Fifteen Days by Christie Blatchford
Filed under: Book Reviews,Goveror General's Literary Award — Ibis at 10:44 pm on Sunday, February 8, 2009

From the publisher:
“Long before she made her first trip to Afghanistan as an embedded reporter for The Globe and Mail, Christie Blatchford was already one of Canada’s most respected and eagerly read journalists. Her vivid prose, her unmistakable voice, her ability to connect emotionally with her subjects and readers, her hard-won and hard-nosed skills as a reporter–these had already established her as a household name. But with her many reports from Afghanistan, and in dozens of interviews with the returned members of the 1st Battalion, Princess Patricia’s Canadian Light Infantry and others back at home, she found the subject she was born to tackle. Her reporting of the conflict and her deeply empathetic observations of the men and women who wear the maple leaf are words for the ages, fit to stand alongside the nation’s best writing on war.

It is a testament to Christie Blatchford’s skills and integrity that along with the admiration of her readers, she won the respect and trust of the soldiers. They share breathtakingly honest accounts of their desire to serve, their willingness to confront fear and danger in the battlefield, their loyalty towards each other and the heartbreak occasioned by the loss of one of their own. Grounded in insights gained over the course of three trips to Afghanistan in 2006, and drawing on hundreds of hours of interviews not only with the servicemen and -women with whom she shared so much, but with their commanders and family members as well, Christie Blatchford creates a detailed, complex and deeply affecting picture of military life in the twenty-first century.”

My thoughts:
This is a very good book. Even though I’ve never experienced war and can’t possibly really understand what it’s like, Christie Blatchford has provided a window into the world of our soldiers in Afghanistan (at least what it was in 2006). You get a real sense of what operations are like, how it might feel to be under fire or at risk of an IED blowing up the vehicle you’re in, how the death of your mate could be so sudden and surprising but at the same time almost expected. She also gives insight into the lives of family and friends of the soldiers and the camaraderie of the military. I’m ending this book feeling even more respect for the troops because now I feel I have a greater knowledge of what they’re doing as well as a personal connection to them (even though I know the soldiers there now are not the same ones who were there in 2006). Anyway, I think Christie Blatchford really deserved the GG for this book.

Divisadero by Michael Ondaatje
Filed under: Book Reviews,Goveror General's Literary Award — Ibis at 6:53 pm on Thursday, March 20, 2008

From the dust jacket:
“In the 1970s in northern California, near Gold Rush country, a father and his teenage daughters, Anna and Claire, work their farm with the help of Coop, an enigmatic young man who makes his home with them. Theirs is a makeshift family, until it is riven by an incident of violence — of both hand and heart — that sets fire to the rest of their lives.

Divisadero takes us from the city of San Francisco to the raucous backrooms of Nevada’s casinos, and eventually to the landscape of south central France. It is here, outside a small rural village, that Anna becomes immersed in the life and the world of a writer from an earlier time — Lucien Segura. His compelling story, which has its beginnings at the turn of the century, circles around “the raw truth” of Anna’s own life, the one she’s left behind but can never truly leave. And as the narrative moves back and forth in time and place, we discover each of the characters managing to find some foothold in a present rough-hewn from the past.”

Other useful links:
the not-so-useful Wikipedia article on Divisadero
the Wikipedia article on Michael Ondaatje

My thoughts:
I was looking forward to reading this because it was my first Ondaatje book. I also thought the sound of the title was intriguing – a kind of combination of division and desidero (that’s “I desire” in Latin). Only later did I discover that is is the name of a street in San Francisco.

It’s been a while since I finished this book (I’m catching up, I promise!) so my memory of it is a little fragmented. In fact, this book is itself fragmented: various points of view, two completely different sets of characters, unresolved conflicts… All of which left me unsatisfied. I didn’t really connect with any of the characters of the first story, and the whole ‘professional gambler’ thing didn’t grab me. I liked the second story much better and I think I’d have liked a book just about that much much better.

I did enjoy Ondaatje’s writing though, and look forward to reading more of his books.

I’ve Got a Home in Glory Land by Karolyn Smardz Frost
Filed under: General Reading,Goveror General's Literary Award — Ibis at 11:10 am on Saturday, January 26, 2008

From the publisher:
“This epic story is the first entirely original biography of a fugitive slave couple since the 19th century.

