Posts Tagged ‘Ontario farming labor 1920s 1930s’

What comes around goes around, and while I spend a lot of time at work trying to find good reads for people, on occasion they return the favor and suggest one that I might like. This book came highly recommended by one of my (or should I use the collective “our”) patrons; she raved about it. I had recently finished Divisadero, a book I found a bit scattered but which captured my imagination – I’m still thinking about the opening setting of that book.

But I have to confess – I didn’t get this book. I didn’t read it closely enough, or slowly enough, or I’m just not smart enough. It’s the story of…well, I’m even having a hard time describing that…passionate love affairs, working class people struggling to get by, Ayn Randish characters driven by visions of great metropolises, immigrants, thieves. I think he’s telling me something about how mythologies are created out of the meanest of circumstances – backbreaking labor, poverty, and petty, every day defeats. I kept reading it though because so much of it felt like home. I recognized the sort of hard bitten, taciturn people Ondaatje described, even though I wouldn’t inhabit that same Northern Ontario geography until many decades after these characters would have – and yes, I understand that they are fictional! Ondaatje seems to have a real grasp of the psyche of these early Canadians, even though he was born in Sri Lanka. But mostly I kept reading because of the beautiful writing. In one passage, a boy wakes up in the dead of a winter night thinking that he sees fireflies flickering through the woods. He goes out into the snow to investigate and discovers loggers from a nearby camp playing on the frozen river:

“Patrick was transfixed. Skating the river at night, each of them moving like a wedge into the blackness magically revealing the grey bushes of the shore, his shore, his river. A tree branch reached out, its hand frozen in the ice, and one of them skated under it, crouching – cattails held behind him like a flaming rooster tail.”

There are so many of these passages that have an almost cinematic quality, and they come reliably enough that I couldn’t put the book down. I think I will remember these scenes long after I stop puzzling about this book.


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