Who Has Seen The Wind by W.O. Mitchell
McClelland & Stewart Inc., Toronto, 1998
I own this one.
I learned about this classic Canadian novel that by reading other Canadian novels.
First published in 1947, this is a story about a boy growing up in a small town on the Saskatchewan prairie during the 1930′s.
Brian O’Connal lives on the edge of the prairie with his Mother, Father, Grandmother and younger brother. He is surrounded by odd characters, his Uncle Sean, Old Ben and Saint Sammy who lives in a piano crate.
When we first meet Brian he is angry over all the attention his sick baby brother is getting. His mother and father ignore him, his Grandmother shoos him out of the house. Brian’s thoughts and feelings, expressed in internal dialogue, are so like a four-year old child’s. This is one of Mitchell’s gifts. He had an ability to let us into his characters thoughts.
As Brian grows up, sharing the town with his friends and his dog Jappy, we meet many of the people who live around him. He learns about life, faith and human failings from his experiences and the adults he interacts with. He is always drawn to the Prairie and to a wild boy who lives there.
And all about him was the wind now, a pervasive sighing trough great emptiness, as though the prairie itself was breathing in long gusting breaths, unhampered by the buildings of town, warm and living against his face and in his hair. From page 13.
But it is not just Brian that we follow in this novel. We follow other characters, particularly the teachers and principle of the local school. Mitchell give us this small community with all its strengths and weaknesses. Small town prejudice and hypocrisy, the class system of the ” right” and “wrong” side of the tracks, the devastation of the dust bowl years. All placed in a landscape that holds it all together as if in a golden bowl.
W.O. Michell paints this place with words. The language is pure and lyrical. I kept seeing each scene as if I were standing in the middle of the prairie. It is magnificent, every color, every sound, every scent. I can understand why Canadians love this novel, how it has become a classic. It is a part of that vast and beautiful country.
The following poem by Christina Rossetti inspired the title of this book. Several boys actually quote a few lines in the text.