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review SPOILER ALERT! 2015-01-11 18:37
The Way the Crow Flies
The Way the Crow Flies - Ann-Marie MacDonald

"When stories are not told, we risk losing our way. Lies trip us up, lacunae gape like blanks in a footbridge. Time shatters and, though we  strain to follow the pieces like pebbles through the forest, we are led farther and farther astray. Stories are replaced by evidence. Moments disconnected from eras. Exhibits plucked from experience.

We forget the consolation of the common thread-the way events are stained with the dye of the stories older than the facts themselves.

We lose our memory.

This can make a person ill.

This can make a world ill."


When I first picked up this book, I read the description and the tags and labels that people had pinned on it. When I first looked at this book, I did not think I'd ever read this.


What persuaded me to read it was that MacDonald's first book was written so well that I wanted to see how she would tell the story of The Way the Crow Flies.


But how can you tell this story of the murder of a child - even if the story is partly based of the real life case of Steven Truscott? How can you tell of the lies and secrets that unravel the lives of everyone involved? Of the naivety of the individuals that condemn evil and, yet, at the same fail to see that it is their own simple-mindedness that fuels the travesty of justice that ensues?


MacDonald tells it masterfully. She uses imagery and language that pack a punch. Never overly evocative or manipulative, she shows each story from the characters point of view  - and this at times makes you want to stop reading and jump in and shake the person. At other times, this makes you draw the book in closer and cling to every page to find out what happens next. 


The Way the Crow Flies is, however, not only the story of a community torn apart by the murder. The book goes deeper. Whilst the books' main character, Madeleine, tries to deal with the events in her own life - events which she feels she cannot speak of, which she feels she needs to protect her family from -, her father, Jack, becomes entangled in a cold war scientific espionage plot in aid of the West's race to the moon.

A boys' own adventure, which in turn will make him question everything he believes in. But to what end? And while he is keen to teach his daughter that the truth must be told, is he mature enough to take responsibility for the consequences?


On another level, MacDonald draws out the individual dilemmas against a historical context - not just the backdrop of the Cold War, but also that of the Second World War - paralleling the space race to the development of the V2 and the atomic bomb. All are inextricably linked through the people that were involved. However, this link creates an issue - How can the same people be working for opposing ideologies?


"But he has enough - his children have enough - to cope with, never mind taking on the past. To report this man would not only be futile; it would be to exhume what is cold and can never heal. To haunt his new family with the inconsolable griefs of his old one."


The book does not try to answer this question but offers serious food for thought. Because the stories, or rather the secrets of both, father and daughter, are bound to test their ideals, their perception of  each other and of the world.


"This precious mess. Democracy. How much can be done in its name before, like an egg consumed by a snake, it becomes a mere shell?"


Without knowing of each other's secrets, both main characters are wounded in the process. Are they able to heal? 


The Way the Crow Flies has seriously impressed me. MacDonald has not only written a mystery, a political thriller, and a court room drama all in one, she also created a deep and complex psychological tour de force that questions whether the reality we perceive always ties up with the facts and how this reality changes as we mature. Individuals are defined by their story unless they take action to confront it. 


 Nina says: "Fear isn't the opposite of courage."


"It's the prerequisite to courage."

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quote 2015-01-02 12:59
“Afterwards, in bed with a book, the spell of television feels remote compared to the journey into the page. To be in a book. To slip into the crease where two pages meet, to live in the place where your eyes alight upon the words to ignite a world of smoke and peril, colour and serene delight. That is a journey no one can end with the change of a channel. Enduring magic.”

― Ann-Marie MacDonald, The Way the Crow Flies

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review 2014-11-30 22:52
No Great Mischief
No Great Mischief - Alistair MacLeod

"The ‘lamp of the poor’ is hardly visible in urban southwestern Ontario, although there are many poor who move disjointedly beneath it. And the stars are seldom clearly seen above the pollution of prosperity."


This, in short, is what I liked about the book. Yes, I do mean that particular quote. 


I know this is one of those books that a lot of people seem to really like, and I can understand why, but for me this was a frustrating and really annoying read. To the extent that I even got annoyed with things I would not usually pay much attention to, like "Why is the guy's Gaelic name spelled in two different ways?".


