Tag Archives: Canadian

From Ink Lake: Canadian Stories edited by Michael Ondaatje

inklakeFrom Ink Lake: Canadian Stories

edited by Michael Ondaatji

Vintage Canada, Toronto, 1995

From my book shelves.  I suppose this is a bit of a cheat for the Canadian Book Challenge, as I haven’t read every story yet, but I keep this on my night stand and often pick it up between novels.  It is one I will keep forever.

This collection, which I have had for some time, is how I first became interested in reading Canadian authors.  I had read Ondaatji and Atwood, of course, but I don’t think I realized they came from the North.   This book introduced me to Alice Munro through Miles City, Montana, Alister Macleod through As Birds Bring Forth The Sun  and Carol Shields  through Scenes. There are so many other authors I can’t list them all.  As an introduction to Canadian literature it is worth searching for this one.

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Filed under Canadian, CanadianBookChallenge6, StoryCollection, Thoughts

Who Has Seen The Wind by W.O. Mitchell

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.

Who Has Seen the Wind?

Who has seen the wind?
Neither I nor you:
But when the leaves hang trembling,
The wind is passing through.
Who has seen the wind?
Neither you nor I:
But when the trees bow down their heads,
The wind is passing by.


Filed under CanadianBookChallenge4, Historical Fiction, Review, TBR

Yellowknife by Steve Zipp – NWT, Canada

Yell0f6b75baa533e3c593778455251434d414f4541 Yellowknife by Steve Zipp

Res Telluris, Canada, 2007

“Borders exist for a reason.”

I read about this novel on Claire’s blog and was very curious about it.   Because I love small independent publishers I decided to buy the book from Res Telluris.  I am glad I did.

Yellowknife is a surreal romp through the far north full of odd characters and over-flowing with tales of fishing, hunting, politics,  and mythological creatures.  The writing is swift and clear, like a mountain stream, and the author’s deft handling of a multitude of characters and story lines drew me in.

The story starts on a border, an appropriate place to begin at the change of the millennium.   Danny, a drifter,  wanders into a frontier post and is given a map. He takes off in his rattling car and is overwhelmed by a bison.  Hitch-hiking into Yellowknife is just the beginning of his adventures.

Zipp uses wild ramblings, sly humor, odd bits of dialogue and descriptions of the city and  land to invoke Yellowknife and the territory that surrounds it.  His characters, with individual and distinct voices, lead very different lives.  There is Danny, our drifter:

His mind cleared and utter calm descended upon him.  He knew with complete certainty that a false move would plunge him through the ice, a fall he was unlikely to survive even if he could claw his way out.  He thought of the icepicks he’d turned down at the Employment Center, and smiled.  The Universe was up to its old tricks again.  How was it that no scientist had ever postulated irony as a natural law?  To Danny it seemed as irrefutable as gravity. Page 101.

Then there is Jonah, an old man:

In fact, Jonah’s age was an unsolvable mystery, for his birth had gone unrecorded and he had outlived all his contemporaries.  His own recollections had begun to blur, merging with stories and reminiscences passed on by his father, who in turn had been a repository of tales from previous generations.  Sometimes he would halt in mid-step as memory overtook him, and relive the event.  He remembered wearing hareskin socks, and hunting ptarmigan with blunt arrows, and patiently digging through snowbanks for musket balls.  He remembered coming upon a circle of muskoxen in the Thelon, their heads facing the wrong way – inward as though in conference..  He remembered what life was like long before Canada existed, when people still used Russian knives and the first strangers crept into the land, their names heavy on the tongue, Hurn and Makenzy and others…Page 117

and Nora, a wild-life biologist working for a government agency:

Earlier that morning, drinking a cup of herbal tea, she’d tasted not just the leaves but the faint contribution that the bark and roots had made, and even the surrounding dirt.  A strong desire to lick things, to investigate surfaces with her hands and skin, sometimes came over her.  When she hefted a chunk of pine into the woodstove, she sensed the drama concentrated in its rings, in the centuries of growth about to be converted into heat for the benefit of herself and her unborn child.  Tears formed in her eyes at the connectivity of the world, at its intrinsic mystery and beauty. Page  189

These characters, and many others, all add their personalities to  this crazy quilt of a novel.  Some characters connect, some do not, but there is the constant thread of  land and climate drawing it all together, and the huge presence of Great Slave Lake.

Yellowknife is not  just humor and eccentricity.   In telling his story  Zipp manages to include local legends,  government ineptitude, corporate greed, and the environmental devastation brought about by decades of mining.

There were  times for me when it was all to much, I just couldn’t take it all in.   I do understand the authors excitement.  There is a lot to tell about the people and the history of this wild area in the far north. My favorite part of the book?  The story of  The Dog Who Drinks The Sky.

Other reviews:

An Adventure In Reading

Kiss A Cloud

She Reads Books

The Book Zombie

The Indextrious Reader


Filed under CanadianBookChallenge3, Challenges