds, scandals, and investment scams that happened right here in Canada. In case after case, including the 2008 meltdown, Livesey delineates the myriad of ways in which investment brokers and big banks separate you from your money. The book has sixteen chapters, each dedicated to a different financial nightmare. But perhaps the best way to introduce this book is the close of Livesey’s introduction: This book sets out to reveal why Canada has become a popular place for investment fraud and thievery, and what the consequences are – and not just for the Alice Campbells of this country, those small investors who can lose a lifetime of savings with one wrong turn. It will examine how bankers and brokers and the very wealthy rob from investors and companies, and how our vaulted financial institutions peddle dangerous investment products and contributed to the U.S. subprime mortgage crisis, the reverberations of which are threatening entire national economies. It’s about the ways that credit rating agencies, underwriters, analysts and lawyers enable fraud, and how regulators and law enforcement sit on the sidelines and do little to stop the fiascos from unfolding. If, like so many of us, you’ve bought the line that Canada’s financial industry is safe and sound and worthy of your respect, prepare to be robbed of something yourself: your faith.

There are a few problems with the system as a whole. First, all the incentives are connected to making a lot of money. By letting people commit fraud, the people behind it can get very rich, and since they know they can get away with it, there is no disincentive to this. Also, the regulatory bodies are provincial; there is no national oversight, with the possible exception of one very small branch of the RCMP that does pathetically little. (The number of investigations is small, and the percentage of convictions is embarrassingly low.) Most of the time, the people sitting on the regulatory bodies are also a part of the industry. Worse, the credit rating agencies are also run by people in the industry, and they have the power to manipulate the ratings for their own gains. When somebody does notice something amiss, these overseeing bodies flick them aside like a cow swatting flies, to the effect that nothing substantial is accomplished. One of the scariest chapters of this book comes near the end and describes situations in which somebody realizes that a scam is in the works, informs the various regulating and investigative bodies, from the financial regulators to the RCMP, and they do NOTHING about it. In fact, many times they dismiss the case with the wave of a hand. A great example of this is Conrad Black. He broke several financial regulations in Canada, was reported to investigators, and yet nothing was done. It took the Americans to prosecute Black, and they did so knowing that they had to because Canada wouldn’t. But his case is not the only one. Many of the cases examined in this book had early warning signs that were completely ignored. Often, it is up to the Americans to prosecute our financial criminals. In the rare case where a Canadian is charged and prosecuted, the punishments are minimal. Fines are usually far less than the amount stolen from investors, and very rarely is jail time imposed. The victims of these fraudsters can lose their entire life savings, often followed close behind by their health due to the intense stress. The perpetrators don’t even lose the money they stole. What does this say about Canada’s priorities? It




sure does not give off a good image of us to the world, as corroborated by Livesey in chapter fifteen. It also does nothing to help the Canadians whose livelihoods and/or pensions have vanquished into thin air. As somebody preparing to begin saving for retirement, this picture of the financial industry is chilling to the bone. These systematic problems lead to the question of “what can be done?” – a question that Livesey raises in the afterword to the book. The Conservative government, in the aftermath of the global financial crisis, took steps to attempt to create a national regulatory body, but they face steep opposition from the handful of families that have power and influence over provincial regulatory bodies. It has been over two years and still no national regulatory body has been established. In a recent development, the Supreme Court of Canada ruled the law developed by the Conservatives to tackle this issue is unconstitutional. This begs the question, “what can we do?” Sadly, no solution has been presented. Nearing the end of the book, Livesey raises a key question that one starts asking almost from the very beginning. He says, “In fact, the evidence is overwhelming: you can’t trust the financial industry to look after your money. So whom can you trust?” As I read this, I couldn’t help but think, “Finally!” But much to my dismay, no answer is provided. This question is followed by a recap of all of the people who cannot be trusted, from your friends and family who can also be swindled to the people doing the swindling. So we come back again to whom can be trusted with our hard-earned money? In a similar vein, I also wound up wondering what ordinary investors can do to avoid having something like this happening. Suppose that we want to do our due diligence and learn about the companies in which we invest; how do we go about finding that information? How do we find their financial statements and what can we do to verify that they are accurate? Or what should we do instead of investing? Maybe the solution is to avoid investing and just

stick all our money under our mattresses again, although I would bet that nobody would advocate for that. The problem with this book is that it offers no answers to any of these questions. It identifies the problem, but there is no proactive quest for a solution. I blame this lack of solution on the fact that Livesey is a journalist rather than an economist. He makes his living by finding and telling the story, by pointing out the problems, not by trying to find their solutions, and in this case, he has done a remarkable job of unearthing the facts and presenting a more complete picture of the Canadian financial situation. However, for those of us faced with the decision on what to do with our hard earned income in the hopes of making it grow enough to retire on, the story is not enough. We need solutions. Where is the story that tells us what to do next? A number of economists from around the world have proposed what is called the Robin Hood Tax, which may be a solution, or part of a solution, to this problem. If adopted, this would impose a 0.05% tax on financial transactions by institutions, including stocks, bonds, commodities, etc. It would not impose the same tax on individual investors. The purpose would be to raise more money from the financial sector that has traditionally managed to avoid their fair share of the tax burden, while possibly slowing down speculation which theoretically could help to stabilize the markets. The originators of this idea have proposed to use the money raised to help end poverty and hunger around the world (like Robin Hood, taking from the rich to help the poor). Another option for the use of this money would be to help pay back those small investors who lost their life savings from the mismanagement of fraudulent investors. While I am merely an amateur who knows very little about this tax and what it could really do, my knowledge of its existence suggests that Livesey could have found out something about it and included it in the book. And who knows how many other brilliant ideas are out there as solutions that have yet to be exposed because we are all so focused on the problem that we fail to search for the solution.




If we are to move beyond the financial industry as described by Livesey and create for ourselves the safe and stable markets that as Canadians we like to believe we have, we must proactively search for solutions. We must advocate for some independent regulation of the financial markets and protect the rights and assets of the millions of Canadians who work hard for their money and just want a safe place to let it grow so that they can retire comfortably. We must do something to change these circumstances or we will be at the mercy of these financial giants indefinitely.



Public anger over the recent bailouts of some of America’s most unscrupulous institutions makes it no surprise that corporate greed and recklessness have become vital issues. In his latest book, David Rothkopf, President of an American international advisory firm, enters the fray to tackle the background of the financial crisis and what he considers to be “one of the great, pregnant questions of our times” - the development of unprecedented corporate power and its relation to the weakening of the state. Central to corporate power’s dominant role in our society is what Rothkopf terms the “supercitizen,” a name that indicates the aggressive development of private power’s role in society. What makes a supercitizen is roughly defined as “the characteristics that give corporations their special advantages”: namely, their financial capital affords them the ability to operate globally independent of national ties, and enshrines their status as artificial ‘persons’ with special rights and limited liability.

POWER, INC. by David Rothkopf


Rothkopf argues that the resulting mobility and leverage of these super citizens is emblematic of the gradual and systematic redefinition of the role and responsibilities of the state, accompanied by “an unmanaged, not terribly well understood remaking of the international order that impacts the interest of billions.” Given simplistic protests against corporate power like the Occupy Wall Street movement, Rothkopf’s examination of corporate and political history adds a much needed dose of historical and intellectual awareness to the discussion. He first recognizes the importance of understanding to what degree the erosion of state prerogatives is the result of natural historical forces, and then attends to the business of addressing the “ongoing political efforts of private actors seeking to constrain or reshape the role of national governments.” To do so, the first half of the book is a sprawling and rather tedious tour through the political history of the West, beginning with the story of how a goat’s dis-

covery led to the founding of Europe’s first private enterprise - a rich deposit of copper in Sweden’s hinterlands that turned into the Falun Mine, the “oldest continuously operating corporation in the world,” now called Stora Enso. Rothkopf’s narration is comprehensive and he has a keen perception for cause and effect, particularly for linking great historical events with minor but decisive opportunities. The Falun Mine, including its later incarnation as the transnational company Stora Enso, makes a frequent appearance; interesting as the mine is to the development of corporate power, it becomes linked to every major economic, political and military development in Europe over nearly two millennia and its predictable appearances become somewhat tiresome. At times the narration is clumsy and falls short of capturing the grandeur and expectation it tries to inspire, such as when he describes the climactic death scene of the Swedish emperor, Gustav Vasa: “[Vasa’s] great red beard had grown gray, and as it lay lank across his bedclothes with each rise and fall of his chest, observers wondered what would come next.” However, Rothkopf’s analysis is sharp as he argues that the role of businesses and government has profoundly changed while our understanding of their relationship has remained dangerously static. We still believe the role of the state is to uphold the social contract with its citizens and have the abilities to defend its own borders, to legitimately use force, to set and enforce laws, and to manage its own financial affairs. We continue to see private power as independent entities, possessing their own legal status and rights. Yet private power has grown to such an extent that it is now influencing the state in a manner that completely contradicts the core ideas that western political society holds, such as the consent of the governed, the importance of markets and the best ways to produce collaboration between government and business interests.


As a result, private corporations have emerged as the world’s dominant power and agenda setter. In this sense, the book’s subtitle is at odds with its conclusion: the competition between traditional nation-states and corporate power is no longer a true rivalry, rather the question is how to navigate an economic world that is already largely shaped by powerful private corporations and supercitizens. Moreover, how does a nation construct and maintain a social contract in this environment to the benefit of its people? This is justifiably an issue of urgent concern, and Rothkopf does well to tease out the ethical implications of what the financial crisis has taught America in particular.

POWER, INC. by David Rothkopf


This being the case, Rothkopf doesn’t detract from the necessary economic and social benefits of private enterprise. He doesn’t shy away from pointing out the tradition of transnational enterprises and their necessity to developing economies, from the Vikings to the Hudson’s Bay Company. Rather than framing the situation as a battle between nation and private enterprise, Rothkopf states that it’s a question of evolving to meet today’s changing standards. The thrust of his argument is that governments have not kept pace with their private counterparts, and are thus in danger of becoming exploited and obsolescent. The primary warning is that an overly weakened state allows room for private actors to become “megaplayers” and “supercitizens,” who possess the money and power to institutionalize their ideologies and serve their interests. These players are “interlopers” into the social contract and possess rights, influence, and opportunities that rival or exceed that of the states that gave them life, which has underscored the diminished nature of these status-challenged, public-sector powers. Furthermore, corporations are now global and have the distinct advantage of playing countries against one another for better conditions, and the problem is that America’s theoretical framework is inadequate to cope with these global changes. However, the economic meltdown not only confirmed

the imbalance of corporate power and the weakening of the state, it also signaled the possibility of other alternatives. Rothkopf quotes a senior Asian government official, saying “irreparable damage has been done to American capitalism,” in the wake of the financial crisis. However, the crisis revealed that “new life is being bred into the alternative approaches that evolved” in Sweden and other European and Asian countries. To look to these other alternatives, Rothkopf draws from his impressive professional experience with excerpts from a number of interviews with key figures. His conversation with a Swedish financial official is an opportunity to compare their country’s responses to financial crisis, revealing the possibility of an answer to reckless private power in Sweden’s social system, where “companies and country are a two-way partnership rather than a one way street.” When the government bailed out the bank in Sweden’s own financial crisis, “the government made sure the people got something in return, unlike what happened in America.” The answer to America’s current corporate imbalance is suggested to be found abroad, in places like Sweden and other European and Asian countries, whose cultural values favour a robust social state. The problem is how to transplant those values in American soil, whose cultural and ideological framework perceives too much public or state power as a threat to the flourishing of private enterprise. Although he commits one-third of his book to the unique ideological development of America and its entrenched individualist values, this is a dilemma that Rothkopf does not explore. It is unfortunate that he doesn’t look to Canada and our relative stability during the economic crisis as a potential economic model. Instead, he warns that our time requires an urgent assessment of how to balance the legitimate desire to grow the global economy and the moral responsibility of doing so “with some semblance of fairness.” The formidable question of whose fairness and on whose terms is presumably left to the philosophers and lawyers to sort out on our behalf.



People are not quotes or clips, used to illustrate stories about war and conflict. People are the story, always. Having grown up in an environment that, while immediately quite sheltered and secure, was one where news of loss of life always lingered on the margins of our own existence, I came to abhor news. Life was, sadly, cheap there, as it is in so many other places. The hopes and dreams of the people do not account for much for they never had the liberty to dream anyway, let alone the capacity to pursue them. I must confess that I do not have a penchant for keeping up with the news but while it may seem odd that I chose to read the journey of a journalist in Nahlah Ayed’s A Thousand Farewells, what is more important is that Ayed herself, at one point, shares that sense of detachment. “It had been five years and many, many explosions since that war,” says Ayed of Tora Bora while covering the resurgence of violence in Lebanon in 2006. “I felt somewhat detached and weary. I had never aspired to be a television reporter, never mind a war correspondent.”



Mine is but another reading, but one in which I find that the stories Ayed collects and the lives to which she attempts to give a voice all seem to be weary and long troubled by carrying the collective weight of imposed ideologies. Interestingly enough, these imposing views come both from within and from outside of the lands of dissent. “The anti-Mubarak protestors came from all walks of life—teachers, engineers, stay-athome mothers in hijabs—and most of them were young. Most of them carried round yellow stickers with their group’s slogan emblazoned in red: “Kefaya.” Enough.” Kefaya would prove to be more than just a word. It is an idea, it is the spirit that not only drives those who have come out onto the streets throughout the Arab world, but is also representative of those who have given their lives to this spirit. In her journey, Ayed follows this specter of discontent as it travels from Iraq, and later Tunisia, to the rest of the Arab lands.

