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Posts tagged ‘Canada’

Review: ‘Border Pieces’ by Pam Robertson

Border Pieces: A Morgan Winfeld NovellaBorder Pieces: A Morgan Winfeld Novella by Pam Robertson
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This exceptionally well-written book is several books in one. It’s a covert ops book and it’s a heroine’s journey book. Some readers will be disappointed when the covert ops plot and page-turning action in the first section of the book don’t continue into the next section. However, readers who appreciate characters with depth and multiple dimensions will keep reading even though (initially) the sudden change of pace is somewhat disconcerting.

I won’t include spoilers here. Suffice it to say, being a spy exposes one to injuries and other losses. Morgan and her partner Jake need time to heal and find themselves. Morgan learns that it’s one thing to heal from physical injuries and a very different matter to get her mind right and connect to skills she does not, as yet, understand or fully use in support of the missions. Understanding this is her journey, a journey made more difficult by the loss of a colleague during an otherwise successful mission.

Here readers will see a very talented, almost natural covert operative who lives and breathes the work she does, yet considers leaving the service because tragedies and other losses cannot be undone. It would be easy for her to retire and write a book about her exploits. Morgan’s grappling with her underdeveloped intuition and how to apply it in a business that’s more and more technology-based is an important part of the book’s theme. If she can figure all that out, she’ll probably become even more successful as a covert operative.

If I were an editor, I would ask for somewhat smoother transitions between the sections, especially one that shifts from an in-progress, real-time operation to a time many months later then we learn how that mission ended. I think it would have been stronger if it had been shown in real-time. However, that is my somewhat subjective feeling.

I liked the major focus of the plot on Morgan Windfeld’s personal and professional development, including her doubts and fears. This is a strong novel that appears to be the first in a series we can all look forward to following.

–Malcolm

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Jesus, a Sun Deck, a Kimono and Magical Realism

“You can imagine then how distinctly I remember the day Jesus of Nazareth, in person, climbed the hill in our back yard to our house, then up the outside stairs to the sun deck where I was sitting. And how He stayed with me for awhile. You can surely understand how clear those details rest in my memory. ” – Gloria Sawai, “The Day I Sat With Jesus on the Sun Deck and a Wind Came Up and Blew My Kimono Open and He Saw My Breasts” in ‘A Song for Nettie Johnson’ (2002)

It probably won’t surprise you to hear that this short story, first published in 1976 or 1980 (depending on which source you use), has been anthologized and discussed a great deal due to its unusual title.  I find magical realism flowing through the story while others think the author merely came up with a clever title and couldn’t do it justice. (You can read the short story in PDF form here.)

nettiejohnsonI like Morny Joy’s take on the short story in Voices and Echoes: Canadian Women’s Spirituality: “No ecstasies, stigmata, fasts undo death or masochistic indulgences for this visionary. No cloistered convent or perpetual vows of chastity in the name of a temperamental divine lover. No proclamations of salvation or indictments of this perfidious, lascivious world. Instead, a woman has a neighborly chat with Jesus on the deck of a house on the outskirts of Moose Jaw.” (You can read the rest of her commentary here.)

As Joy notes, this story “illustrates the extraordinary in the ordinary,” and that is what we expect when reading magical realism.

Within A Song for Nettie Johnson, the story is unique, for it is the only one where magic is overtly mixed with the days of the characters’ lives. Some reviewers think the story doesn’t fit and should have been left out. I see their point, but I don’t agree. This story presents another viewpoint in a collection that Cocteau Books says “examines the heartbreaking lives of people on the margins.”

Consider the book’s descriptionA group of young school students prepares a memorial for the town’s deceased doctor, at the inadvertent risk of deeply offending his widow. A young girl learns important things about herself – some of them extremely unpleasant – on a storm-ravaged Mother’s Day weekend. A woman on a road trip in search of her erstwhile husband finds instead the one thing she never expected to see again in her lifetime. A woman sitting on the deck outside her Moose Jaw home receives an unusual and unexpected gentleman caller. And, in the title story, an outcast and misunderstood woman and her disgraced lover struggle toward what may be their last chance at redemption.

canadacouncilThe short story collection won the Governor-General’s-Award in 2002. The winner’s news release said, “Gloria Sawai brilliantly creates a world in which love and light redeem human failings. With clarity, deftness and generosity, she celebrates a universe in which even the least of her characters can achieve a vision of the infinite.” The finalist news release said, “A Song for Nettie Johnson is a profoundly light-filled collection of short stories set on the Prairies and peopled with holy sinners, visionaries, children and so-called ordinary folk. The power of grace illuminates her world.”

