Monday, February 23, 2009

Hans Eichner's Kahn & Engelmann

One of our Spring titles, the third title in the Biblioasis International Translation Series, is Hans Eichner's Kahn & Engelmann. Translated by Jean Snook, it is multiple-generational saga of heart-breaking domestic tragedy, set against the backdrop of the Anschluss, and is also a major contribution to Holocaust literature. Though it seems awfully early to begin broadcasting reviews, the book has received its first, a starred review in the forthcoming April issue of Quill & Quire, which I'll post below. Kahn & Engelmann should be available by mid-April: we're just finalizing the last of the text now before going to press.

starKahn & Engelmann

by Hans Eichner; Jean M. Snook, trans.

Publisher: Biblioasis
Price: $21.95 paper
ISBN: 978-1-897231-54-8
Page count: 336 pp.
Size: 5½ x 8½
Released: March

An emeritus professor of German romantic literature living in Rockwood, Ontario, Hans Eichner published this, his first novel, at the tender age of 79, then had to wait almost a decade after its critical and commercial success in German before seeing it translated into English. Better late than never. Following the rough trajectory of the author’s own experience, this astounding, ambitious work is a paean to the Viennese Jews driven out of their country when Austria merged into Nazi Germany in 1938.

The novel spans three generations, beginning with the migration of narrator Peter Engelmann’s grandparents, on foot – twice – from Hungary to Vienna. In Engelmann’s view, travelling is “the involuntary national sport of the Jews.” There is Engelmann’s flight to England via Brussels and, postwar, to Canada, then Israel. The experiences of Engelmann’s family in the garment trade feature prominently, in particular the poisoned relationship between his uncle (the Kahn of the title) and father, which eventually leads to the latter’s suicide.

Midway through the novel, Engelmann notes that “the taste of quince reminds me of my childhood, albeit without awakening such a world of memories as Proust’s madeleine.” Yet Eichner’s novel is nothing if not a “world of memories” written, Proust-like, in stream-of-consciousness peppered with self-analysis. Eichner has an enjoyably sardonic sense of humour, a weakness for rabbi jokes, and a fondness for Jewish tradition, which he lovingly details, while nevertheless maintaining a deep skepticism about issues of religion and race.

The Holocaust hovers over the text like a thug with his fist raised: we wonder only when the blow will come. But the novel takes an unexpected turn, and Engelmann’s large family emerges from the war relatively unscathed. Engelmann himself, however, suffers from a deep-seated guilt about the willful abandon with which he consumed the literature of his people’s executioners even as Jews died in droves in the camps. Engelmann’s developing awareness of the Nazi atrocities precipitates a career change – from professor to veterinarian – a crisis of faith that is only one potent ingredient in this original, moving novel.

Sunday, February 22, 2009

Bryson on Blaise

Over at the Underground Bookclub, Michael Bryson considers Clark Blaise's Selected Essays. The whole post can be found here. Here's an excerpt:

If I had to pick one essay as the best, I'd choose: "Kerouac in Black and White." It's the only essay I've read about Kerouac that starts from the point of view of the end years of Kerouac's life. The lonely, angry, reactionary, and as Blaise makes clear, the overtly racist years, though it is a racism consistent and persistent throughout Kerouac's career. Kerouac engaged, explored and wrote about "the other" consistently and persistently, but the exploration didn't lead to reconciliation; it led to entrenched alienation and the ultimate failure of Vanity of Duluoz (1968).

Amazon provides the opening sentence:

All right, wifey, maybe I'm a big pain in the you-know-what but after I've given you a recitation of the troubles I had to go through to make good in America between 1935 and more or less now, 1967, and although I also know everybody in the world's had his own troubles, you'll understand that my particular form of anguish came from being too sensitive to all the lunkheads I had to deal with just so I could get to be a high school football star, a college student pouring coffee and washing dishes and scrimmaging till dark and reading Homer's lliad in three days all at the same time, and God help me, a WRITER whose very 'success', far from being a happy triumph as of old, was the sign of doom Himself.

Blaise provides the context:

An impotent, alcoholic, ruined, middle-aged, mill-town Franco-American living in Lowell, and finally in St. Petersburg with his jealously protective, corrosively ignorant and loudly bigoted mother, or with a wife he alternately loved and hated while tying to divorce, is not a candidate for progressive opinions on race, class, or sexual politics. Forget Kerouac in his youth, the beautiful boy with his breathless tales of breaking away from canadien catholicism nightmared in Doctor Sax or tapestried in Visions of Gerard; forget the trips he took us on, like swatted rubber balls on their widest orbit in On the Road and The Dharma Bums and Mexico City Blues before they crashed back to the paddle that propelled them. That was then; this later, much later.