“On the ground [Egypt, 2005], it was clear that the election was a highly imperfect exercise whose outcome was predetermined. But it was lauded by the international community as a step forward, another sign of a fledgling “Arab Spring.” But Mubarak won with nearly 90 percent of the vote, and Egyptian “democracy” suffered an unsurprising early death.” Ayed writes that after the failed attempt to jump start a democracy in 2005, the protestors would go back in to silence; they seemingly recede in to the shadows, waiting for another day. That day would come in early 2011, when they would take to the streets with all the vigour of a beast that has long been asleep, baffling security and catching the attention of the international media. The uprising was not part of some grand design encouraged from the outside, as the authorities would have everyone believe. It was a peaceful people’s uprising, unlike anything the modern Arab world had experienced in recent years, and very much the nightmare scenario that had long dogged the region’s autocrats and compelled them to brutally discourage dissent and almost any form of political participation. The protests that began in Tunisia and then spread to Egypt also moved to Libya, Bahrain, Yemen, Jordan, the Palestinian Territories, Iraq, and even Syria. It was an awakening owned by the people of those countries alone. They willingly called it the Arab Spring. This passage reveals much of the sentiment of a number of stories that Ayed collects, it speaks of the constant struggle between this play of sides, what seems to be a carnival of identities. Be it the protests in Lebanon or the revolution in Egypt, if the people voice their dissent and speak against their governments, they would be branded as being in cahoots with the West, an accusation that would be strengthened if the West were to laud their efforts. Ironically however, many of these governments, as Ayed writes, are themselves propped up by the West to stand as acceptable alternatives to the “Islamist” element. Increased pressure from the governments on their


civilians would in turn lead the people to these religiously inspired groups who stand in opposition to the endless rule of the ironclad autocrat, and to the West. Revolutions are always messy, no different in the case of the Arab world. The uprisings had mixed success….But they all carried the same message: the status quo—the repression, the entrenched gloom – was no longer acceptable. And if you’d lived in the region for any length of time in the years and decades leading up to the Arab Spring, like I did, none of it came as a surprise.



After showing a glimmer of the recent developments in Egypt, perhaps the loudest instance of the Arab Spring, Ayed opens the photo album of her journey, a collection of stories throughout all that she has encountered, and all that has, in one way or another, led to her encounter with the Arab Spring. At the end, it is Ayed’s hope that the reader will come to know the recent developments in the Mideast countries as a natural consequence of longstanding, and oft brutally harsh, circumstances that the people have long endured and can take no longer. Kefaya! The first page of that album opens on to the photos taken from her father’s camera, when Ayed and her siblings were kids, born in the then suburb of St. Boniface in Winnipeg. Childhood, says Ayed, was about learning to behave, excelling at school, cold winters and wide summer mornings in the prairies. Most of all, it was about lessons after school, Arabic lessons given by their mother and instructed on the back of the basement door. Ayed notes how her parents, themselves Palestinian refugees, had come to Canada in search of a more comfortable life, and a more hospitable environment, than the one they had found in Germany - where they had moved earlier with perhaps the same hope. As is natural for immigrants, there was always the idea of a “home” away from home. Her father had captured snippets of that home during a visit to Jordan when Nahlah and her sister were only infants, and those photos would

always serve as reminders of that state of gorbah, a state of separation, dépaysement, that Ayed later finds, also tinged the stories of the countless displaced in the Arab Diaspora, especially for Iraqis. Those photos would serve as markers of a place to which the Ayed family would one day return so that the children could learn the same values their parents had, and the language. After her studies at Carleton University, augmented by the pull her parents felt towards news in the Middle East and work with the Canadian Press, Ayed would find herself in Afghanistan in the wake of the events of September 11. It was there that, being fluent in Arabic, she felt a need for communication. In spite of her loathing for the Middle East, she had returned to the region and on the second war in Iraq, Ayed says that she struggled to explain that there was no such thing as the “Arab view.” “The three hundred million people who lived in this region could not be an undifferentiated mass with a single point of view. There was no one type of Muslim–they weren’t all Muslim, a fact that never fails to shock the ignorant–and there was no consensus on any matter that affected the region.” Ayed, then, places herself in that torrential gap of understanding, serving as that link between “home” and the world. Serving as that link, it is unfortunate that many of the stories she conveys from most of the Arab world are marred with a sense of disillusion, the sentiment of dashed hopes. Whether it was the early death of “democracy” in Egypt, the resurgence of violence in Lebanon (a sore point for many who were still bruised from the civil war two decades earlier) or the audacity of such tyrants as Ben Ali of Tunisia or Mubarak in Egypt. The lesson many took away was that Middle Eastern history always repeated itself, and that nothing could be had without violence – that (once again) change has proven dangerous, even fatal. That to hope was to bring on disaster. The “Arab Spring” so many in the West had written about in the wake of Iraq’s


liberation in 2003 and Syria’s departure from Lebanon in 2005 seemed already over. It was no surprise. If the Middle East excelled at anything, it was stagnation. That seems to be the crux of the matter, to which Ayed hints in several places throughout her book. It seems to be that it is always someone somewhere else writing about what they consider to be this mythic spring. The gap between “home” and the world is more of an endless chasm, or (since we’re talking in metaphors and fictions anyway) the space between east and west appears limitless, and each side only entertains speculations about the other.



Ayed, near the end of her book, writes of a conversation she had had with a scholar at the Al-Ahram Centre for Strategic Studies after the presidential elections in Egypt in 2005. He said Egyptians—indeed all Arabs— needed to redefine “victory” in their discourse. That it need not be victory against a declared enemy, but ‘victory in education, in development, in the standard of life.’ That is the kind of victory these youth now desperately sought, that others sought around the region.” In a conversation I had on the train from Cairo to Alexandria, Muhammad Hassan, a graduate in Political Science from the American University in Cairo and a proud participant in the Tahrir Square demonstrations, said something similar when I commented that his studies must have proven to be useful. “If you have glasses, you can see,” said Hassan, “but most of the people cannot.

Reading Nahlah Ayed’s journey has not been easy. I have long maintained a careful distance from all news and it has taken little effort on my part to do so. In fact, I am often glad that I remain completely oblivious of ‘recent developments.’ That said, Ayed’s work was a sad reminder of the circumstances that are not only to be found in many of the Arab states, but which also dog much of the Indian subcontinent. The faces that Ayed paints often mirror those I had seen and heard of while growing up. Although it is unsettling to encounter those faces, it has also been helpful to understand, even if only in part, the situation in Egypt. I read Ayed’s work in the days leading up to arriving in Cairo and as I recently walked from Tahrir Square to, and stood on, Qasr el-Nile bridge (a major site of the revolution) and watched orange clad demonstrators hold up traffic while beating drums and singing as they waited for their candidate to appear, I saw face to face that spirit of Kefaya brought to life by those drums. Though, in the words of Egyptians themselves, much works needs to be done, and at the moment, as a friend of mine so aptly said, we do not yet know in what direction the country will have turned by the time I would next visit Cairo, it is at least clear that the idea of Kefaya is realizable. On that note, I closed Ayed’s book not with the wistful sentiment with which I switch off the news, but with a farewell and a silent afterthought.

In the end, it seems that this revolutionary—and soon becoming mythic—spring must be a natural phenomenon, an organic process. Those living in the Arab states, or the Middle East, will have to form and follow an idea that is inherent to the land and self-fashioned by the people themselves. One around which they can gather without relying on anyone else for support. An idea like that, said Ahdaf Soueif, author of Cairo, would be one that the world would have to learn to accept.


LUNCH WITH LAM Vincent Lam took the opportunity to sit and speak with the Ottawa International Writers Festival’s Artistic Director, Sean Wilson during a special fundraiser event, Lunch with Vincent Lam, in Table 40 at Fraser Café on Beechwood Ave. Vincent Lam is an Ottawa native, having grown up in Nepean. Much of the subject of his conversation centred around his new novel, The Headmaster’s Wager and its principal character, Percival Chen. Below is a condensed version of the conversation.

Maybe you can talk a little bit about Percival [Chen], and the fact that he is a character which really began in your first book [Bloodletting & Other Miraculous Cures]

Well, Percival is inspired by my grandfather. There are many characteristics that they share in common and many historical circumstances which they do not share. Both of them were gamblers, womanizers of the highest order, drinkers of only the best cognac, and aficionados of the best foods. Both of them were also incredible charming, engaging; in fact, likable people.

People exhibit a range of reactions to the character of Percival. To me it’s interesting, challenging, satisfying as a writer to see people react to a character in such a diverse number of ways.

Did you feel any pressure to try and make sure he [Percival] came off as likeable?

I like him. I don’t find him unlikable. My biggest struggle was to convey the way I felt. The character is inspired by my grandfather, but he is also not my grandfather.

One also forgets how troublesome these things are: the ethnophobia, racism, sexism, misogyny. The reader is immersed in these problems in the book. And that is as it should be. In my view, some of the most interesting books, challenge.

How has writing short stories versus a novel been different? Is it a very different experience?

They were linked short-stories [Bloodletting & Miraculous Cures], so they had shared characters. So the experience of having shared characters was the same. With short stories, there is a quicker feeling of accomplishment and satisfaction. With the novel, the cycle is much longer. It sometimes felt there was no relief in sight. I threw away about a thousand pages with The Headmasters’s Wager. Each time (after) you don’t feel like you’re starting fresh, you feel like you’re in the same cycle.

Writing the biography of Tommy Douglas was a great interlude. The best thing was that I did not have to make stuff up. None of this sitting around, “oh, what would my character do now?” I almost feel upbeat describing this process and morose about my novel. [laughter]



How much do the characters tell you what to do? How much do you consciously think about it?

I took two trips to Vietnam, consulted roughly a hundred books, many drafts, attempted to write in different voices...four years of that, actually was quite hard. The only thing that kept me going was that I would feel far worse if I stopped, so I kept going. Towards the third year, something happened. I was wrestling with this, suddenly there was no more wrestling. There was open-eyed pulling together. The characters always had the answers for me; the characters would tell me what they would do.



The totality of Shakespeare’s work, and every other piece of English literature ever written, was composed of only 26 characters: the English alphabet. The slightest flick of a pen can transform one word into something completely different. Even something as powerful as “love” can be abruptly extinguished into the past by simply adding a “d” to its end. Every time we open a book, we place our trust in the author’s precise crafting of these letters as they skillfully weave meaning into the pages. Indeed the unique power of poetry lies in the author’s distillation of each word’s meaning; it is this pure language that blossoms in the minds of readers into an all-encompassing experience of both sensory and intellectual revelation. In his debut collection of poems, Occupations, Chris Jennings deftly achieves this and much more, exploring the intense limits and liberties that nature’s occupation of physical space places on human existence. Employing a variety of literary styles, from the familiar limerick to the free verse to a quirky apartment listing, he extends an invitation to the reader; not only does one enjoy his work but in reading it they also participate in an exchange of meaning.

OCCUPATIONS by Chris Jennings


Jennings wastes no time confronting the reader with the harsh reality of mortality. But this context of death is the very soil Jennings requires to cultivate meaning in life. For it is only upon death that we finally sacrifice our identity to the memories of the living, often sparked by our possessions that outlast us—an Albion double-king bed from 1939 or “Strange Fruit” on CD. Ironically, Jennings boldly refuses to be sucked into the sterile environment of nondescript allusions to timeless amorphisms. Instead his work is full of references to very specific and dated items –a move that would normally be considered cripplingly sentimental. Instead these occasionally obscure references provide us with a glimpse of the unique interaction between memory and object. As we witness and participate in the mind’s active collecting of memories we discover

that memory itself is alive. With each new experience over time it grows and evolves into something more than that which it began as. This process is often inevitable, but when embraced can lead to a transformative experience. While it may be the accuracy of a memory that preserves fact, it is often the vibrancy of a memory that preserves its truth. After all, life exists in a constant state of change—a constant state of becoming. Quantum physics, domestic expression: prove—by experiment—that a single space may exhibit the properties appropriate to both an easy chair and a loveseat. If nothing else the comfortable paradox of the juxtaposed adjectives should remind us that this is an imagined space, then as now, as always with homes. Here Jennings gradually shifts focus towards considering life as completely composed by narratives. Though we often like to consider our identity detached from our current physical environment, matter and mood are ultimately inseparable. Be it a lover’s quarrel, some unintelligible graffiti, or just the colour yellow, there is a story for the beginning of all things. Each of our interactions with these things perpetuates these stories in our own lives. Jennings cheekily reveals that it is not just our personal possessions that resonate with memories of our identity; the entire world echoes the struggles and triumphs of everyday life, by which we define ourselves. Metaphor blurs into anthropomorphism blurs into symbol until we see that a frozen zucchini stand is a car crash, sangria and smoked oysters are sorcery, and a mosquito swarm is an entire country. When she said cow, he smelled autumn pasture, heard the suck of hooves pulling free of mud, his fingertips tingling as though grazing a short, coarse cowhide hair and when she said his name he saw himself in her eyes. As the reader progresses they realize that while their life may be temporal, the essence of who they are can survive beyond


their body in the lives of those around them. As a result their initial sense of nostalgia aching for the past is overcome by a resigned contentment upon seeing that the future may be just as familiar.

Just as an object occupies physical space, as a memory occupies one’s attention, so too do we exist amongst nature. After all, meaning is shared, not taken. Our meaning is preserved through occupation, not domination.

While individual objects may come and go, their participation in nature’s cyclical pattern continues. Thus each of Jenning’s accounts of interaction between humanity and nature encourages us to recognize the patterns of our own lives and embrace the immortal capabilities of ritual. The theme of agriculture also persists throughout Jenning’s work. While toys, furniture, and clothing are vessels through which our existence is preserved, the technological progress that produces such objects may very well also be our downfall. Yet rather than falling into the rutted theme of ecological sustainability, Jennings hints at supporting environmental responsibility for reasons of integrity—to reduce the world to a collection of technological resources is to deny the organic nature of our own existence.

