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Bookends: Another Gem from the Berton House residency program May 12, 2019

Posted by klondykewriter in Bookends, Klondike Sun, literature, Whitehorse Star.
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Bookends: Another Gem from the Berton House residency program

by Dan Davidson

July 11, 2018

– 885 words –

 

All of Us In Our Own Lives

by Manjushree ThapaAll of Us in Our Own Lives

Freehand Books

322 pages

$21.95

 

All of Us In Our Own Lives is a novel about the personal growth of four individuals. Two of them are related, but have quite different life experiences. The other two eventually connect through their work, but it takes some time for all this to happen.

It is also a book that is told from multiple points of view. Sometimes the shifts of POV are a bit abrupt and you have to wait for someone to use a person’s name to figure out just who you’re following now.

Some of this is due to the book’s layout. The version I read was supplied by the author and ran to 213 pages. You’ll note that the version referenced at the head of this column, which won’t be available in Canada until September, is 100+ pages longer. I suspect it has somewhat larger print and perhaps something other that ALL CAPPS IN the first two or three words to indicate chapter divisions.

Ava Berriden, a Canadian lawyer, was the easiest character for me to relate to. She was born in Nepal, and in an orphanage as an infant before being adopted by a Canadian family and raised here. She has quit her job and moved to Nepal, partly in search of her roots, and partly out of an altruistic need to help others. She is the prototypical stranger in a strange land, but she has a good heart, and when she finally connects with the others, she does a lot to help each of them.

Ava is working for an international aid agency, and it is through this work that she becomes acquainted with Indira Sharma, who has ambitions of becoming the first Nepali woman director of a non-governmental organization. She specializes in working to improve the gender balance in society and within the world of NGOs, most of which seem to be run by domineering men.

The book does not give a very flattering view of such NGOs. They seem to be floundering and appear to have a lot of trouble thinking outside the cultural boxes in which they are trapped. They mean well, but are not as effective as they should be. Thapa’s bio indicates that she did work for some NGOs in the past, and this may be a gentle critique. Certainly, she has Ava cutting through some of the assumptions and causing changes to occur.

The two other central characters are a brother and sister, Gyanu and Sapana.

If this were just his story, it would be about having come home from his job in Dubai to settle the family’s affairs and set things up so that his sister can prosper and he can return to his foreign job and get married to his sweetheart. He means well, but often manages to convince himself that his sister’s path to independence is also the one that works out best for him. For him, not staying in Nepal is a priority.

Sapana, on the other hand, doesn’t necessarily want what her brother is trying to provide for her. She is hedged about by both a patriarchy and a matriarchy, with elders of both genders trying to define her life’s choices. Hers is the least settled of any of the outcomes; aspirations rather than a clear direction.

This was a tricky book to read, and there were times when I set it aside for lighter, or just different, material. Part of the difficulty was simply my lack of familiarity with Nepali names and social conventions. There were times when I wished for clarifying footnotes.

By about halfway through the book some of the more puzzling things began to become clear, and that was probably the way the author intended it to happen. Up to that point, when the lives of the major characters finally began to intersect, I had been dipping in and out of the book for a couple of months, trying to integrate what seemed to be several disconnected stories, After that, it moved more quickly.

Manjushree Thapa has been quite prolific, producing one previous novel and two volumes of short stories, as well as four non-fiction books, mostly set in Nepal. She has produced three translations of Nepali literature.

In addition she has had articles and essays in the New York Times, London Review of Books, Newsweek, Foreign Policy, Walrus, Globe and Mail, Outlook, Hindustan Times, Tehelka, Nepali Times, The Kathmandu Post, Himal Southasian, Himal, Studies in Nepali History and Society and elsewhere.

Manju, as we came to know her in Dawson, has a lot of personal background that feeds into this story. She was born in Kathmandu, and raised in Nepal, Canada and the United States. Her family also lived in Sri Lanka, the Philippines, Switzerland and India at various periods. She now lives in Toronto, but visits Nepal frequently.