Which Blaise later expands:

Race, in the normal American black/white sense, was never a reality for Kerouac, never part of his early personal history -- only a metaphor for freedom, or temptation. He carried his blinkered childhood within him like a malignant unborn twin,and a white, Catholic, lost, pure French empire was part of that childhood. But for the likelihood of Indian blood, which he (like most French-Canadians) embraced, Kerouac was pur laine, a proud, full-blooded, full-culture French Canadian: ("Go back,"he wanted to call to his Breton fishermen ancestors,"ils vous I . jouent un tour." That is, America's going to play a trick on you.) Against the backdrop of the Church, and his own monochromatic background, "Negroes" offered only occasions for sex, drugs and music. And since those are also occasions for merging identities, they specifically challenge the corrosive dreams of racial and religious purity. Gerald Nicosia, in Memory Babe, mentions that Jack would have married Mardou Fox, the heroine of The Subterreaneans, if she'd been white. A strange inhibition for a Beat. "Purity" rose up early, and late consumed him, his vulture-twin pouncing on a helpless host.

You can start to see here that in Kerouac, Blaise has a precursor: a French Canadian border-crosser who struggled with multiple identities and modernity ... but who failed (found in the end only bitterness and collapse), whereas Blaise survived and tells us things Kerouac never could.

Ray Smith: Back in the Thought Control Centre of Cape Breton

From this week's Cape Breton Oran...

Writer Ray Smith leans back in a chair at the kitchen table of his family home in Mabou, takes a puff on his cigarette and begins to recall some of his earliest experiences with the written word.

“When I was a young boy the older folks got me a series of books by Thorton W. Burgess, and they’d read to me even before I learned to read. In many of the stories the characters would always go to see the wise old Grandfather Frog to help them solve their problems. I was up over the hill here one day as a child, and I looked at those frogs, and it became pretty damn clear to me that they couldn’t talk. That meant it was all made up. I thought that was pretty interesting, but I realized I was still involved in those stories, and it still seemed like a lot of fun to me,” he recalls.

Born in Inverness in 1941, Ray is the eldest of the three Smith boys born to Fred and Jean (MacMillan) Smith.

“Dad was in the Royal Canadian Air Force, and Mom and I lived here in Mabou during the war years until he got out in '45,” he says.

Fred worked as a banker but qualified for flight training during WWII and piloted Liberator supply planes on some of the longest and most dangerous missions of WWII in places like Ceylon and Malaya.

Ray began school at age five in Mabou at a small school near the Hawley house, just a few houses down from what is now the Red Shoe Pub. At that time the schools were still segregated by religion, and the Smiths were members of the Hillsborough United Church.

“The Red Shoe building was built in 1865 by Colin MacMillan, my mother’s great-uncle. Colin ran it as a store until it passed to Allan MacMillan from 1868 to 1905, and from that time until the early 1940s it was owned by my grandfather, Jimmy MacMillan. So it just feels like going home when I go down to the Red Shoe to enjoy a drink or listen to some music, and I really enjoy it when my sons Nicholas and Alexander come home and they want to go there or to the dances in Glencoe or West Mabou,” he says.

When the war was over, Fred returned to a career with the Royal Bank, and Ray attended schools in Sydney, New Glasgow and Halifax. The family always spent summers in Mabou, and Ray’s parents continued to live there after Fred’s retirement. Fred kept up his commercial pilot license until his death in 1993 and logged as many as 2800 hours in the air in his career. Ray still keeps his father’s two flight logs and wrote a fascinating feature on his father’s life as a pilot for the Inverness County Partici-paper in 1993.

Smith attended Dalhousie University where he completed a BA with honours in English and years later completed his master’s at Concordia.

“My first serious attempt at being a professional writer was in a hotel in Spain in May of 1964. I used to write poetry but moved to short stories and novels after that. I knew that not too many people make a living from writing, so I soon got into teaching, and I taught at Dawson College in Montreal from 1971 until my retirement in the spring of 2007. Mordecai Richler once told me that I should get out of the teaching business. He said it would just eat you up, but I knew I wasn’t like Mordecai. Besides being a novelist, he could make a decent living as a free-lance writer, but I write slowly, I follow my own interests and I knew that working as a free-lancer wasn’t for me. So I stuck with teaching,” Smith adds.