OCCUPATIONS by Chris Jennings


Wrist-thick grid lines carve the centre of the meadow. Purple flowers invade where rain has eroded the concrete tower foundations. Trash spreads like a rash across the gravel areola that tamps the grass. It drifts and blocks the murals of itinerant taggers marking teenage affairs and making arcane symbols germane to their tenuous urban presence. Therefore, the linear process of environmental exploitation not only halts the eternal cycle of nature but threatens to wipe out the very rituals that give meaning to our existence, beyond our existence. It is all too fitting for Jennings to end with an allusion to Epimetheus—“hindsight”. Perhaps we have forgotten his intended counterbalancing against his brother’s comforting yet consuming fire of technological advancement.



Guy Gavriel Kay’s latest novel, brilliant but flawed, takes place in a setting that is ‘a quarter turn’ from our history. This time he is our tour guide to Tang Dynasty China, represented by the fictional country and empire of Kitai. Under Heaven is a thoroughly researched and intensely evocative work of historical fiction. In this it resembles his past work, but the chance to see him explore a whole new area of the world – temporarily leaving Europe behind – brings additional attraction.

UNDER HEAVEN by Guy Gavriel Kay


The minor fantasy elements help illuminate the beliefs of the culture and the characters but had I come to this as a fantasy novel my expectations would have been disappointed. Unfortunately, this is not the only time expectations are thwarted. More happily, those seeking Kay’s trademark – historical fiction with a twist – will be rewarded . The story of Under Heaven begins slowly, then picks up dramatically, with only occasional slow patches, then becomes a blur toward the end. Once the action begins with a stunning gift and an assassination attempt, it rapidly picks up steam, drawing the reader into the story, leaving one compelled to read on to see what will happen next. The intrigues of the central government and royal court are particularly well–drawn; while the ambition and personal conflicts are universal, the particular ways in which they play out reflect the Tang Dynasty inspiration. That there are some similarities to Kay’s Sarantine (Byzantine) court is a reflection of universalities in human ambition, but this is new exploration of an old theme, not mere repetition. Two questions arise irresistibly from Kay’s Under Heaven, one deliberately, one probably unintentionally. The first is the meaning of family, the theme that the book most effectively explores. It is in the inseparably linked illumination of characters and setting that the book truly shines, and it does so best of all in the exploration of father–child and sibling relationships. The relationships of the main character, Shen Tai, with his older brother and his

sister underlie much of the novel. Their father, while deceased before the novel begins, has an influence that is constantly felt in the people he brought them up to be, and is often remarked upon. We see sibling rivalry and sibling protectiveness both played out amid a culture with very different expectations of what these relationships should look like. After all, “Brotherhood can mean hatred and murder as easily as anything else.” And the eldest brother’s treatment of their sister is in keeping with cultural norms, which comforts neither her nor Tai Chen. Other relationships run in parallel, explored less but reinforcing the themes. For example, the warring brothers of the barbarian tribes to the north, or the vaguely referenced parents of Spring Rain, who sold her to a pleasure house – which is, she reflects, a better life than what might have chanced otherwise. We even see a patricide – probably the ultimate crime in this society which so strongly venerates fathers and other ancestors. By contrast, the presence and influence of mothers is startlingly weak. Indeed, they do not really appear in the story at all. Instead, they are, occasionally, referenced by characters whose primary relationship remains with their fathers. One of the more significant references notes that “Second Mother, their father’s only concubine, was childless” and that this was an advantage for the children, “because she diverted all of her considerable affection to them and the general’s two women did not have competing children as a source of conflict.” (Not that this spared the family from conflict.) Meanwhile, although the Emperor’s heir, Shinzu, is a significant character, of his mother it is only noted that “The empress was invited to follow her own clear inclination… and withdraw to a retreat outside [the capital].” Yet in this weakness, or absence, Kay shows the role of women in the society of Kitai more clearly than he does with his more major characters, such as the Emperor’s “Precious Consort,” Wen Jian, or Tai’s sometime paramour Spring Rain, whose influence over men temporarily – while young


and attractive – grants them a large measure of power. But there are limits; even the consort of the Emperor, with greater influence than any other woman in Kitai, is not involved in all matters. “Women did what they did behind such scenes as this – not among a council tasked with running an empire” as it faces a new challenge. The second question is the meaning of a story. How important are plot, the flow of events, the internal change of a character which contributes to a resolution? This question arises through the contrast between the first–rate characterization and setting and the less effective handling of plot and pacing.

UNDER HEAVEN by Guy Gavriel Kay


The real weakness is that Shen Tai, the main character, is more an observer than an actor. Despite his dislike of being acted upon, he fails to live up to the buildup. He thinks “Either he was a puppet… or he had some control over what was happening.” Soon, he “realized… That he could do this…” But he never really exercises any such control over what happens. Despite his 250 highly–desired horses, his background from a prominent family, his coaching from a movie-star famous poet and from the women in his life, he never makes a critical choice with any influence on greater events. Indeed, as the story goes on, he is occasionally replaced as observer by nameless future historians – an interesting device that shows cultural flavour the first couple times it is used, but which grows stale quickly. This is not Kay’s first protagonist to be more observer than driver of events, but because of the way Tai’s abilities and contacts are built up, and because we are privy to his desire to be more in control, the reader is lead to expect something different, something more. Chekhov would not be pleased.

a near–hermit for almost two years. Similarly, his sister’s story also begins slowly, the scene set perhaps at too great a length. Shen Li–Mei shows strength, and has some minor influence on her own story (like Tai), but remains primarily swept along by men throughout (as Tai is by men and women). Only in the fast–forward account in the end do her choices impact larger events, but by this point the narration has created so much distance we are no longer caught up in her personal story, or Tai’s. The parallels between the two are in places quite strong but in other places become forced. Nevertheless, they both stand out as distinct characters, casting light on Kay’s world. Meanwhile, those characters who more greatly influence events – the consort, the heir, the illiterate general – are vividly drawn as Tai encounters them. They spring to life on the page, but we are not privy to their minds, and they leave the book much as they entered it. Despite Tai’s failure to exercise control over what happens, Under Heaven works on several levels. Kay remains an extraordinary writer; characters, places, an entire society spring to life. Themes of family, ambition and the necessity to adapt to circumstance are explored. This is a good book, well worth the read – but one that falls short of being great.

That is not to say that Tai fails to change. He does change (as Kay unfortunately feels compelled to tell the reader, in case we missed it), and grow. It is a little unclear how he changes from ‘old normal’ as opposed to how he changes from the state in which we first meet him, having been





It is no coincidence that the title of Marianne Apostolides’ recent collection of creative non-fiction is directly inspired by the epigraph she uses to preface this slim volume. Taken from Roland Barthes, it reads “It is the misfortune (but also perhaps the voluptuous pleasure) of language not to be able to authenticate itself. The noeme of language is perhaps this impotence, or, to put it positively: language is, by nature, fictional.” Her agenda, it seems, is clear: to challenge the limits of non-fiction while simultaneously doubting the existence of the genre. Complicating the issue are questions of authenticity, memory, and shame, among others. The author revisits such preoccupations again and again in this collection of nine loosely related stories, with mixed results. The thematic core of the collection centers on the author’s father, who came of age during the Second World War and the Greek Civil War, and is the inspiration for three stories: The Subject of the Game, Two Dialogues: On Bravery; and You, the first and last of which bookend the collection. Not only do these texts address the legacy of such trauma but they also provide insight into the process of writing and of becoming a writer (or as the author frames it the truth about the writing life). Indeed, Apostolides reveals the almost cannibalistic quality required of writers to wrest memory into art, narrative out of life. As she writes in The Subject of the Game, These are the scenes in his life. This is not a ‘scene’ in literature. There are no scenes; there is no narrative – beginning and end, cause-and-effect, climax and denouement. There are, instead, details […] A boy in rags; forty people in a circle. These are memories. And this is how we play the game. He gives me memories – an image or sensation, a physical moment – and I construct a scene. I make, of him, a work of literature. Later, in You, this process is similarly revisited as one of consumption as an unnamed figure repeatedly goads the author “Drink

it up, Marianna. Drink up the stories […] I offered you drinks which you took from my hands. One, then another. You drank them sloppy. Drink up the stories, Marianna”. The intersection of memory and art presented here, with its undertones of violation and artifice, reiterates the conflict faced by writers of supposed non-fiction, especially those who would aim to construct a narrative from another’s experiences. These twin themes of storytelling and exploitation are similarly revisited in What We Do for Money, which recounts the author’s interview with a prostitute in a Nevada brothel - conducted as part of her thesis research while enrolled at Princeton. In this scenario, though the ostensible intent of the research seems focused on empowerment - “She wanted to explain, I think. She wanted to understand her own metaphor, her story: I definitely wanted to elicit it.” Matters of female sexuality and desire are also explored in Layers, Coming of Age, and Like a Cat, which center on failed affairs, preadolescent shame, and the author’s stint as a part-time belly-dancer, respectively. Once again these stories also focus on the creation of narrative, with Layers opening with the note “Red ants and rain; stained skin and rough hands; a man’s voice, a woman’s moan. These are my memories of that day. They wouldn’t become a story for twenty-five years.” Perhaps the most interesting of the three is Like a Cat, a tale that can be neatly paired with What We Do for Money, in which the author reveals “I danced for the money, an envelope packed with cash: that’s obvious. But it was more than that […] I danced to seduce him with the story I’d tell – the way I’d use the story to bring him to me, the woman, the character portrayed.” In these lines the author serves to blur the distinction between author and character, non-fiction and fiction, again challenging the boundaries of both genres. As with most short story collections the selections present in this volume vary in quality as well as general interest. Coyote Pup, which revisits a conversation between mother and child falls flat and comes across


Despite such occasional missteps, it must be said that her stories do benefit from re-reading. A greater appreciation unfolds for each individual story when considered as part of the whole. Indeed, Apostolides is a fine writer who manages to successfully explore and subvert the meaning of an entire genre of literature, an accomplishment notable for any author, and it will be interesting to see what she writes next.



as occasionally self-indulgent. Layers, too, reads a little dull. Meanwhile Boxes, a story about a man being let go from his job, seems to belong to another collection altogether. Even Two Dialogues: On Bravery, which includes transcripts of conversations between father and daughter, flounders despite its intriguing subject matter. Whilst the dialogue itself could stand alone the author juxtaposes it with philosophical discussion, which though reflective of shared Greek roots merely comes across as unnecessary and somewhat pretentious.



Hobbes: How come we play war and not peace? Calvin: Too few role models. (BILL WATTERSON)



Noah Richler, in What We Talk About When We Talk About War, paints a picture of a Canada that is unsure of which role it is trying to model—that of peacekeeper or warrior. In his book, Richler attempts to ask: “Can it be that the character of a nation becomes something else entirely in [a decade] or did it never truly veer much from what it was?” While much of the book deals with this (including a selective history of Canada at war and its politics, and discourse about the mission in Afghanistan from military and altruistic angles), Richler veers away from the question with a long aside about epic narratives and hero mythology. The sections of the book dealing with these latter topics were confusing to read and did little to strengthen the argument. Richler starts his book with a personal story about playing war as a child: As children growing up in London, England, in the early 1960s—about as far away in time from the end of the Second World War as Canada is today from Jean Chretien’s first turn as prime minister, the Oka Crisis and the introduction of the GST (which is to say not far at all)—my sister Emma and I used to collect Action Men, the soldier dolls called G.I. Joes in North America. We had a lot of them, and made extra props, clothes and, in our backyard, whole installations of trenches and a No Man’s Land from the broken ones on whose plastic limbs we’d paint blood using red paint from our model airplane kits (Spitfires, Messerschmitts, Junkers, Lancasters and B-1 bombers). We had officers’ quarters, a mess tent and, behind the lines, a bar for time off. This story seemed to set the stage for a conversational book about what we as individuals talk about when we talk about war given our own experiences, biases, and media consumption. Disappointingly,

as I continued reading, I learned that the “We” in the title is not you, me, Richler, and our peers, it is politicians, selected newspaper columnists, and a certain flamboyantly dressed hockey commentator with only passing inclusion of a more general subset of Canadians. This definition of “we” allows Richler to paint a picture of Canada at War that fits the narrative he is trying to create. It also gives the biased remarks of certain individuals yet another platform for dissemination (Don Cherry’s “left–wing pinkos” comment for example). Richler tries to draw a picture of national identity based on the actions of the government, but I struggle to believe that this is a fair assessment of the thoughts and values of Canadians when only 39% of voters (roughly 12% of the population) voted for the current government1. Furthermore, when discussing how the war is covered by various media outlets he ignores an important component—the people consuming the media— making sweeping generalizations from the coverage (or lack thereof) about what Canadians think and feel. When he does discuss average citizens (in this case fans at hockey games) it is to mock them and portray them as lemmings: “More than honouring the valour of the soldiers, their gestures say, ‘Look what a good and proud nation we are’ and ‘See how good and proud I am,’ without having to incur any cost or real exploration of whatever it is we are defending, what it is we are ‘standing guard against.’ ” While I think it is interesting to discuss the value and meaning in ritual and common experience, I feel that Noah Richler too quickly dismisses these acts of remembrance at hockey games as meaningless. These types of experiences can be powerful for some individuals and help to create common experiences which can build community for all in attendance. While it may not be the most tangible way for individuals to be involved in the War in Afghanistan, it will, even if just for a moment, connect them to the world around them both in the arena and beyond.

