Review: Medicine Walk –by Richard Wagamese

Medicine Walk by Richard WagameseI loved Medicine Walk. It takes place in the interior of British Columbia, in the northern Nechako region. It’s the story of a teenager, Frank, an angry 16-year-old who knows nothing of his mother and has been let down again and again by his drunkard father, Eldon. Frank lives with an old man on a farm, and has learned both farming and the ways of the land. Called into town to see his father, he finds him dying and anxious to be taken to the high country to be buried.

On the journey he finally unburdens himself of his past life, of Frank’s grandmother, his mother, and the old man. There is anger and bitterness and ultimately, forgiveness.

I’m a sucker for “make and do” books, so I loved the trail aspect of Medicine Walk, learning how to catch fish without a rod, edible flora, and how to face down a grizzly bear (that’s what you have to do, incidentally. Never turn and run: it doesn’t work).

I liked Frank very much. He’s one competent young Indian, understandably filled with anger at his father, but also the beneficiary of love and steadfastness from the old man who raised him. And the prose is a pleasure to read, tangible and almost crunchy. This is a good book.

My rating: 4 stars

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Review: . . . And the Whippoorwill Sang –by Micki Pelosi

whippoorwillSpanning more than fifty years, …And the Whippoorwill Sang is Micki Pelosi’s memoir of family life. Married at 17, she and her husband Butch raised their six kids on a shoestring, living mostly in the eastern US.

What sets this memoir apart is the warmth and wit of its author, who paints a wonderful picture of family life, and whose husband and children come across as unique and memorable individuals. But there is a tragedy interwoven into the chronicle: one of the children is struck by a drunk driver and lingers in intensive care for ten terrible days. This ordeal is related in stages through the chronological story.

I was unable to purchase …And the Whippoorwill Sang in book form in Canada, so I bought the Kindle version, something I don’t as a rule do because I have to sit at my computer to read it on a Kindle for PC. This turned out to be no hardship because the book was so easy to read. It is a wonderful, sometimes hilarious, story of life back in the sixties and seventies, and a poignant memoir of love and loss.

My rating: 5 stars

On Amazon

Whose Land Is It, Anyway?

A few years ago, I needed a filler job to pay the bills, so I hired on at a local customer service call centre. I was assigned to a contract for Highly Personal printers. My job was to help people who phoned in with problems or questions about their printers.

One day I took a call from a woman in the Bronx, Vera by name. Vera was Jewish, she told me, and wrote and produced a newsletter for Kurds.

The Middle East
I’ve always had a soft spot for the Kurds. They were never given any land of their own, back in the early 20th century when Europeans were dividing up the Middle East. The Kurds were pushed from pillar to post, but they never stopped trying for a peaceful settlement with Iraq, or Iran or Turkey or Syria, or whomever. And Vera wrote a newsletter about this and about the people.

We had a good chat about the Kurds, and after we had put in Vera’s order for a replacement printer and were waiting for the confirmation and shipping details, I asked if I could ask her a question. Sure, she said (actually, “shuah”—she’s from the Bronx).

“So . . . what do you think about Israel, Vera? I mean, is that a good thing?” I’d never been able to decide if carving out a Jewish state in the Middle East was wise, even if it was eminently understandable in the aftermath of the Holocaust.

Vera was silent for a bit. “You know,” she said at last, “every square foot of land on earth was owned by someone else at one time or another.”

The confirmation for her printer shipment came through at that point, so we said goodbye soon after. But I’ve often reflected on that observation, and it resonates whenever I re-read one of my favorite books, John MacNab.

I revisit this novel every few years, usually in August, the time of year in which the story takes place. It’s a light read and highly entertaining. It isn’t everyone’s cup of tea, but I love it because it’s set in Scotland and because I’ve been stalking there, so I know how hard that pastime is.

The story was written by John Buchan of Thirty-Nine Steps fame. It is one of his lesser-known books, a delightful tale of three eminent gentlemen who decide to turn to poaching to relieve their boredom. To up the ante slightly, they inform the owners of the three estates chosen for their depredations that John MacNab will collect a stag or a salmon from the estate between certain specified dates, thus assuring themselves of a warm welcome.

In short, John MacNab is Buchan’s way of exploring land rights. One of the substories concerns the discovery of ancient Norse ruins on one of the estates, ruins indicating that a thousand years earlier the land was owned and occupied by one Harald Blacktooth. In another substory a young woman tells her young man that no one should have the right to just sit on their property collecting rents; that ownership must be justified, not once but regularly, so that no owner can take his property for granted.

Buchan was Governor General of Canada during the thirties, and I sometimes wonder what his views on Indian land rights might have been. This is a subject that may underpin a sequel to my new book Return to Kaitlin, so I’ve been researching the question over the past few weeks. More on the subject down the road.


Review: The Orenda –by Joseph Boyden

The Orenda by Joseph BoydenThe Orenda has riveting characters and a fascinating portrayal of village life. I loved the Iroquois girl, Snow Falls, and the Huron chief, Bird. I was less enchanted with the Jesuit, Christophe, though one couldn’t doubt his sincerity and depth of belief. The story, it has to be said, is also bloodsoaked and brutal, and is hard reading at times. I’m not sure why Boyden felt it necessary to go into such detail. Was it that torture was integral to the Indian way of life? I preferred reading about the three sisters (corn, beans and squash, the staple diet), and the village long houses.

At one point, Christophe says that the Indians in their leggings, with furs draped over one shoulder, remind him of the ancient Greeks with their togas. That image may remain with me.

My rating: 5 stars

On Amazon

Review: The Silent Wife –by A.S.A. Harrison

silentwifeJodi and Todd have been together for twenty years when over the space of a few months he leaves her for another woman and, as we learn on page two of The Silent Wife, she proceeds to turn into a killer.

Todd is an entrepreneur who gentrifies old buildings, Jodi is a psychologist and they have a waterfront condo in Chicago. The story is told in alternating chapters of Him and Her, and my sympathies veered from one character to the other, finally settling reluctantly between them both. A well-told story.

My rating: 4 stars

On Amazon