She was writer-in-residence at Berton House for part of 2011 and completed the initial draft of this novel, the first that she has completed since relocating to Canada, while she was here. She and her partner, Daniel Lak, have returned to the Klondike several times since then.

 

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Bookends: The Story of a Haunted Life. February 8, 2018

Posted by klondykewriter in Bookends, Klondike Sun, literature, Uncategorized, Whitehorse Star.
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Bookends: The Story of a Haunted Life.

By Dan DavidsonFirst Blast

February 8, 2017

– 797 words –

 

 

First Blast of the Trumpet Against the Monstrous Regiment of Women

By Eric McCormack

Penguin Books

272 pages

$14.99

 

Perhaps the first thing to get out of the way is the identity of the author. This is not the Canadian actor Eric McCormack of television fame, star of the western, Lonesome Dove, the comedy series, Will and Grace, , the mystery series, Perception and, most recently, the time travel adventure, Travellers (which has been renewed, by the way).

No, this is the Eric McCormack who was born in Scotland, taught school there, immigrated to Canada for get his Ph.D. and spent decades on staff at the University of Waterloo before retiring to live in Kingston.

They’re about 25 years apart in age.

The McCormack in this column has written a short story collection and five strange but compelling novels. This is the third novel, published in 1997 and winner of the Governor General’s Award for that year.

I had been hoping for another book like his mystery novel, The Mysterium (1993), when I picked this one up a few years ago, and it has languished on my shelves for several years.

The title is a play on a 1558 polemic by the Scottish reformer John Knox, entitled The First Blast of the Trumpet Against the Monstrous Regiment of Women. Knox believed that it was unnatural (monstrous) for women to rule (regiment) a country. He had in mind a succession of Marys who held power in England, as well as Elizabeth I.

In this book, the title refers mostly to the frightening parade of cloaked women who haunt the nightmares of Andrew Halfnight, a Scots orphan who has taken to writing this memoir at the behest of his wife, in order to sort out the emotions and events that have troubled him through much of his life.

Andrew was one of a pair of twins, whose sister was accidentally killed by their father in a bizarre christening event in the back yard of their home. This led almost immediately to the strange suicide of his father, who was discovered at the bottom of a nearby cliff with one arm missing.

It would be years before Andrew learned about that arm, where it came from, and how it came to be the death of his sister.

Long before that his mother died of a mysterious wasting disease during which he, then a schoolboy, was her main caregiver, assisting Doctor Giffen, who would later take on the role of guardian for a brief period until Andrew was sent to live with an aunt he had never met on the strange island of St. Jude.

In a life full of strange and often terrible events, Andrew endured a long sea voyage with the aid of Harry Greene, the Steward and Medic on the Comnock. The pair formed a life long friendship on that trip and Andrew learned much from the bookish sailor, but he also learned about Knox’s book, and its title became a trigger for his dreams.

St, Jude eventually turns out to be a place where Andrew witnesses murder (twice tried) and the incredible violence of nature. As if to balance all this, it is also be the place where he meets the girl who many years later, becomes his wife.

The narrative moves from tropical storms to Ontario, and place called Camberloo (which seems to be an amalgam of Cambridge and Waterloo University), where Andrew might have lived an unremarkable middle age were it not that he is afflicted with bad dreams and a recurring black spot that threatened at times to occlude his vision.

He has an unfortunate prolonged sexual dalliance with a mad woman and is driven almost to madness himself before a winter vehicular mishap that puts him in the hospital for a time, and which he can not, for several years after, recall in any detail.

It is, in fact, the writing of this memoir that brings back all his blocked memories and allows him, in conversation with Maria, his wife, to bring what had been a disturbing narrative to a happy conclusion.

This is, by any assessment, a weird tale full of strange events and even stranger individuals. Andrew, troubled by events and people, and uncertain of his place in the world, is a likeable but frustrating narrator.

The 51 chapters is divided into six sections, and I found that I paused after each of them for at least a day before moving on to the next. I needed to stop and absorb what had just happened to Andrew. I’m not particularly fond of this fictional life story variety of novel, but this on was quote worthwhile.

 

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