Smith’s first book of short stories, Cape Breton Is The Thought Control Centre of Canada, won him early critical acclaim. It was considered a postmodern work, but Smith decided after its publication to adopt a style less demanding on the reader.

“I decided after that I would write things that were a lot more user-friendly, and if I was going to play games they would be more underneath the surface. As far as major influences, I always enjoyed Nabokov’s playfulness, Jane Austen’s beautiful economy and Tolstoy’s power,” he says.

For a couple of years in the early seventies Smith was part of the Montreal Storytellers group of writers that began to bring their works to larger audiences through public readings. Living in Montreal and being part of the literary community there and the Writer’s Union, Ray met and befriended many of Canada’s most influential writers, including Richler, Atwood, Margaret Laurence and Mavis Gallant.

Upon retiring from Dawson College in 2007, Smith decided to “retire” to the family home in Mabou. Writers however seldom retire, and Ray is no exception. He set up an office in the family home that he inherited and is now busy working on another novel, a sequel to The Flush of Victory: Jack Bottomly Among The Virgins. The new work, It Floats: Jack Bottomly Among The Politicians, is typical of many of Smith’s works in that it features various locales.

“There’s a section of it in New Zealand; it moves to Edinburgh, London, Berlin; and then ends up in Venice. Still, I’m a Canadian and it’s a Canadian novel,” he says.

He admits he surprised some people by returning to Mabou after forty years in Montreal.

“I suppose conventional wisdom should have dictated that I’d stay in Montreal and perhaps help my landlord pay off his mortgage, but my health is good. I guess the timing was right. It’s home after all, and I can garden in the mornings and write in the afternoons. I have some old friends here, and I’m meeting new people all the time. And I enjoy having friends and family visit throughout the year. My two sons are grown, they’re busy in Montreal, they’re able to take care of themselves, and we keep in touch by phone, e-mail, and we visit and travel together on a regular basis,” he says.

Many of Smith’s books are being reprinted and re-released by his publisher, Biblioasis, giving him the opportunity to gain new audiences around the world. He still travels frequently, conducting readings throughout North America, Europe and the world but appears somewhat uneasy about promoting his work.

Smith says he considers Century his best work, and for the most part, the critics have tended to agree.

“Century got some pretty solid reviews, and I believe it’s my best work but as a novelist. It’s not uncommon for your works to be received in Canada with stony silence. I once asked Farley Mowat why he wore that kilt, and his answer was: “Have you ever tried to get any attention in this country?” But if I had to do it all over again I don’t think I’d do it any differently,” Smith concludes, perhaps with a feeling that his best work may still lie ahead.

Ray Smith’s published works include: Cape Breton Is the Thought Control Centre of Canada (1969), Lord Nelson Tavern (1974), Century (1986) and A Night at the Opera, which won the QSPELL Hugh MacLennan Award for Best Novel of 1992, The Man Who Loved Jane Austen (1999) and The Man Who Hated Emily Brontë.

Friday, February 20, 2009

Biblioasis Renditions #4: Ray Smith's Century

Released late last month, Ray Smith's Century marks the fourth entry in our Biblioasis Renditions Reprint Series. I think this is a stunner of a novel, by far the best work Ray has done. But don't take my word for it: Charlie Foran thinks as highly of it, and penned an introduction to the book which states the case with more eloquence than I have at my disposal. If this doesn't convince you to pick up a copy of Century and give it a shot, then there simply isn't that much life left in you: my condolences.

An Introduction to Ray Smith's Century, by Charles Foran

As a novice reader in late 1970s Toronto, I struggled with many of the novels being heralded as evidence of the exciting new phenomenon known as ‘Canadian Literature.’ Two questions lingered in my mind about the anointed books. Why so formally and linguistically conservative, and why, why so glum? The qualities seemed connected. They seemed of a piece with stiff Canadian movies and unfunny CBC comedy shows. They seemed only too true to how people around me talked and thought. But I was just a teenager then, and shy. I held my critical tongue.