1. Information from the Elections Canada website. PAGE 49



Noah Richler paints the Conservative Government as myth makers, who through carefully chosen words, actions, and allies have worked to create their desired myth about the Canadian role on the world stage and specifically in Afghanistan. Richler portrays mythmaking as a distasteful activity for a government, and states: “Myths distort the truth, not least through omission” referring to the details of the situation in Afghanistan that were glorified by the government and the press and those that were not mentioned. Much like the Conservatives, Richler carefully omits reference to facts that disrupt the myth he carefully creates of Liberals as peacemakers and Conservatives as proponents of the Warrior Nation. While carefully describing how the Conservatives bolster the case for war, he ignores the fact that the government was Liberal throughout the course of World War II, The Korean War, and he tidily explains away the fact that it was a Liberal government that took us into Afghanistan. Richler attempts to look at Canadian military history critically, and sometimes succeeds and sometimes doesn’t. It is often unclear if he is stating the political bias of others or himself. He frequently includes biased political asides that take away from his argument and bring into question his ability to be seen as an objective author. He tries to argue that the Conservative Party’s stance on the gun registry is linked to the war in Afghanistan, completely ignoring issues prevalent in this debate such as the urban–rural divide in the country, and makes snide comments about the PMO’s constant changes to the government’s moniker. Throughout the book, I found that Richler often contradicts himself. One example of this is when he states that a lapse of time is necessary for war based humour to be accepted and successful, but then later argues that the lack of Afghanistan based humour is an example of how we have become a warrior nation. To me it seems like the lack of humour about the conflict is simply due to the fact that not enough time has passed. One of the most popular examples of war based humour

(which was omitted from Richler’s discussions) was M*A*S*H, which in all its forms (novel, movie, and television show) occurred long after the end of the Korean War. Throughout reading this book I often found myself getting ahead of the author and getting frustrated at what seemed to be glaring omissions from his arguments but were really ideas that he presented after I had started debating what he was trying to say. For instance, while discussing war films, he presented numerous examples of films that did not show the true horror of warfare before mentioning Saving Private Ryan, negating much of the point he had been making. Richler also did this when he suggests that humanitarian work—peacekeeping—never lost its appeal with the Canadian public after a very long section suggesting the opposite. Richler often refers to the publicity campaign surrounding the war in Afghanistan as undertaken by the federal government as if this is the first time a government has ever used spin and propaganda to craft the public view of an armed forces mission. While he does effectively show how the propaganda evolved over time with changes in the central message to Canadians, the tone he takes distracts from the evidence as he appears arrogant about the novelty of his insight. This is especially true when he discusses the language used to talk about the war. Newspeak is nothing new (although Richler implies that it is), and contrary to Richler I would argue that it doesn’t fool anyone. He discusses at length how the government could no longer refer to the War in Afghanistan as a war as soon it was clear that there would be no clear cut victory, but what Richler ignores is that a simple change in wording would not change anyone’s opinion of the war, why Canada is there, or what Canada is trying to accomplish. While I have many complaints about Richler’s book, there were also some interesting aspects. One of the most interesting points he makes in the book is about the treatment of fallen peacekeepers versus the treatment of fallen police officers and soldiers. I was previously unaware of the




disservice that we as a country have done to the men and women who have served during peacekeeping missions as their deaths have been barely marked in the public sphere. Richler sees this as an element of being a Warrior Nation, that we glorify those we have labeled warriors while diminishing peace makers, but I disagree. The lack of honour being bestowed to fallen peacekeepers is a horrible injustice but it is not a direct result of the support shown to fallen police officers. Much of the support shown to police officers killed in the line of duty stems from a public reverence due to the fact that the officers were directly serving them at the time of death, and the camaraderie that the events following 9/11 created among North American police and fire services. Unfortunately peacekeepers are simply not a part of this mutual support group.

Overall, Noah Richler raises some interesting points both about our history as a nation trying to make peace with war and the current political situation in Canada, but his biased writing style and unnecessary tangents take away from his central argument to the point where the reader is no longer confident in what that was. Canada’s current path is an uncertain one, but I hope with time we will once again be an international model of peace.

Although there is significant political bias in the book, there were some insightful criticisms and critiques made by Richler. He suggests that much of the behaviour of the Conservative Government might be based on a lack of confidence in itself and platforms. This seems fitting with many of the actions of the government both outlined in this book and otherwise. The Conservative Government’s aggressive behaviours about issues such as refugees (discussed by Richler to make a different point), environmentalists, and their opponents can all be viewed as coming from a place of insecurity. For instance, they oppose refugees as they are not confident of what it means to be Canadian, they oppose those whose opinions differ from their as they are not confident in their views, and they oppose their political opponents because they are not confident in their place as Canada’s government. For Canada to move confidently into our future roles on the international stage we will need to be lead by confident leaders, and Noah Richler casts doubt on the Conservative Party’s ability to provide this leadership.





At this moment, without looking, do you know beyond a doubt where your car keys are? Where is your wallet? Do you remember what every item is on your grocery list? Moonwalking with Einstein by Joshua Foer can help you with only one of these three. Moonwalking is part memoir, part analysis of memory, beginning with Foer covering the 2005 USA Memory championships for Slate magazine, and ending with him competing in it one year later. The body of this book is a combination of the science of memory, the history of the art of memory, interviews with various experts, case studies, and Foer’s personal story of learning the techniques required to compete in international memory competitions. In many ways this book places itself at the intersection of two popular memes – the brain and expertise. Foer’s training as a journalist is clear as he writes engaging narratives to explain the science he shared in this book. Because of this non-technical background, some of the deeper details of the biology were left out, but that’s likely to be missed only by a fraction of those reading this book. Foer relied on the “story-study-lesson” methods of science writing, which made this an enjoyable read. But Foer took his journalistic sensibility and expanded on what the existing science literature details and interviews as many experts and case studies as he can track down. I appreciated that Foer went to the effort to track down ‘EP,’ who is a major case study in memory loss, and spent time with him and interviewed him on top of providing a review of his known case history. This book is full of excerpts from interviews Foer conducted as he worked on this project over the year it took place, making it clear Foer did far more than spend his time in his basement studying sheets of random numbers and speed memorizing decks of cards. With regards to the elements that one could take away from this book, I did not find it full of great advice that I could instantly use. I don’t think this was the intention, but with all the reviews around talking about how “practical” a book this was, I was hoping to have a few more tips to take

away from it. One well-written piece of advice is his section on “Chunking”. What is great about his writing here is that while he is detailing a memory technique for his reader, he is also setting up the great philosophical paradox of memory: it takes knowledge to gain knowledge. Chunking is a way to decrease the number of items you have to remember by increasing the size of each item. Chunking is the reason that phone numbers are broken into two parts plus an area code and that credit card numbers are split into groups of four... The classic explanation of chunking involves language. If you were asked to memorize the twenty-two letters HEADSHOULDERSKNEESTOES, and you didn’t notice what they spelled, you’d almost certainly have a tough time with it. But break up those twentytwo letters into four chunks—HEAD, SHOULDERS, KNEES, and TOES—and the task becomes a whole lot easier. And if you happen to know the full nursery rhyme, the line “head, shoulders, knees, and toes” can effectively be treated like one chunk... Notice that the process of chunking takes seemingly meaningless information and reinterprets it in light of information that is already stored away somewhere in our long-term memory... If you spoke Swahili and not English, the nursery rhyme would remain a jumble of letters. In other words, when it comes to chunking—and to our memory more broadly—what we already know determines what we’re able to learn. Foer takes this riddle—it takes knowledge to gain knowledge—to its ideal location, the school. The section began with Foer’s concern that his effort of mental training was “something like the peacock’s tail: impressive not for its utility, but for its profound lack of utility.” From this concern over the lack of practical merit, he eventually concludes that these techniques can be invaluable in a school setting. Foer explores the history of memory and memorization in school, and investigates how these techniques have been removed. He introduces a great example of the “Talented Tenth” from




Samuel Gompers Vocational High School in the South Bronx to show the results of a trained memory. The “Talented Tenth” are a select group of students that receive extra training outside of their classes to prepare for both the USA memory championship, and the ultimate test of the New York State Regents exam. In this school, teacher Raemon Matthews uses techniques espoused by Tony Buzan (one of the best known self-proclaimed “memory gurus”), that have allowed these students in a rough neighbourhood to all pass the New York State Regents exam (while the scores for the rest of the school still fall below average). This training is so effective that 85 percent of the “Talented Tenth” over the years have scored a 90 or better earning honors distinction. This chapter includes some interesting debate on the philosophy of education and the use of memorization in schools. I was initially uncertain of the value of these techniques beyond teaching these students how to pass the test, as Mathews is quoted as saying: “The memorization of quotes allows a person to seem more legitimate,... who are you going to be more impressed by, the person who has a litany of his own opinions, or the historian who can draw on the great thinkers who came before him?” When I first read that, I was concerned that the teacher only wanted his students to be able to quote the opinions of others, as if there is a dichotomy between having your own opinion and knowing history. Mathews later goes on to explain: “You make monkeys memorize, whereas education is the ability to retrieve information at will and analyze it. But you can’t have higher-level learning—you can’t analyze—without retrieving information.” Foer does provide a good distinction between the rote memory “drill-and-kill” techniques that many people experienced in school from what these students are using, but Foer doesn’t go into much detail on the generation of memory-maps, likely because they aren’t as critical for the events done in the memory competitions as they would be for students taking general standardized tests. I appreciate the skepticism with which Foer approaches the use

of a memory map as he points out “much of its usefulness comes from the mindfulness necessary to create the map... You can’t map on auto-pilot.” And, perhaps here lies the deepest truth that Foer attempts to reveal: you can’t remember something unless you are mindful about it. At the conclusion of this book I appreciate Foer’s honesty as he shows the limitations of his training. He has measurably improved on all the standard methods of evaluating one’s memory, but still managed to forget he drove for dinner and took the subway home. A few pages later Foer explains that in this year “what I had really trained my brain to do, as much as memorize, was to be more mindful, and to pay attention to the world around me. Remembering can only happen if you decide to take notice.” I love the contradictions Foer shared in this section, because it shows a reality—even as we decide to take a deeper interest in the world around us, we often slip into autopilot and resume those habits that make us forgetful in the first place. It takes a lot of mental effort to try and be mindful all the time, and all this training has its limits. This book is not a treatise on how to develop perfect memory. There are plenty of other books published making that promise. What Moonwalking with Einstein really is, is an amalgamation of all the research and training that Joshua Foer did over one year preparing for the 2006 USA memory championships. It doesn’t make for a great science or reference text, but is an engaging read that will provide a few tips to help you remember a list. I enjoyed this book, and found it quite entertaining. I understand a few more of the tools that could be used to try and memorize my grocery list, which I might have to do because I can’t seem to remember where I put down my pen.



In the Field, a novel that has received attention since winning the 2010 Metcalf-Rooke Award, is the first novel by Canadian-born Claire Tacon. Raised in rural Ontario, Tacon draws on her experience with small-town life to invest the novel with a compelling cast of characters and to convey a convincing Maritime setting. What is likely to be a memorable feature of the novel for many readers is simply its evocation of Nova Scotian life—In the Field is a quiet book, in which Tacon uses understated prose to draw out, gently and often slowly, a very human story of middle-age life, marriage, and family.

IN THE FIELD by Claire Tacon


The novel begins in downtown Toronto, where the protagonist, Ellie Lucan, lives with her husband Richard, an academically successful geology professor at the University of Toronto, and their two sons, Stephen and Luke. Although Ellie, a specialist in soil science, also has her doctorate, her recent lay-off from the University of Guelph contributes not only to an increasing dissatisfaction with her life and career choices, but to what soon becomes a difficult relationship with Richard. Much of the plot which follows revolves around their strained marriage, and the issues that arise for Ellie when she decides to move herself and her children to Nova Scotia for the summer to be near her aging mother. Returning to the setting in which she grew up allows Ellie to re-visit many of the most formative experiences of her past life, a life from which Richard, an urbanite of Trinidadian descent, is excluded. A central figure in Ellie’s past is her best friend from high school, Bernie McInnes. As the emotional and geographical distance between Ellie and Richard solidifies, Ellie grows closer to Bernie; although they eventually renew a sexual relationship that began in high school, Tacon refuses to figure it as a glamorous affair. Rather, the prosaic details and gritty realism of their sexual encounters undermine any attempt to sensationalize their tryst. What Tacon wants to explore through Ellie’s complicated relationship to both Richard and Bernie is an equally complicated relationship to her old life and her new, one that requires her to manoeuvre be-

tween “past and present versions” of herself and struggle to imagine “either interacting with the other.” One of the primary metaphors Tacon uses to frame Ellie’s interaction with these selves is her love for soil, which functions in the novel as a signal for potentially productive change or adaptability. By the end of the novel, some readers might suspect that Tacon has pushed the novel’s soil metaphor too far; in what comes off as a bit of a heavy-handed summation of Ellie and Richard’s relationship, she has Ellie conclude that because of Richard’s research, he is unprepared to face change, given that “[w]hat excites geochronologists about rock is its stasis. Unchanged, it’s a glimpse into the way things were. The less altered the rock, the more it spreads open like a mineral history of our planet.” In contrast, Ellie herself is identified with the more mutable realities of soil, the thing that “wouldn’t exist if rock never changed, if the parent material never weathered into soil, a medium for life.” Tacon extends this metaphor to Ellie’s relationship not only to Richard, but to Bernie and her past. By the end of the novel, Ellie is forced to acknowledge that she has become a tourist in her old life, someone who can never again truly belong to a community of which she was once a part: “When a soil is removed from its environment and lands as effluvium or alluvium, it becomes part of the new soil. Subjected to new weather or secondary processes, it slowly becomes unrecognizable from the original.” Although In the Field is not a novel which gives its protagonist resolution, Tacon does end it by gesturing towards a kind of redemptive potential in this instability—although much has eroded, the novel suggests that Ellie now has the resources to transmute the fragments of her past into something more hopeful, symbolized in the fire that destroys her childhood home yet which she, working together with both Bernie and Richard, is able to rebuild. One of her greatest strengths as a stylist is Tacon’s ear for dialogue, something she exhibits even when she writes through the voices of Ellie and Richard’s two young sons, Stephen and Luke. Although the narrative


remains focalized on Ellie’s consciousness throughout the novel, that the plot’s momentum is firmly located in its family drama requires Tacon to render fully not only Ellie’s character, but the characters of her sons, to whom she devotes so much of her attention. Although this means that, as a literal soccer mom, perhaps too much space is given, for instance, to describing Ellie’s play-by-play analysis of Stephen’s soccer matches, much of the appeal of In the Field is Tacon’s unhurried narration of daily life, and critical to this depiction of the quotidian is Ellie’s life as a mother. The details of daily life are also what give rise to the moments of ironic humour in the text, as when Tacon satirizes another parent at a school bake sale the family attends together as a woman who is always overfriendly to Richard, “because he’s black and she doesn’t want to seem racist.”

protagonist, but always treats her compassionately; although Ellie is not always an attractive character, she is consistently a very human one. Her achievement in so fully realizing Ellie’s character and placing her at the centre of what is nearly always a highly compelling story means that Tacon’s first novel should establish her as an emerging Canadian novelist to watch with interest.

