Tag Archives: CanadianBookChallenge4

Waiting For Columbus by Thomas Trofimuk

Waiting For Columbus by Thomas Trofimuk

Doubleday, New York, 2009

Borrowed from the library.

Consuela is a nurse working at the Sevilla Institute for the Mentally Ill.  Her days are long, her nights somewhat lonely.  One day a man is brought to the Institute.  He was found in the straits of Gibraltar, battered and bruised and clearly delusional.  He believes he is Christopher Columbus. Consuela and those working with her must help this man discover who he really is.

The passage from freedom to incarceration is never an easy one. The passage from an unacknowleged, untested sanity to a diagnosed insanity is equally problematic.  The first time Nurse Consuela Emma Lopez entered his world, it was with nervousness-with the trepidation of a sparrow pecking the ground a few meters in front of a perfectly motionless cat.  He was immobile on a bed in the admitting area, restrained and drugged.  He’d arrived at the institute kicking and screaming. From page 1.

I was hooked from the first paragraph.  Trofimuk has created a character so well drawn that it is easy to forget he is not Christopher Columbus.  Those around him struggle to find the truth, yet fear the truth may cause him to disappear into madness forever.

This novel is about the stories we tell ourselves and each other, sometimes out of a sense of fun or drama, sometimes from necessity.  It is even more about how we listen.

One the morning of the liturigal feast of Saint Pammachius, Columbus is in a lawn chair, overlooking the garden.  He is wearing his standard institute-issue maroon robe and gray socks.  He looks like any number of other patients wandering around the courtyards and gardens surrounding the institute.  He’s speaking to Consuela over his left shoulder.  “I have to tell you, poeple used to roll up on the beach on a regular basis-well, chewed-up bodies anyway.  When I lived in Palos we’d find them all the time-stinking and rotten.  Even the foulest of birds or animals wouldn’t touch them.”

“I’m sorry?” She really was not in the mood for a story.  She was unfocused-half watching the ducks in the pond, half keeping an eye on him.  She’d rather be curled up in bed reading.

“Dead people.  On the beach.  The result of shipwrecks.” From page 55.

It’s hard to tell you more without giving too much away.  There is a deep knowledge of history in the stories Columbus tells but that history is combined with the present day.  The stories are wonderful, but the interweaving of past and present is strangely disconcerting.   Trofimuk uses this device to give the sense of someone running away into the past to avoid the trauma of the present.  How one’s inner world can seem much, much safer then the outer one.  It is a wonderful way to tell the story of Columbus’s madness and  of his recovery.

I want to thank Jill at Fizzy Thoughts for introducing me to Waiting For Columbus.

Other reviews:

Book Addiction

Fizzy Thoughts

ReviewsByLola’s Blog

S. Krishna’s Books

The Book Lady’s Blog

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Filed under CanadianBookChallenge4, Fiction, New Authors 2010, Review

The Bishop’s Man by Linden MacIntyre

The Bishop’s Man by Linden MacIntyre

Random House Canada, Toronto, 2009

Winner of the 2009 Scotiabank Giller Prize.

This is another Canadian title I couldn’t wait for. Thanks to Amazon.ca, I own this one.

Linden MacIntyre is an investigative reporter with the fifth estate, a news show broadcast on the Canadian network, CBC.  After reading The Bishop’s Man I would love to see his news stories.

This is a novel about the Catholic Church and sexual abuse. It is a novel about power and the abuse of power.  Father Duncan MacAskill, the narrator, has been his bishop’s clean-up man,  sent to visit priests, those who have crossed boundaries with their young parishioners.  His job?  Send the priest away and quiet any parish rumblings.  Cover things up.

I’ve often tried to remember how it started, how I became his..what?  What am I?  I suppose it’s all a matter of perspective.  Let me put it this way: for other priests, I’m not a welcome presence on the doorstep.

The first summons by the bishop had seemed innocuous enough.  The particulars are almost lost now, obscured by far more troubling memories, but I remember what her said: “I’ve asked you to come here because you have a good head on your shoulders.”  From page 9.

When the bishop hears of an impending media scandal he ships Duncan off to his a parish on Cape Breton Island,  to get him out of harms way.  This church is very close to where Duncan grew up.  Memories, family and local connections prove too much, causing Duncan to revisit his past.  Eventually he turns to alcohol and, in the end, realizes he must make a choice.

MacIntyre approaches this difficult topic by giving the reader a compelling narrator and a fast-paced story, almost a mystery.  Cape Breton Island, and the sea that surrounds it,  offer a refuge from disturbing events and support  for a man facing his past.  This is a courageous book,  gentle and clearly written, surprisingly deep.  It allows us to consider Father Duncan’s dilemma with compassion and without judgement.

Other review:

an adventure in reading

7 Comments

Filed under CanadianBookChallenge4, Fiction, GillerPrize