I read this collection years ago and I think I wrote a post about it–because she is among the writers who have influenced my own writing–but that must have been in another blog because I can’t find it in the archive.  I find myself thinking of her from time to time along with her stories which, as the Canadian Encyclopedia describes them, are “filled with gentle humour. Her stories often focus on characters in pious communities, set amid the majestic extremes of weather and landscape on the prairies. They emphasize the power of grace to bring forth hope, wonder, and goodness out of circumscribed lives and straitened circumstances.” (Sawai, of Edmonton, Alberta, Canada, died in 2011 at 78 years of age.)

Here’s a brief excerpt from the story: “First He was a little bump on the far, far off prairie. Then He was a mole, way beyond the quarry. Then a larger animal, a dog perhaps, moving out there through the grass. Nearing the quarry, He became a person. No doubt about that. A woman perhaps, still in her bathrobe. But edging out from the rocks, through the weeds, toward the hill, He was clear to me. I knew then who He was. I knew it just as I knew the knew the sun was shining…And there He was. Coming. Climbing the hill in our back yard, His body bent against the climb, His robes ruffling in the wind. He was coming. And I was not ready. All those mouldy clothes scattered about the living room. And me in this faded old thing made in Japan, and drinking—in the middle of the morning.”

Perhaps some of you will enjoy this collection, the art and craft of all the selections, and the lighthearted but powerful “The Day I Sat With Jesus on the Sun Deck and a Wind Came Up and Blew My Kimono Open and He Saw My Breasts.”

–Malcolm

Malcolm R. Campbell is the author of the magical realism novella “Conjure Woman’s Cat.”

 

Review: ‘Dance of the Banished,’ a story of WWI Turkish ethnic cleansing and Canadian hysteria

Dance of the Banished, by Marsha Forchuk Skrypuch, Pajama Press (February 1, 2015), young adult, 288 pages. In her sixth book set during the Armenian Genocide, Marsha Forchuk Skrypuch’s Dance of the Banished brings young adult readers a heartbreaking account of the World War I-era ethnic cleansing in the Anatolia region of Turkey and the Canadian paranoia that sent thousands of purportedly dangerous immigrants to internment camps.

banishedArmenians, who are traditionally Christian, and Alevi Kurds, whose religious views differ from those of Sunni Kurds, predate the arrival of the Turks in Anatolia. The discord brought into the region by the Turks is a centuries-old fight. “Dance of the Banished” begins in 1913 on the brink of Turkey’s entry into World War I on the side of the Central Powers with the story of two betrothed Alevi Kurds who are soon separated by hard times and a very wide ocean.

Ali chooses to go to Ontario, Canada where jobs are available. He plans to send money home to his family and to save enough to ultimately pay for Zeynep’s passage to Ontario. She views his departure as a betrayal, as practical as it may be, and wonders if they will ever see each other again.

Subsequently, Zeynep also leaves town to work in a hospital in a Harput, a city between the Tigris and Euphrates rivers, where she is swept up into the horror of revolution, war and poverty. Ali begins work in Canada only to find himself rounded up on trumped up charges and sent to a prison camp where he’s pressed into service at a minimal age. Both wonder why they don’t hear from each other.

The book’s sections, which alternate between Zeynep’s and Ali’s stories, are presented as journal entries written in the form of letters to each other. In time, she learns that the Armenians who have been allegedly drafted to fight in World War I are being exterminated and he learns that he is part a growing group of imprisoned Ukrainians, Turks and others who came to Canada for freedom only to end up without it.

The power of this novel comes in part from the age of its two protagonists and how their view of the world is forced to change. Young and in love, they see life through a different lens than their parents and grandparents. While their focus is on being reunited with each other, their journal entries begin with typical day-to-day activities and then change from initial disbelief at the persecution around them into grim accounts of their own involvement and means of survival.

Their growing horror and their continuing hope and perseverance during the cruel years of 1913 to 1917 combine for a poignant love story and a stark account of genocide close up and very personal.

The book is enhanced by the inclusion of internment camp pictures and an author’s note about the story’s historical background.

–Malcolm Malcolm R. Campbell is the author of the upcoming novella “Conjure Woman’s Cat.”