I’ve Got a Home in Glory Land is the fascinating and absorbing story of Thornton and Lucie Blackburn, two fugitive slaves from Kentucky who made a daring daylight escape from slavery in 1831. Smardz Frost has written an epic account of this couple’s extraordinary life and their struggle for freedom – the choices they made, the dangers they faced, and the courage they had to forge ahead and create new lives for themselves. It is both a devastating portrait of the conditions – and the politics – of slavery and an inspiring account of two intrepid fugitive slaves whose flight to freedom changed US and Canadian history.”

Other useful links:
site for I’ve Got a Home in Glory Land

My thoughts:

I was walking away from the computer here at the library the other day when I happened to see this Challenge book on the New Books shelf. I thought it would be a good choice as a palette cleanser after Not Wanted on the Voyage and The Subtle Knife. I thought it would be putdownable and so I’d be able to read just bits and pieces while I get my move completed. Yes on the first, no on the second. It was gripping and I read it all in about a day and a half.

This is a fantastic book! I recommend it to anyone with even a passing interest in American or Canadian history.

In 1985, there was an archaeological dig under a school playground in the heart of Toronto. This had been the home of two fugitive slaves, a married couple, who had escaped from Kentucky, were the catalysts for the first “race riot” in Detroit, had settled in Toronto protected by the government of Upper Canada from several attempts at extradition, who had started the first cab company in Toronto (his colours, red & yellow, are still the colours of the TTC — the municipal transit commission), and became involved in Abolition efforts and helped other refugees from slavery to settle in western Ontario.

This book is a geneology and biography of Thornton and Lucie Blackburn, a description of Kentucky, Detroit, western Ontario, and Toronto of the nineteenth century, a history of slavery and the abolitionist movement in the U.S. and Canada, a spotlight on U.S./Canada relations of the time, and a history of York/Toronto and the Black community there.

The author did almost 20 years of research to piece together all of the details scattered among newspapers, censuses, court documents, geneological and property records.

Great book (and well deserving of the GG award)!

CanLit Challenge Book #3: Children of My Heart by Gabrielle Roy
Filed under: CanLit Challenge,Goveror General's Literary Award — Ibis at 6:25 pm on Thursday, December 1, 2005

Book 3, Children of My Heart (1977) – Gabrielle Roy
From the publisher:
“Set in the prairies in the 1930s, and rich with the author’s own memories of her time there as a young woman, this is a powerful story of an impressionable and passionate young teacher and the pupils, from impoverished immigrant families, whose lives she touches. Children of My Heart bears unforgettable testimony to the healing power love exerts on the wounds of loneliness and poverty.”

I decided that after two Anglophone men, it might be nice to change it up a bit, so Book #3 will be Children of My Heart by Gabrielle Roy (in translation of course–my French is pretty terrible). This book won the GG for French literature in 1977.

I’ve started a bookring for this book. If you’re interested in joining, PM me.

Other useful links:
the Wikipedia article on Gabrielle Roy
La maison Gabrielle-Roy au 375, rue Deschambault à Saint-Boniface

My thoughts:
Only two chapters in, and I’m loving it. It’s kind of like James Herriot’s stories, except the focus is on children instead of animals, & the narrator could be Esther from Bleak House (she taught school before going to Mr J’s right?)–so far anyway. The narrator’s character isn’t really developed yet.

Very tender and sweet. Just the right thing after the two previous books, which were quite serious.

The quotes from the critics call it: ‘poignant’, ‘intense’, ‘rare’, elegaic’, ‘graceful’, ‘filled with a homely wisdom’, ‘healing’, ‘tender’, ‘warm’, ‘charming’. So far, I’d agree with them.

I just finished part two. Lovely little book about a young school teacher in Manitoba around the time of the Depression. It’s a series of vignettes, each focusing on a different child. Each one touches the narrator in a different way and in the telling of their stories, we get to see a picture of the hard yet beautiful life on the Canadian prairie. I’d definitely recommend it if you’re looking for something light and touching.

Stayed up to finish this last night. I’m giving it a 10. Beautiful descriptions of the prairie, insights into human nature (especially into childhood). A real evocation of time and place. It made me cry (a few times in public :) I’m looking forward to reading the rest of Roy’s work. I’m not surprised that she’s such a well-beloved writer.