IN THE FIELD by Claire Tacon


Tacon also merits praise for her sensitive yet honest treatment of aging. Some of the best passages in the novel happen when Tacon refuses to flinch away from the uncomfortable realities of caring for an aging parent, as when Ellie is forced to navigate between her role as daughter and care-aid: The morning of my mother’s discharge meeting I arrive early to help her get ready. She unties her gown, revealing her hysterectomy scar, her weight pooling away from it. I hold out her bra for her— it’s so old the elastic doesn’t spring back anymore. It flattens her breasts against her waist like two Phyllo triangles. Her right arm is too weak to reach around to the back to do up the hook and eye. . . . Once she’s standing, I help her put on her jeans one leg at a time. This all feels like a dress rehearsal for a future role, one which my fifteen-year absence has left me distinctly unprepared for. Ellie’s relationship with her mother—a woman she loves, yet with whom she is consistently unable to connect—is nuanced and subtle, indicative of Tacon’s interest in the often overlooked layers of human interaction. In the Field is a character-driven novel, one that neither celebrates nor censures its



“The entire plane had loomed above them like an unanswered question, like trying to think about infinity.” Recovered images from the manual of the Avro Arrow adorn the cover of Heather Jessup’s debut novel The Lightning Field, its wings framing her sensitive inquiry into the life of a family affected by the project’s cancellation. Set over four decades in Cold War Toronto, the book’s focal events occur on October 4, 1957 when Peter Jacobs’ design work on the Arrow is rolled out, Sputnik is launched, and in an obscure field Lucy Jacobs is struck by lightning.



In Jessup’s account, the termination of the Arrow project is terribly brusque, rendered in a clipped radio announcement and a stark Separation of Employment Form. The plane’s immediate dismantling then palpably portrays the devastation of job loss beneath the dreadful headline 15000 Idle, with former technicians left only to “secret away” tools, blueprints, and pieces of the plane. Given a recent run of Ottawa layoffs, this historic event hits close to home. Given the importance of its fate on the Jacobs family, let alone the nation, it is somewhat surprising that the Arrow’s flight and opening ceremony only factor into a few pages of the novel. The plane’s test flight is described in sparse and static prose: “She was soaring beautifully. Altitude of 11,000 feet. 250 knots. 40,000 separately-crafted parts. Milled metals. Pistons. Rotaries. Rivets. Cylinders. Nine-thousand-fivehundred technicians’ hands. Peter could do nothing but stand there and stare. She was in the air!” Given Jessup’s otherwise joyful attention to materiality, one would hope for a more dynamic description of this mythical aircraft and its contentious history. Instead, the plane largely serves as shadowy backdrop for a period treatment of marriage and adolescence. Developing the descriptions of the aircraft would also have made Peter Jacobs’ personal dissembling more understandable. Peter had served as a wing engineer for the visionary project, showing his enthrallment by constantly sketching on napkins and

experimenting with drinks. Jessup handles Peter’s unique idiom with respect, acknowledging the love infused in his tasks despite his inexpressiveness. “Blueprints were the only kind of love letters Peter knew how to write,” the narrator recounts as Peter helps his son with a school science project. Ironically cast as an aerophobe, after the project cancellation Peter proves unable to entertain possibilities beyond a dreary local graveyard shift. Such confinement only accentuates his awkward flight from Lucy and their three children while his character becomes increasingly opaque to the reader. While the narrator’s reticence is likely by design, it is difficult to sympathize with a character whose actions we observe without the richer internal descriptions afforded to others. Peter’s distance takes its strongest toll on his wife Lucy, whose loyalty to her family is in sustained tension with her awakening to “some kind of mild and insidious suffering” amidst the comforts of her bourgeois existence, making her a ready audience for The Feminine Mystique as the years progress. Jessup is incisive about the absurdities of suburban life in a manner reminiscent of novelist Richard Yates. Even with commensurate tragedies, however, Jessup’s humour doesn’t have the same hard edge; she risks a certain joy in the midst of settled life, more open to her characters’ alternate fulfillments. Lucy’s bland despair is disrupted by a lightning strike en route to the Arrow’s rollout ceremony, miraculously survived through the aid of a stranger she believes was a priest. In contrast to Peter’s blunt refusal to investigate the causes or potential alternatives to his vocational tragedy, Lucy remains restless about the meaning behind her scars. Holding out such belief provides fertile ground for Jessup, whose doctoral studies at the University of Toronto deal in the relation of truth to fiction. In this book, she sets up a rich interplay between imagination and memory, particularly shown as the children envision the


field where their mother’s body lay: In the long grasses they saw her body. Her milky limbs burnt with river lines. Ashes from the fruit tree floated down beside her and she was a map, like the soft folded paper of Toronto and Townships in the back seat. There were a series of roadways and byways on her, tributaries where the lightning had been. Beneath the crinoline of her dress, which was crushed now and singed, was a journey. As lightning strikes often leave their survivors with no visible signs, and as priests become more incredible in Canadian culture, Jessup has skillfully arranged this query in historical fiction to explore the tenuous nature of belief—in self, family, and, perhaps, beyond.



Jessup writes with the winsome eye of a poet, relishing in material details through Lucy’s character. Although sensing confinement by the beige bricks of her cookie-cutter home, the lightning strike jarred her into a new clarity about the stuff of life, about which she exudes during a fraught anniversary dinner: I just thought of things at first. Oranges. The taste of oranges. The waxed tips of my father’s moustache. Irises. Those silver buckles on Rose’s overalls. Dandelions. How everyone thinks they’re weeds, except children. The satisfying shuuk of opening the lid on a jar of crabapple jelly made the autumn before. The colour of one red umbrella I once saw amongst all the black ones walking down Bay Street…Then I thought of the men, like you, who still haven’t found good work since the Arrow. I thought about our children, our marriage.

“[b]ut what Lucy didn’t know was if a wedding or a death happened at the beginning of a play, how could you tell which one it would be?” Throughout the story, Jessup shows a deft, even hand, interweaving the tragic and comic without forcing a final explanation. Still, some occasions risk contrivance. Andy, the Jacobs’ son beleaguered by domestic strain, once visits his girlfriend for consolation as Leonard Cohen’s “Sisters of Mercy” happens to play in the other room. Elsewhere, these placements draw more appropriately slant correspondences with events, such as when an anticlimactic rendezvous between estranged friends is narrated by a Dickenson poem. Jessup’s clear-eyed depictions of family tension and the abrupt threat of death set in bold relief her joy in human connection, however it comes. Following one devastating occurrence, a reflection on the ephemeral nature of life moves into a lament that “Nobody writes home enough. Letters with real stationary and pens…” It is particularly meaningful that this book is itself such a letter, with the epigraph dedicating the work to Jessup’s parents. Its material form has been superbly rendered—as should any lasting correspondence—by a handsome Gaspereau design, letterpress, and original font. The questions raised by failed vision and personal tragedy still cast their shadows half a century after the Arrow’s cancellation. Jessup’s promising debut responds with courageous gratitude for that elusive but persistent miracle we call home.

Lines like these make it understandable how another character describes depression, even hell, as “the absence of texture.” These happy particulars are not set as an answer to the family’s pain, but are simply juxtaposed with it. As a child studying drama, Lucy had been told that weddings and funerals marked a particular genre,





Andre Farant

Life360 is an app that allows parents to keep tabs on their children. Rather than phoning to ask where the kids are, the parent simply requests a ‘check in’ and the child responds by disclosing his or her exact location via GPS coordinates. Life360 is marketed as a security app, designed to enhance child safety, but, given the inclination, any parent could track his or her entire family’s movements on a day-to-day basis. If a family were to combine Life360 with apps and online services like—which allows the user to track his or her spending habits—and the “I Ate This” group on Flickr—a group for people who enjoy taking photos of every meal they consume before they consume it—a Data Map of that family’s every meal, purchase, and trek to the park could be generated and maintained with little difficulty. This information, though it might be of some interest to a curious mother or father, would be of great worth to a sociologist, municipal government, or corporation. As a society, we are finding newer, better, more easily accessible ways to track our behaviour by digital means, yet our awareness of what these practices may mean has not kept up with the technology that makes such tracking possible. In The Virtual Self, Nora Young examines the uses and potential abuses of self-tracking and living digitally. Young begins the more extreme side of selftracking, with the kind of people who use a variety of digital tools to track the miles they have biked, walked or run, the calories they have burned, the minutes and seconds they spent on any given website, or reading a book, or watching television. She professes to have dabbled in such tracking, mostly limited, it seems, to tracking her cycling and work habits, but the extent to which she quantified her own behaviour is never made clear and the results never shared. It would have been interesting to know how her experiments affected her daily routine, if at all. An A.J. Jacobs level of immersion would not have been necessary, but some anecdotal evidence, straight from the source, could have been both entertaining and enlightening.

Instead, Young focuses on what appears to be a major concern of hers: the disembodying nature of self-tracking. She worries that reducing our behaviour to numbers, numbers that can be graphed and charted, will lead to a disconnection with the body. She brings up “e-mail apnea”, the anticipatory holding of the breath that accompanies the discovery that one has received a new e-mail, describing it as one might a serious respiratory ailment but never explains how it might differ from the anticipatory holding of the breath that might accompany, say, the ringing of the doorbell, a tense scene in a book, or any other pleasant surprise. Hers is an oddly able-ist view; if an able-bodied person is in danger of losing connection to his or her body through the use of self-tracking tools, might a person with chronic pain lessen his or her suffering by similar means, by pushing him or herself into the virtual world and away from the pain? Young’s fear of the unmooring effect of digital tools is a refrain to which she returns throughout the book, so much so that she brings to mind lateVictorians and their fears of the soulsnatching properties of photography. Young is far more convincing when she examines what she calls the doppelganger, the twin self we create through the use of social networking tools. While apps like Nike+ reduce their users to the quantifiable results of their workouts, social networking sites like Facebook, LinkedIn, and Twitter, allow users to create a literal virtual self, one constructed only of that information we wish to share—or so we hope. We can, to a degree, shape our online identity, by choosing what we upload to Flickr, what we tweet on Twitter, what we share on Facebook, but, as Young points out, the greater our online presence, the more easily others can fill in the gaps left in one online profile with information from another. As an example, Young brings up a study through which researchers could determine a service user’s sexual orientation simply




by combining data from two services. What had been omitted from one site was included in the other and, when placed one atop the other, formed a more complete picture.

Young mentions that new industries and careers would be engendered by such technologies but, unfortunately, she does so only in passing. It’s a topic that seems to beg for elaboration and what suggestion she Young makes it clear that it is unlikely that a does make—combining a fine arts degree robber, for example, will follow you on Twitter, with one in statistics—is not only a good wait until you tweet that you have left home, one, but makes one wonder exactly how else then take a crowbar to your windowsill. It is the blending of seemingly disparate fields also unlikely that someone might stalk you might feed our society’s need for new methusing Foursquare, but the implications should ods of self-tracking and, just as important, at least lead to careful scrutiny of one’s usage new methods of tabulating and presenting of social networking sites. Governments should the massive amounts of data generated by legislate what can and cannot be shared by our tracked behaviour. The possibilities the companies behind these sites, and those seem endless and Young pushes the reader companies should exercise a certain level of to come up with his or her own scenarios. corporate responsibility when putting our data to their use, but we must keep in mind In fact, this seems to be one of Young’s that governments are often a few steps behind greatest strengths: the ability to foster the technology they are being asked to cora dialogue with her readers. She has an ral, and we must always remember that the easy, casual style that is more conversaservices we love so much, those fancy sites that tional than it is lecturing, as though simply help us keep in touch with friends and famthinking out loud, letting you listen in. She ily, were initially designed to help companies tosses out ideas and lets the reader run with sell us more stuff. Whether we keep in touch them. In this way, The Virtual Self serves with our middle-school crush is irrelevant to as an excellent introduction to topics and these service providers, whether we “Like” a themes that already are of great importance particular television show, however, is of great to our society and culture. At times, she importance to them. In the end, the responfrustrates by not taking those ideas to their sibility is ours, and we do better when poolend, appearing to leave deeper examination ing our opinions together, creating a larger of these issues to later thinkers and writpicture from our individual, smaller ones. ers, but one could argue that she is looking not to resolve but to highlight. She raises The section on the power of aggregating data, important points but is not so bold as to creating Data Maps not of a single person and think she has all the answers, rather she his or her behaviour, but the behaviours of doz- makes it clear that answers will not come ens, hundreds, or even thousands of people is from a single source, but from any and all where the book truly takes off. Similar themes who choose to participate in the shaping of were explored by Don Tapscott and Anthony said answer. In the end, the Virtual Self is a D. Williams in their book, Wikinomics. Though call to arms, a challenge to take responsibilYoung does not use the term herself, the ity for one’s data, the way it is shared, and combining of Data Maps drawn from a variety the effect it is permitted to have on society. of sources—be they individuals or groups—is a form of Crowd Sourcing. It can be used to shape and strengthen a message, to place pressure on governments or corporations without resorting to “occupying” anything, or increase efficiency in any number of areas. Young’s examination of the ways by which such consolidation of data might affect the design of parks, roadways, and even entire cities is fascinating.