To paraphrase the author himself: 


"She could not help it, I suppose. Sometimes it is hard to choose or not to choose those things which bother us at the most inappropriate of times."


Anyway, No Great Mischief tells the stories of a family from when they first left Scotland for Canada in 1779 up to late 1970s/1980s (it's not really clear). There are plenty of colourful characters, plenty of stories of hardship, and an abundance of nostalgic references to Scotland - or rather one single event in Scottish history. For the most part the references were limited to the Battle of Culloden and the Jacobite Uprising (around 1745/46).  


And this, together with the nostalgia for anything Gaelic just really got on my nerves rather quickly.

Don't get me wrong I have rather a soft spot for Gaelic and I delight in watching BBC Alba sometimes just to hear it while reading the subtitles, but were talking about a story relying on a few overused phrases and pretending as if everyone with the last name of MacDonald fluent in it. 


As for the Jacobite Uprising...Really, there is more to Scottish history and not everything that happened to the MacDonalds of Cape Breton in the 20th century can be blamed on or explained by a reference to an event 1745/46.


Let me illustrate...


One of the MacDonald's relatives living in California is being drafted to fight in the Vietnam War and his parents send him to the branch of the family in Cape Breton to escape the draft. And the discussion is as follows:


" ‘From what I understand of this war,’ he continued, ‘those people are only fighting for their own country and their own way of being. It’s hard to say they should be killed for that.’

‘I know,’ I said. ‘Wars touch all of us in different ways. I suppose we have been influenced by lots of wars ourselves. We are probably what we are because of the ’45. We are, ourselves , directly or indirectly the children of Culloden Moor, and what happened in its aftermath.’

‘Yes,’ he said with a smile, ‘the old men at home, the seanaichies, always used to say, “If only the ships had come from France …”

’‘Maybe,’ I said. ‘We’ll never know. Perhaps it was all questionable from the start. Talking about history is not like living it, I guess. Some people have more choice than others.’ "


Aha, yup. Culloden. Of course. Everything can be traced back to Culloden. No mention of the Union of Crowns, the bribery surrounding the Darien scheme, and the resulting Act of Union. Or why not go back further to the wars of Scottish independence?


Incidentally, I do get that part of the book's message is how people might be held back by living in the past - or as MacLeod puts it: 


" ‘Living in the past is not living up to our potential.’ "


It's just that this message - conveyed as a joke - is rather muddled by a lot sentimental illusion. 

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text 2014-11-23 15:15
Reading progress update: I've read 42%.
No Great Mischief - Alistair MacLeod

Great writing, likable characters, and interesting historical tidbits, but the overwhelming nostalgia for Scottishness is way too much to cope with on a hangover day...

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review 2014-11-18 18:36
I Heard the Owl Call My Name
I Heard the Owl Call My Name - Margaret Craven

"She waited as if she had waited all her life, as if she were part of time itself, gently and patiently. Did she remember that in the old days the Indian mother of the Kwakiutl band who lost a child kicked the small body three times and said to it, 'Do not look back. Do not turn your head. Walk straight on. You are going to the land of the owl'?" 


I was recommended this book for my Canada project. Although written by an American, the story is set in British Columbia and tells of a young vicar who is sent to live with a native tribe. The reason for this is not much of a spoiler because it is literally written on the first page: The vicar has been sent to this particular post because his superior learned that the vicar was terminally ill and hoped that his experience with the tribe would help him cope. 


There is some inconsistency in the story about this because the vicar doesn't know he is ill - so, logically, the plot is not rock solid. However, there is more to the story than the vicar's impending death. Craven explores the conflicts that arise between generations, between civilisations, the impact and dependency if one looses touch with the other.


"On Sunday after church the young people returned to school. Many of the tribe went to the river's edge to see them off in the canoes. And the young people regretted going and wanted to go, and the elders wanted to keep them and were relieved when they went. The little dissent went with them, and the village was at peace."


I Heard the Owl Call My Name is a very gentle book, very unassuming, but the naturalist writing and the simplicity with which the story is told ensures that that the story gets the point across -


"You suffered with them, and now you are theirs, and nothing will be the same again."

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