Likely I was simply reading the wrong novels. (Mordecai Richler was one roaring exception; I remember blushing in my suburban bedroom at rude Cocksure.) Whatever the reason, I came of age accepting that if I wanted my literature nervy and witty and willing to meditate on its own nature, I’d best look south to those restless Americans, such as Donald Barthelme and Thomas Pynchon, or across the ocean to language punks like Martin Amis and English-rattling post-colonials of the Salman Rushdie variety.

My views were pretty much set by 1986, when I first read Ray Smith’s Century. So great was the shock of it, I disbelieved my own eyes. I had to go find Smith’s earlier books, Lord Nelson Tavern and Cape Breton is the Thought Control Centre of Canada, to be convinced that here indeed was a local writer burdened by neither a plodding sense of the novel form nor the apparently unbearable heaviness of being Canadian. Better still, here was a maker of fictions content that his books abandon the pretence of verisimilitude for the dare of showing themselves to be, well, fictions; sly, purposeful arrangements of narratives into sequences that told many things – a ‘good story’ being just one.

Century is a collection of six such fictions, set mostly in Europe between the near arbitrary parameters of a hundred year span – 1893-1983. Connections between the tales are minimal – a filament tied together by the family of the character called Jane Seymour – and concerns remain embedded in the Proustian textures of the stories themselves. Matter of fact, the textures may be the meanings; Smith has too much respect for language, and too little patience with theme-speak, to insist any overarching concerns upon these smart, bright words. At moments, he might even be counting on musicality to serve as medium and message alike. Take the book’s opening line: “In the night, Heinrich Himmler came to her as she lay waiting for sleep.” In partner with its no less cadenced follow-up – “He came from behind, stepping slowly, carefully in the unfamiliar dark” -- the sentence sounds all sorts of resonances. Here is dark night, time of dreaming and nightmare, and here is menace both specific, in the spectre of a dead Nazi, and general, in the helplessness of sleep, where humans “lay waiting” for such visitations.

Does the reader need further direction into the tonal labyrinth of Century? Much will depend on the reader. The entire novel, or collection of linked stories, or sequence of fictions – call it what you like; naming a thing can often limit how it is viewed -- will sound similar high, pleasing, occasionally harsh notes. The closest Smith comes to announcing a theme comes, appropriately, in the final piece, ‘The Continental,’ a dazzling faux-homage to Henry James, via various prankster satirists. The louche American Kenniston Thorson’s exchanges on modernist art, aesthetics debated with luminaries Toulouse Lautrec and Frank Harris, echoes backwards into the book, suggesting the enshrinement of absurdity and instability into the 20th century consciousness from an early date. Conventional unities of theme and action will need be intimated once again from the prose itself. How else can Century end except with a further invocation of darkness gathering:

“Laughter spilled, trilled from Lulu’s red mouth, laughter like clinking crystal, laughter like cinder sparks whirling from her, brief in the winter night, like snowflakes whirling, filling the night, chill in the swirling dark all about, multitudinous, lost.

How else, too, can language behave, except to simultaneously sing, T.S. Eliot-like, of the looming catastrophe(s) while celebrating the wonder of its own lovely, largely innocent being. The ‘shock’ I felt on first reading Century was both aesthetic and moral. I had read books before whose formal virtuosity, quickened by charged prose, had set my heart racing. But never before had one of those writers been Canadian. Similarly, I had recently wrestled with a few giants of European modernism, Thomas Mann and Robert Musil among them, admiring their often colossal books for engaging with the volcanic, still unfolding century. Writing decades later, and doing so from the New World, Ray Smith wished to engage as well. Of course he couldn’t write as Mann or Musil had done. Of course he required a new form for New World meditations on, in effect, the Old World’s cataclysms. (Heinrich Himmler must travel to Montreal to unsettle this particular Jane Seymour.) The form would be post-modernist and would be meditated upon, or perhaps simply mediated, through music rather than through plot. This was language and structure as morality; this was serious literary craft.

Ray Smith was, and still is, an artist of great seriousness and, I sometimes think, greater sadness still. Nearly a quarter century after its publication – that word again! – Century continues to stand alone in Canadian Literature, apparently too singular, strange and unclassifiable. Out of this sad truth comes a happy one: the book remains to be discovered. Here it is.

A Thaw Foretold reviewed in The Fiddlehead

It is nice to see Mike Barnes's poetry collection, A Thaw Foretold, starting to get a bit of attention. It did not receive its due when it came out nearly three years ago -- I'm sure we share some of the blame for that -- but there have been a few reviews in the last several months, all of them glowing. The latest can be found in the current Fiddlehead, issue 238. Here's an excerpt.