RU by Kim Thúy (English Translation by Sheila Fischman)

“Ru” in Vietnamese means lullaby, and in French it is a small stream, or a flow of tears, blood, money. Such a title is appropriate for Kim Thúy’s poignant novel, which admires a Canadian cultural fabric enriched by the migratory stories of refugees and immigrants. The poetic cadence of prose in Ru is haunting and refreshing; it departs from the facades and embellishments so often placed on historical retellings and instead truthfully narrates a heartbreaking and celebratory tale. Originally written in the French, Ru is made available to English speaking readers by distinguished translator Sheila Fischman, who is able to capture this love letter to Canada in all of its tenderness and poetic musings. The runaway bestseller in Quebec, made available in 15 countries around the world, won the Governor General’s Literary Award in 2010. While the semi–autobiographical novel is inspired by personal recollections, Thúy commented in a CBC interview earlier this year that she hoped to capture the collective experience of Vietnamese refugees. Her prose is homage to those who have shown courage: the refugees who have survived much hardship and the Canadian people who have embraced the homeless. The novel begins by heralding the inauspicious birth of Nguyen An Tinh during the Tet Offensive of 1968, when the People’s Army of Vietnam launched forces against the Republic of Vietnam, the United States and their allies. Throughout the turbulent early days of the Year of the Monkey, “fireworks exploded polyphonically along with the sound of machine guns.” War and peace are not opposites, protagonist Nguyen muses, as she reflects on the war and its aftermath, “[they] are actually friends, who mock us. They treat us like enemies when it suits them, with no concern for the definition or role we give them.” This candid statement becomes the backbone of the novel as Thúy explores a myriad of tensions and competing desires that are part of the human experience.

The most profound tension explored is the journey of self–identification, influenced both by past classifications and present realities. In Ru we are confronted with a character who aims to straddle multiple cultures and identities concurrently. From a palatial residence in Saigon, to an overcrowded refugee camp in Malaysia, to a welcoming city in Québec – Nguyen grapples with questions of identity. As a child, Nguyen views herself simply as an extension of her mother, by name and custom; she is distinguished from her mother’s name by a single dot. These almost interchangeable names, confirm for Nguyen that she is to be her mother’s sequel, the one who would “continue her (mother’s) story.” But Nguyen’s privileged childhood in South Vietnam is abruptly ended by political turbulence and the need to flee the country. When she arrives in Canada, she finds herself stripped of identity with a name reduced to a sound “strange to the French language.” At ten years old, Nguyen is confronted with the necessity to cultivate an identity apart from her mother, one that is true to her history and her future. The residents of Granby, a small town in Quebec, lighten this otherwise arduous process of self–identification. From her first welcoming teacher who, like a mother duck, brought Nguyen to a haven of “colors, drawings, trivia,” to an outgoing new friend, Nguyen begins to embrace a Canadian identity. As she shakes off her Vietnamese timidity, she is able to free her voice “from the folds of [her] body so [that it reaches her] lips.” Not surprisingly, when Nguyen returns to Vietnam for a work term, she realizes that she no longer belongs to the Vietnamese culture; “I no longer [have] their fragility, their uncertainty, their fears,” she confides, the “American dream [has] given confidence to my voice, determination to my actions, precision to my desires, speed to my gait and strength to my gaze.”



RU by Kim Thúy (English Translation by Sheila Fischman)

The focus on identity and purpose, age–old philosophical questions, draws the reader to Nguyen’s internal struggle. While few can identify with the experiences of a refugee or immigrant, all have wrestled with conflicting desires and understand the satisfaction that comes with the moment of resolve. Throughout the novel, Thúy is demonstrating that life cannot be divided into black and white segments, nor can a present identity be completely separated from history. The act of being is reliant upon the process of becoming. In the novel, Nguyen narrates that when her family fled Vietnam, unlike other parents who hid gold and diamonds in their children’s teeth, she received a pink acrylic bracelet with diamonds to safeguard. “Teeth and hair are the roots, maybe even the fundamental source, of a person,” Nguyen’s mother rationalized. Indeed, it is these vignettes, stretching far back into childhood, that give life and purpose to the protagonist and also root her identity. Although Nguyen embraces the American dream as a contributing factor to her new–founded Canadian self, she is careful not to abandon the past. Her bicultural children, Pascal and Henri, are spoon–fed stories of Vietnam and of the overcrowded Malaysian refugee camp holding 2000 refugees when it was only meant to hold 200. These pieces of her formative years are told, she explains, “to keep alive the memory of a slice of history that will never be taught in school.” This slice of history, like the tales of other immigrant groups, enriches Canadian multiculturalism; only by understanding these stories can we appreciate our collective identity. The reflective process by which Nguyen garners knowledge of self is beautifully incarnated in Thúy’s choice of writing style. Nguyen notes that like language, which is accumulated at random, the course of learning is “atypical, full of detours and snags, with no gradation, no logic.” Thúy stylistically chooses to reflect the arduous process of learning, by enabling readers to experience history out of order, in short snippets.

Stripped of the conventional linear chronology of events to progress plot, Thúy relies on uneven and choppy page breaks that resemble the tumultuous waves of an unforgiving ocean. These breaks are skillfully woven together by one image triggering another. From a smug story on one page, about eavesdropping on the reminiscent conversations of a rich uncle, the story fluidly flows onto the next page of self–examination, prompted solely by the word ‘shadow’. This migratory writing style resembles the thoughts of a daydreamer who is undone by a smell, a picture or a phrase. Present time and memory are rid of adornments and laid bare, side–by–side, in this masterpiece that laments a war–torn Vietnam left behind, and celebrates a new beginning in Quebec. This stylistic decision enables Thúy to respectfully ignore political and social circumstances, didacticism and correctness, and instead focus on the personal experience. By doing so, she is able to explore rich concepts, such as the meaning of love, in a way that can be understood by the heart, but not necessarily the intellect. Those who rely on intellect alone often find themselves measuring the unquantifiable. For Nguyen’s autistic son Pascal, for example, love is defined by the “number of hearts drawn on a card” or by the amount of time that a parent spends with their child. Yet sometimes, Nguyen reveals, parents in desperate situations show love by willingly abandoning their children. This admission, though certainly jarring in a Western culture, is meant to compel readers to reflect more deeply on societal norms. Furthermore, Thúy’s stylistically nonconventional novel, resembling haunting poetic verse more than personal essay, enables her to convey emotion in a way that language alone cannot. Thúy’s concluding sentence at every page break is disarming, as if the novel is exhaling, and the remainder of white space on the page reminds the reader to inhale. At the end of one vignette she concludes, “when we were cold, without discriminating, without knowing the different categories, we would put one garment over


another, layer by layer, like the homeless.” The quarter page of white space remaining allows the reader to soak in the metaphoric value of the sentence before stumbling unto the next equally ravishing page. It is important that Thúy captures attention with style because the English language alone cannot bear the weight of condensing and transmitting the Vietnamese refugee experience.

Nevertheless, Thúy’s novel is worthy of attention, especially in a nation that prides itself on a multicultural identity. This love letter to Canada must be regarded for what it is: a slice of our collective history.


RU by Kim Thúy (English Translation by Sheila Fischman)

While Thúy’s recollection and depiction of the Vietnamese boat people gives a glimpse of Canada’s cultural fabric, she does occasionally attempt to address issues outside of the scope of the refugee story. Blended in with Nguyen’s childhood memories and present reality are also remarks about child sexual abuse, sex tourism and seemingly random anecdotes about friends. These diversions digress from the main focus of the novel, which is to explore the experiences of one refugee.



The pursuit of happiness—what we, along with our neighbours to the south, would claim to be a natural right as equally important as life and liberty. Happiness is more than just a pleasant feeling or a laugh shared momentarily; happiness defines our very existence. We pursue it as instinctively and fervently as a dog chases a car, often times looking much more foolish. But we can’t help ourselves; we are compelled to catch it, despite its tendency to consistently elude us. Life and liberty, we are fortunate enough to have already, but what of happiness? Just when you think you might have it, you don’t. Where is it now?

HUMAN HAPPINESS by Brian Fawcett


In his latest work Human Happiness, Brian Fawcett makes an inspiring attempt to answer this question by sharing with us the memoirs of his parents: Hartley Fawcett and Rita Surry. Through his telling of their story, Fawcett prompts us to consider the value of life, in all its goodness and badness, and the importance of having some sort of family with which to experience it. He readily admits that he did not want to construct a specific form or message in his book; instead he has honourably chosen to let the lives of his parents speak for themselves, supplementing our own personal conclusions with a few of his own that he has made along the way. Hartley was a successful businessman with an unbridled passion for constantly increasing his empire. His belief that only fools experience misfortune hints at the level of control he maintained over his, and many others’ lives. His wife Rita was as equally strong, but her empire was familial rather than corporate. She faced the restricting sexism of her era, mediated (and occasionally participated in) countless heated outbursts between family members, and triumphed over two bouts of cancer, all while still managing to hold her marriage and family together. Of course everyone has a few skeletons in their closet, but that hasn’t deterred Fawcett. “Like most people, their family histories reveal more than a few things they couldn’t—or wouldn’t—have: the contrariness of their characters, why they got so far

from home and from their families and the comforts offered. That’s why I’ve located the family closet, and have pried open its door. Out pour the skeletons—and the wild strawberries. The wild strawberries I’ll pick and try to present with their flavour intact.” Fawcett maintains a rather lighthearted perspective throughout his account. As he admits himself, “My findings are that human life is morally and physically a mess and that the future is utterly unpredictable. Thus, true happiness lies in the ability to live with ambiguity, and the road to happiness runs along those paths through the dark wood that aren’t blocked by the paralyzing blindness of ambivalence, or slicked to individual and collective idiocy by simplifications that can’t bear the sunlight.” Even in the midst of some darker moments in his parents’ history, Fawcett’s attitude is resolutely positive. He not only maintains that his parents were happier than most people but gives good evidence for it as well. Fawcett goes even further to boldly suggest that modern daily life actually divorces us from our pursuit of happiness. Technology and pop culture have made the past and future as equally accessible as the present, thus removing our ability to truly “live in the now.” The secret then, is to be able to find value in each experience as it occurs—to find satisfaction in one’s life for what it is, rather than what it could be. Much of Hartley and Rita’s happiness stemmed from this idea: you can’t necessarily always get what you want, but you can always find meaning in what you do have. However, Fawcett shrewdly recognizes that the pursuit of happiness is about more than just an optimistic perspective. In order to live happily we must first figure out how to simply live, and here he reflects on some of his more somber experiences as a means of teaching us. He knowingly admits that “for all its implacable absoluteness, death opens its witnesses to life.” Indeed it is only once someone dies that we are able to fully recognize the continuation of their life’s legacy in the quirks and mannerisms of their remaining friends, children, and


grandchildren. Fawcett describes a time when he experienced this with his father and mother when he writes, “I watched my daughter playing cards at the dining room table recently, and saw his hand move hers, and caught his sly grin on her face. Earlier that same evening, I’d found her humming as she dried the dinner dishes and it was my mother’s voice I heard.”

HUMAN HAPPINESS by Brian Fawcett


In this way, death is a universal constant that draws us together; the sharing of our lives with others leads to the perpetuation of that life. Humans may be mortal but, after reading Fawcett’s latest book, I am convinced that happiness is not. Perhaps happiness really is just a shared laugh, the secret being not in the laughter but in the fact that it’s shared.





Kaitlin Milroy

Before he accepted the position as head of English services at the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation, Richard Stursberg had a good idea of what lay ahead. No novice to the Canadian media scene, he knew that his particular plans for the revival of CBC’s English services would be the source of some contention. He suspected that he and then-president Robert Rabinovitch “were certain to be resisted within, attacked without and made to feel generally wretched.” He was not wrong. The Tower of Babble: Sins, Secrets and Successes Inside the CBC is the former exec’s first literary offering. Publicly and thoroughly vilified during his time at the helm of “English Canada’s most important contemporary cultural institution,” Stursberg shares the view from his seat, unravelling his story to the reader as he lived it: his first brush with the inner workings of the Corporation; the complexities of its mandate; the particularities of the Canadian media climate during his reign; and the challenge of implementing a new direction under substantial financial constraints of both national and international origin. In short, Stursberg sets out to build a case and a context for his managerial decisions. For those of us not familiar with the CBC’s management structure, Stursberg explains that as head of English services, it was his role to manage all facets of English media at the CBC: television, radio and emerging online platforms. In the summer of 2004, on the eve of accepting his new position, the CBC Stursberg encountered was one in decline—“bowed and diminished.” “Traditionally,” he explains to his reader, “CBC supporters argue that the problem is successive governments’ mean-spirited approaches to financing. They note—correctly—that the CBC is the worst-financed public broadcaster in the industrialized world,” save PBS and New Zealand’s TVNZ. However, he argues, “the CBC’s financial woes... are certainly not the whole story.” Instead, he concludes, and especially over the last three decades, poor strategy has

been “brought on in great measure by weak management and a corrosive internal culture.” For Stursberg, it was good news and a sort of bellows for his revival plans. The Corporation’s decline was theoretically reversible, despite the institution’s precarious financial situation. There was hope. To steer the new direction and then anchor his plan for overhaul of English services, Stursberg set an uncompromising and controversial barometer of success: viewership. He argued adamantly that if the CBC’s role was to serve Canadians, then its programs would live or die according to whether or not people tuned in. His plan, briefly, comprised three years. He would dedicate year one to briefings, regional office tours and getting to know the whole of the Corporation. He would dedicate year two to securing the all-important sports properties, and beginning the reform of CBC entertainment. Over year three, he would tackle the CBC news department, fondly monikered “Fort News.” This, at least, was the plan. There were all manner of roadblocks. Labour disputes, internal and external financial troubles, political constipation and major changes in the industry provided hurdles, hiccups and hardships in equal measure. There were doubtless many failures. But there was, according to Stursberg’s new and unequivocal barometer at least, measurement of progress and, ultimately, success, much as it went unnoticed. By the end of the season, CBC had fifteen of the Top Twenty Canadian shows. CTV had three and Global two. The season’s success showed that it was in fact possible to make Canadian programs that Canadians wanted to watch. It was possible to reverse the descent into oblivion and irrelevance. It was possible to address the number one cultural challenge in English Canada. We all breathed a sigh of relief. True to our mantra that if shows did not perform well we would cancel them, we axed jPod, MVP and Intelligence. After




the cancellations, there was moaning about our failures. We were numbskulls because the shows had not been successful, we were too precipitous with Intelligence (despite the fact its audience shrank every week), we would have nothing to replace them with—there was failure at the CBC on all fronts. What was surprising—and what continued to surprise me the entire time I was there—was that nobody gave us any credit for having turned around the audience share collapse or for beating Global in prime time. The Jeremiahs who had claimed we would never recover from the lockout seemed to have forgotten their prophecies. Stursberg’s direct style does him a great service. He admits that in instances of public address before employees and especially CBC board members, his diplomacy was often found wanting. Certainly, he avoided at all costs using the language of the public broadcaster. Nevertheless, this directness is manifest his inflexible belief in his strategy and passion for his work, and cannot be missed in his writing. Most notably, it contributes to the potency of his anecdotal passages; their humour, warmth and attention to odd details betray humanity in a cast of characters mostly unknown to Canadians unfamiliar with the workings of CBC—and Canadian media culture more generally—and transport readers to negotiating tables far-removed from their realities, but where the fates of Canadian constitutionals often hung in the balance. Most memorable perhaps is the tale of the Harlem mobster restaurant where Stursberg met with NHL Commissioner Gary Betman during a period of tense negotiations over the fate of Hockey Night in Canada. The book falters somewhat, not in the ability of the narrator to be engaging, but rather in the organization of his story. Perhaps this is due to another unapologetic facet of the author; a tendency toward full disclosure, repetition and an emphasis on message and theme over narrative line. Regardless, the structure of the book poses significant problems to a reader who is not familiar with the story. The book is divided into

sections that reflect concurrent streams of narrative, not particularly respectful of chronological order. Mid-way through the section on “Radio,” one hopes to suddenly uncover a timeline page just after the dedication, the same place where a reader desperately scans a family tree in novels of magical realism, to sort out the complex dramas of multi-generational, politicallycharged family disputes. The unfortunate parallel to be drawn is that the reader may come away somewhat disoriented. Stursberg is clear on his motivations, plans, and feelings about his time at the CBC—he often takes us through decisions chess move by chess move—but the merry-go-round of delivery leaves this reviewer wondering why he wrote the book. If we look to his title, we might draw three obvious conclusions: Absolution of sins? Divulgence of secrets? The championing of the new direction’s successes? No, perhaps not. Perhaps the author sought something a little more substantial. Stursberg, after all, has long been involved in the development of home-grown entertainment at a very high level. Before coming to the CBC, he “was happily running Telefilm Canada and attempting to finance Canadian movies that Canadians might actually want to watch.” He is a passionate and intelligent man, a fierce negotiator and a media populist. Therefore, perhaps he desired, if only in some measured way, to shout down his critics perhaps; to make an appeal to his former staff; to provide the larger public with his vision for the CBC—so great is his attachment to the institution. While you’re searching for the angle in his tale, Stursberg, a charming narrator, will undoubtedly make you smile, even if you don’t always share his view.


THE NAMESAKE Sarah Ghabrial


THE TALE OF TWO NAZANINS by Nazanin Afshin-Jam

The Tale of Two Nazanins is the story of two women; Nazanin Afshin-Jam, a sought-after humanitarian; and Nazanin Fatehi, a poor Kurdish girl from Iran; who become connected in the most unlikely way. The book is co-written by Nazanin Afshin-Jam with Susan McLelland. The Tale of Two Nazanins weaves a tale of courage, heartbreak and perseverance. By providing the reader with a personal account of the lives of both women, the narrative allows the reader to relate to the lives of both Nazanins. It also shows the reader that everyone has the power to change the world for the better, even if at times such a dream seems difficult to attain. As the reader is taken through the life of both Nazanins, it becomes apparent that both women lead completely different lives. One woman is born into poverty and faces countless obstacles which ultimately land her in prison where she faces possible execution. The other, however, leads a life of opportunity and is world renown for being the first runner-up for Miss World and a former Miss Canada. Despite such contrasts, the fate of both women become intertwined the day Nazanin Afshin-Jam receives an email pleading her to save Nazanin Fatehi from execution. The first chapter of the book brings the reader to that day. The story appears to begin by chance as Nazanin Afshin-Jam quickly skims through her many emails and suddenly comes upon the one email that changes her life. The following chapters guide the reader through the childhood of both women. Born into a poor family and being Kurdish, the desire to lead a normal, happy life is an uphill battle for Nazanin Fatehi. One cannot help but feel sorry for Fatehi as she faces constant taunting at school. Because of her family’s difficult circumstances, Fatehi is forced out of school to stay at home and take care of her siblings and do chores. Along with living a life of poverty, this young girl has suffered physical, verbal and sexual abuse. In sharp contrast, Nazanin Afshin-Jam had a happy childhood. Born in Iran and raised in Vancouver, Afshin-Jam attended school all the way to university where she obtained a Master’s degree in diplomacy. Her career as a model and her

success in Miss World gave her the platform from which she could pursue a life of opportunity. The connection both women share despite the disparities in their lives makes the story all the more interesting. Although Nazanin-Afshin Jam and Nazanin Fatehi grew up in completely different circumstances, there are a number of similarities between both women. Both Nazanins have a shared heritage in their connection to Iran. Moreover, both women have suffered under the regime, either directly or indirectly through a family member. The strong bond shared with their respective sisters is something else that the two Nazanins have in common. Lastly and most importantly, both women have dreams that they long to see come true. Nazanin Fatehi dreamed of being of a teacher, but such a dream seemed impossible to attain since she no longer attended school and as a result, did not know how to read. On the other hand, Nazanin Afshin-Jam wanted to use her success as a model to advance humanity and alleviate suffering and unlike Nazanin Fatehi, she had the means to pursue her dream. For instance, in the prologue, Nazanin makes clear to the reader how she wants to live her life: There are two types of people in this world: those who dare to dream, create and make history, and those who wait around, consume and let life happen to them. I do not want to be the latter, the bystander. The book continually emphasizes the dreams of both women. Although Nazanin Afshin-Jam and Nazanin Fatehi face different circumstances, they continually fall back onto their dreams to give meaning and purpose to their lives. The narrative of this book is captivating and the authors do an excellent job in conveying to the reader the emotions felt by the characters. There are, however, a number of aspects of this book which make it a cumbersome read. Firstly, there is a change in the writing style between the chapters on the life of Nazanin Fatehi and those on the life of Nazanin Afshin-Jam. The chapters



THE TALE OF TWO NAZANINS by Nazanin Afshin-Jam

devoted to Nazanin Afshin-Jam do not have a smooth story line and often go on long and unnecessary tangents losing the reader from the overall narrative of the book. For instance, in chapter 7, Nazanin asks her father to give her the story behind the scars on his back. Rather than providing a brief a account of the events that led to the incident, the author gives a lengthy historical backdrop of the political situation in Iran during the 1960s and 1970s. Although helpful to educate the reader on what was taking place in Iran during that period, the author could have done so in a few paragraphs so as not to lose the reader in a lengthy historical narrative. The same can be seen in chapter 11 when the author over-elaborates on who Cyrus the Great is, and in chapter 14 by the lengthy description of the a Persian fable The Return of Scheherazade. In contrast, the chapters on the life of Nazanin Fatehi do not have such tangents and as a result, are more interesting, easier to read and more relevant to the story line.

give up and persevere in hard times. For Nazanin Fatehi, her life is one of resilience and her strength throughout the terrible circumstances that she has gone through as a young girl leads one who reads her story to admire her courage and not take anything for granted. The Tale of Two Nazanins is really for anyone who is troubled by the suffering taking place in our world and who longs to do something about it.

A final critique about the The Tale of Two Nazanins is regarding the overall progression of the story line from each woman’s childhood to that fateful day when Nazanin Afshin-Jam receives the email to save Nazanin Fatehi from execution. The narrative progresses too slowly since the reader has to get all the way to chapter 20 to learn what Nazanin Afshin-Jam actually does to save the other Nazanin. The book is organized more like the biography of two women rather than the story of one woman who fights to save the other from execution. There is nothing necessarily wrong with such a narrative, however the summary of the book on the inside cover leads the reader to assume that more chapters would be devoted to the events following Nazanin Fatehi’s imprisonment rather than their lives prior. The Tale of Two Nazanins makes for a very interesting read and inspires the reader to make a difference in this world. It shows how two women have overcome insurmountable odds. Nazanin Afshin-Jam faced all obstacles head on in her fight to save the life of another woman she did not know. Her story is definitely an example to not


APOCALYPSE NOW Jacqueline Scheidl

Jeff Rubin’s The End of Growth has an apocalyptic proposition. Taking growth out of modern economics is like taking time out of history. The economies of the world, and their fiscal and monetary policies, are built on the assumption of growth. Fitful growth, inconsistent growth, slow growth, explosive growth – but growth all the same. Rubin examines the idea in two parts. The first is his proposal that growth is dependent on cheap oil and that the days of cheap oil are long gone. The second is that the end of growth, despite appearances, is a good thing.



Rubin sets out a simple economic relationship. Economic growth is dependent on constantly increasing production and consumption. Oil provides us with the energy needed to make goods, transport them, and sometimes even to consume them. Increasing economic growth means making more goods and transporting more of them domestically and abroad. It means, in short, using more oil. Oil is becoming more expensive. Growth, as a result, becomes more expensive. The source of the problem, Rubin argues, is that more and more of the world’s oil has to come from unconventional resources. Getting to oil in places like the Arctic or Alberta’s oil sands is expensive – much more expensive than if it were gushing out of the Texan dirt. This added expense reveals itself in the prices. As oil companies turn to more expensive extraction sites, oil prices climb into the triple digits. High oil prices don’t just mean more expense at the pump. Oil and its hydrocarbon friends are what allow the global economy to function. When oil prices rise sharply, it jams what Rubin terms ‘the revolving door of government debt.’ The economy stalls without cheap energy. “In the event that growth comes to a complete standstill,” Rubin says, “persuading creditors to keep financing government deficits becomes a hard sell.” Sound familiar? While explaining this relationship between debt and energy, Rubin offers a compact but fascinating look at the state of the European Union. The increase in oil prices is what stands in the way of the European Union’s recovery. The cherished hope of European

leaders, the panacea to the continent’s problems, is economic growth. If the economies began to grow again, budget deficits would disappear and creditors could be paid off. European unity would be saved and the rest of the world could breathe a sigh of relief. To fuel an economic recovery, however, the European Union needs oil. To get oil, they need the revenues from an economic recovery. And, as we already know, if they had the revenues to begin with they wouldn’t need the oil. The solution to the economic crisis, it would seem, would be to ramp up oil production in conventional areas such as the Middle East. If more of this conventional oil made it to the market, prices would lower and growth could continue. Unfortunately, Rubin dashes this hope almost as soon as it is introduced. We cannot depend on the Middle East to solve the world’s energy problems for several reasons. First, revolution is always bad for oil production. The instability of a popular uprising disrupts the flow of oil with dramatic results. Iran is still producing nearly two million barrels a day below its pre-revolution capacity. Even if the uprising produces a nascent democracy there is cause for concern. “When the polls open, the newly enfranchised masses might elect leaders who want to sell fewer barrels to Western oil consumers.” Second, they probably have less oil than they say they do. Saudi Arabia, the region’s biggest producer, claims a ceiling of 13 million barrels a day. However, Rubin argues, “the country hasn’t sustained output of 10 million barrels since the early 1970s.” Third, more and more of this oil is being consumed domestically. “Domestic oil consumption is increasing more than 5 percent a year in Saudi Arabia… to meet domestic demand that stems from subsidized gasoline that costs roughly a tenth of what drivers pay in North America.” The problem of expensive oil, it seems, is here to stay as is the problem of stagnant economies. Rubin makes a compelling case for growth coming to an end. Oil has such a hold over the world’s economies because there is no viable alternative for producing energy. Neither wind nor solar power is efficient




enough to support whole power grids. Coal is becoming just as expensive as oil and has an even worse environmental record. And no country has the political will for nuclear power after the Fukushima disaster. We have painted ourselves into a corner. There is a ray of hope, however. Human ingenuity has confounded predictions of disaster before now. It seems an uncertain thing to bet a global recovery on, but humans have an uncanny ability to find ways to avoid discomfort and expense. Eventually, people will adapt to rising oil prices. Mass transit or shared commutes will become the norm. Companies with capital will develop new ways of creating energy or of saving it. People will use less electricity. Rubin touches upon some of the possibilities in his case studies of Denmark and Japan, but treats them as interesting consequences of the energy crisis rather than the possible solution. Denmark has draped its energy costs in carbon taxes until the everyday Dane thinks twice before turning on the lights. As a result, Denmark’s carbon footprint is shrinking despite its coal plants. In Japan, society is following a general policy of energy conservation or setsuden. “Office dwellers are going without air-conditioning, while factory workers are switching off lights and machinery when they’re not needed.” These are not merely interesting novelties. They are national efforts driven by seemingly small policies and are getting huge results. If other countries take note, the world economy might yet be saved. Once growth is gone, what is the world to do? For starters, Rubin says, no one is going to be particularly friendly. It will be a return to the mercantilism of the 1500s where economics is warfare and trade is a zero-sum game. In the twilight of growth, countries will scramble for the last precious barrels of affordable oil. Countries like Russia, Venezuela, and Saudi Arabia will cut off oil exports altogether in a lastditch attempt to stave off disaster. China will flex its military and economic might to feed the energy appetite of its domestic population. Exports of most goods will no longer be viable. Countries will have to depend, by and large, on what they can

produce domestically. The foreign exchange market will drop as dramatically as trade does. Globalization will reverse. The good news? This means all those outsourced manufacturing jobs will be coming back home. Factories will open again. The Northern Gateway pipeline will not be built, which is apparently really good news for some salmon Rubin knows. The world in general will end up using significantly less energy which would let us avoid the catastrophic effects of climate change. While avoiding the wrath of Mother Earth seems a good thing and there is nothing wrong with saving some salmon, Rubin isn’t quite as convincing in the second part of his book. He envisions a world freed from the shackles of consumerism; a world where people are more content and the environment is safe. “Does anyone really like the rat race?” Rubin asks. “Maybe we all need to slow down and take a minute to breathe. Go for a walk instead of driving to the mall. Ride a bike rather than turning over an engine. Put on a sweater instead of cranking up the thermostat.” The happy future envisioned by Rubin, however, is only a small part of the larger story. Globalization, for all its faults, took civil society to the global stage. The drive for human rights, universal health care, and an end to poverty depends on this global society. Multinational charities and organizations will find it difficult to operate in a world where governments are increasingly turned inwards. The new infrastructure needed for a purely domestic economy will spend the tax dollars that used to go to international aid. An end to growth will hit developing countries the hardest. Disease, systemic instability, and sectarian violence do not go away with globalization. The developed world may be able to slash consumption and rediscover life’s simple pleasures, but what about those countries where going for a walk can get you kidnapped or where owning a sweater depends on the charity of foreigners?




With the crisis in the EU, the United States’ upcoming election, and the aftermath of the Arab Spring, The End of Growth is almost uncomfortably topical. It is well worth reading, even if only for Rubin’s examination of the relationships between Germany and Greece and between China and the United States. Fewer personal anecdotes would have been welcome, but the book is otherwise well-organized and easy to read. The looming energy crisis is presented in convincing terms but Rubin’s vision of a world that consumes less and is happier as a result seems trite. If growth does end, the transition period will be painful and possibly bloody.


LIVING SKIES Christie Esau

Readers of Canada enter Richard Ford’s somewhat bleak North American universe under no illusions: there will be a bank robbery and there will be murders—no flipping ahead to the final chapters necessary. The suspense, however, is found in how Ford will still manage to capture your attention, in spite of your knowing exactly how things will turn out in the end. Or, rather, your thinking you know exactly how things will turn out in the end.

CANADA by Richard Ford


Ford, who has been likened to such prolific American novelists as Faulkner or Hemingway, certainly takes on a daunting task in Canada: to pique and then maintain the interest of the reader, who already knows the most significant plot points of the entire novel by reading the dust jacket, or even its opening lines. After more than two hundred pages of Canada, I found interest to be a somewhat scarce commodity. Additionally, the cover art led me to believe Ford’s novel would have more hints of dystopia. Genre preferences aside, Ford’s revelation of detail is certainly what holds the novel together. As the great crux of the story has already been revealed within the novel’s introductory paragraph, what is left to discover of Canada then are the dynamic of the Parsons family. This, of course, is one of Ford’s greatest strengths: to show us, in finest and most minute detail, the ordinary goingson of human beings. That, and how they inevitably mess everything up. We discover early on how Ford feels about humanity when he writes that “[a]t the heart of schemes like this there’s always something unreasonable, the explanation of which is that human beings are involved.” Thus it appears that, ultimately, being unreasonable is the greatest weakness of us all. Not inherently unique, but certainly appropriate for this tale, is Ford’s use of vision and illusion. So often throughout Canada, we discover that narrator Dell Parsons sees something inaccurately, or is contrastingly struck with a revelation of how things should be seen. His mother Neeva Parsons, although disappointingly lost in later pages, admits that “[she has] the habit

of only seeing things the way they’re presented to [her].” A personal gripe regarding Ford’s novel is the sparing involvement with the imprisoned Neeva, as she provides such an interesting contrast to her son. Post-robbery, and shortly after his move to the desolate prairies, Dell has flashes of clarity in which he—even as a young teenage boy—begins to understand the challenge of finding happiness and satisfaction in a troubled life. To open his forty-seventh chapter, Ford writes the following: On the days when Charley did not take me onto the prairie to learn about geese, and when I didn’t stay in Fort Royal and could be alone in my shack without constant despairing, I actually began to experience the illusion of being someone who almost had a happy life and hadn’t been given up on, and who still carried on an existence that, as my father would’ve said, made sense. Oddly enough, Dell often sounds more like his present-day, adult self than an adolescent, which is a bit of a stumbling block for the overall believability of Ford’s tale. A point of appreciation for Ford’s novel, and perhaps for his work on the whole, is the lengths to which he goes to describe his characters. Bank-robbing Bev and Neeva were so well presented and explained to me that, at times, I believed they were the infinitely more rebellious alter-egos of my own parents. The Parsons became fixtures in my personal history, which certainly allowed me more space to care about their relatively-known futures. In some ways, I feel as though Canada could have been finished in two of the three parts; convincing me of the relationship between Dell’s American childhood and then his voyage to the distant land of Saskatchewan was, to say the least, a challenge. I felt solidly established in the lives of each of the four Parsons and resigning my involvement to only one of their lives left me feeling unsatisfied. I still find myself, for example, wondering more about the details of Neeva’s prison chronicle.


Ford’s brief, present-day conclusion, however, has certainly earned its keep, and provides a great final-page capstone in which adult Dell reflects on his life, saying “I believe in what you see as being most of what there is.” If I didn’t believe that perceptions and appearances were important at the outset of Canada, I certainly did by the final paragraphs. As the entirety of Canada is told from somewhat-omniscient but entirely anachronistic Dell’s point-ofview, ‘touching base’ with that narrator in this way felt very appropriate and necessary.

Despite what I believe to be a bit of a lapse in Part Two of Canada, Ford’s most recent novel certainly deserves inclusion on everyone’s ‘to read’ list, and would satisfy readers who are hungry for even the tiniest details. Neeva’s perplexed and bespectacled face, Bev’s ever-changing wardrobe, and Dell’s beekeeping exploits will linger in your mind for days.

CANADA by Richard Ford


Ultimately, the events of Canada are not complicated, and it is through Ford’s details that the story becomes utterly relatable. A once-teenager with a then-complicated family life reflecting on his or her thenindiscernible emotions? Likely a foil that could be loosely identified within many modern novels. At times, the realism of Ford’s work is advantageous: you feel as though you witness each moment alongside the Parsons family. At others, the simplicity of the events in the story seem too commonplace; bank robberies and murders should involve so much more spectacle! Though this novel showcases Ford’s composite skill in recounting real life, striking events such as murder or a robbery deserve greater recognition, especially when such events happen on the barren, lacklustre prairie.


AFTERWORD I hope you’ve enjoyed reading the inaugural issue of Foment as much as I’ve enjoyed witnessing its birth. What Daniel and his team have done in a short amount of time is remarkable. The reviews within these pages are astute, fair, and smart — not an easy feat. Literary festivals across Canada should take a cue from what’s happening here in Ottawa; I would love to see magazines such as this affiliated with every single one. If a healthy — and spirited — critical culture is to exist in this country, it will be partly because of publications such as this. I can’t wait to see Foment grow and evolve.

Mark Medley Books Editor National Post


CONTRIBUTORS David Robinson works with onesixtyfive communications and will begin doctoral studies at the University of Aberdeen this fall. He has written for Comment and Sehnsucht.

Mozynah Nofal recently graduated from the public affairs and policy management program at Carleton University, Ottawa, Canada, and will spend the summer in Cairo with her family. By being in Egypt, she hopes to be part of the new developments in her country.

Chelsea Sauvé will be pursuing a Masters in International Affairs beginning this fall. In the past, she has served as the citywide president of Hillel Ottawa and currently writes a monthly column for STAND Canada, on the peace and negotiations process in Sudan.

Jennifer Nishi hails from Vancouver, BC where she is currently an English major at Simon Fraser University. When not studying she enjoys a good cup of coffee, escaping into a great book, and adding to her ever growing book collection.

Emily Howe is going into her third year at Carleton University where she is pursuing a combined honours with a double major in English and History. She is hoping to get her masters after graduation and work towards a job in the publishing industry.

Ken Gracie is a middle-aged telecommunications engineer who (still) works for the Canadian government. He finds deep satisfaction in writing, reading, friendship, fitness, and fine single malt.

Adam Moscoe is also an award-winning actor and singer, and he has coached young adults with developmental disabilities to develop their performance skills and build self-esteem. In 2011, Adam was named one of Canada’s Top 20 Under 20 for his community leadership and advocacy. Adam is hoping to pursue a career that combines his passions for the arts, international politics and social justice.

Emma Peacocke will (with any luck) be one of the first graduates from the new PhD programme in English at Carleton University. Her dissertation examines public museums in early nineteenth-century British literature. This photo shows her tracing Lord Byron around his London haunts

Jill McMillan’s love of books has found her working in libraries, attending several universities, and now teaching. She grew up near Ottawa and has spent the last year living and working in the Canadian arctic.


Melanie Barclay is an occasional teacher with the Upper Canada District School Board. Her main focus is on education with interests including applications of psychology to education, effective teaching and learning strategies, and holistic and authentic approaches to education. Jolene Hildebrand was the Editor-in-Chief of her university newspaper and has worked in political communications. She is currently completing thesis work on David Mitchell’s fiction.

Ali Ahmed is a student at the English Department at Carleton University. He has previously written reviews on Rabindranath Tagore and Salman Rushdie.

Brian Grassie is a writer at the House of Commons. His interests include history and speculative fiction.

Katie Lutz is currently a PhD candidate in the Civil Engineering department at Carleton University studying transit planning. When she’s not racing her 1-year old daughter down the slide at the park, she can be found knitting, cycling (but not both at the same time), volunteering at Ten Thousand Villages, and contributing to the discussions at

Jim Mondry is currently working as an electrical engineer here in Ottawa. Typically found with a camera in hand, he is currently completing courses at the School of Photographic Arts Ottawa. When not snapping photos you can find him reading scientific or philosophical non-fiction, knitting projects that take way too long to complete, and trying to make his 1-year old daughter laugh. He aspires to spend more time in the mountains.

Laura Van Dyke recently relocated from Vancouver to Ottawa in order to begin a PhD in English literature at the University of Ottawa, which means she gets to read a lot of pretty great books. Her research interests are mostly with minor twentieth-century and contemporary British novels, but she also enjoys occasional forays into Canadian literature.

Andre Farant is originally from Ottawa, and received his B.A. in English Lit from Carleton University, but currently lives in Montreal. His first novel, Deer Lake, is available as an ebook everywhere, and he is currently doing rewrites on a second novel, Surviving Immortality, due out in August of 2012. You can find him at


Rebeca Besoiu has recently graduated from Trinity Western University with a Bachelor of Arts in Political Studies. She spends her time reading evocative literature, sipping green tea in local coffee shops, lamenting the end of the Victorian era and challenging her friends to Scrabble matches. Someday she hopes to write a charming novel that she will not have to self-publish. In the meantime, she devotes her creative brain to political musings.

Justin Poulsen is a Bachelor of Arts candidate at Trinity Western University, doublemajoring in Corporate Communications and General Studies. When he’s not managing the campus newspaper, Mars’ Hill, he can often be found dancing up a storm in the heart of a concert or escaping to the woods for a serene weekend of camping.

Kaitlin Milroy is an English as a second language teacher and school administrator, living in Ottawa. When she’s not reading and thinking and talking about what she’s read; she’s cooking and thinking and talking about what she’s cooked. Enthusiastic and soulful you can be sure she brings life in equal parts curiosity, wisdom and drive to whatever her project may be Sarah Ghabrial is a student studying psychology and science and is hoping to go into a career in medicine or clinical psychology.

Jacqueline Scheidl is currently attending Carleton University in the Bachelor of Public Affairs and Policy Management program. She loves John le Carré, Alexandre Dumas, and any novels of the 19th century.

Christie Esau’s time is divided somewhat equally between reading books in coffee shops and working in a century-old mansion abuzz with undergraduate students. She loves east coast United States road trips, sporadic personal blogging, and authentic conversations.

Daniel Bezalel Richardsen has deeply enjoyed starting Foment, managing the Writers Festival’s blog, and being involved with its talented reviewers and contributors. He is currently a political staffer in the House of Commons and will be pursuing a part-time graduate program in the humanities starting this July. His four loves are basketball, jazz, literature, and Judaica.


Foment Literary Review  

The Ottawa Writers' Festival Review Writing Pages 43-44 & 63-64

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