Consider an introductory sampling of lines from Mike Barnes’ second book of poetry: “You held my arm for a moment/ as we kissed, and asked me to be careful.” Also “Fate is an oldfashioned word, you murmured.” These are the things lovers say to one another in A Thaw Foretold: though the collection begins in January, indeed with the poem “January”, and progresses onward, the poems in this book don’t presage any thaw, because the lovers it is populated with, the eternal and utilitarian “I” and “You”, are already having a deep, warm conversation. Barnes asks in “Sprawl”: “Is there time for a small poem just now,/ amid the numb or frenzied packing, the voices sounding/ last call?” And this small poem then goes on to answer in the affirmative. And this affirmative is brave, but tenuous; again addressing his love in “Meshaw Falls”, Barnes says, in a poem about his muse standing on a bridge, “I will hold this vision of you as you/ for as long as wind and planking will allow.” This introduces the real coldness of the two sections of the book: love has stakes, love has risk and is arrayed against risk, there are complications and unruly external forces that wish to impose their say on the poet’s say. But pain is merely only threatened here, or is in the past, is a making of memory; as Barnes puts it in the irregular sonnet “Abdication,” “Despair, you have held sway with me too long:// though nothing can slake the bloodless thirst for/ loss that is you, know this: our rule is done.” It’s a deft move: Barnes sheds the prophecy of despair as he admits he was complicit with it. Or as he writes in “K”: “.[N]ight will fall as it should, hugs/ and kisses back, and stories to tell…” Thus the threat Barnes is always alluding to, the threat that permeates this collection, is tempered by human conversation, is held at bay by what two lovers say to one another. Thus there is anecdote, skeins of anecdote, punctuated by and ultimately capped with lyric. In this way Barnes arrests by variation.


In conclusion I give this review over to Barnes’s talkative –and therby ultimately hopeful-poetry, in perhaps the ur-comment on the love impulse in “First Stab”: “A better [illness] could cure this stuff,/ whispered a voice, dismissing love.” This is the real thing, announcing itself, telling us, admonishing us, “Why write a poem…/ if its lines could/ not breathe in your ears?”

Thursday, February 19, 2009

The "new" New Quarterly

Once a Salonist, always a Salonist... If you needed any further proof that CNQ & TNQ (or Biblioasis and TNQ) share certain ...aesthetic leanings, look no further than the latest fab issue of The New Quarterly. Of particular note, there is a feature on the work of Robyn Sarah, with a spread of five poems from her upcoming fall poetry collection Pause for Breath. Editor Kim Jernigan interviews Robyn about her forthcoming book, and poetry in general; TNQ also has reprinted W. J. Keith's excellent review of Robyn's essay collection Little Eurekas. This alone is worth the cover price.

But there's more, of course. There's a contribution from the wonderful Peter Sanger, and an essay on his poem by CNQ contributing editor Amanda Jernigan; a wonderful little piece by regular CNQ reviewer Mark Callanan; three poems by Jason Guriel (who, along with Callanan, contributes poetry to the current CNQ; and three stories from Dave Margoshes's Metcalf-Rooke nominated Stories from my Father. The cover photo is by the wonderful John Haney.

Monday, February 16, 2009

Patricia and Terence Young at the UBC Bookstore

Thanks to Zach Wells for posting a reading over at CLM of Biblioasis authors -- current and future -- Patricia and Terence Young. We've published a couple of excellent books by Patricia, her first collection of short fiction the Metcalf-Rooke Award winning Airstream, and her last collection of poetry, from which she reads here, Here Come the Moonbathers. We'll be publishing a new collection of short fiction from Terence, likely Spring '10.

You can check out the reading here. A bit of background noise, so you'll need to turn up the volume, but well worth a listen.

Saturday, February 14, 2009

Clark Blaise: Our Greatest Unsung Writer

Or so says Philip Marchand in the National Post.

It is testament to the vagaries of literary reputation on this wilful and iniquitous planet of ours that Clark Blaise remains unknown to most Canadian readers.

For these readers the following introduction may serve. Clark Blaise was born in Fargo, N.D., in 1940. His mother was an English-Canadian woman who studied art and design in Europe. His father, Leo, was the second youngest of 19 children in a rural Quebec family. Fourteen of his siblings didn't make it to adulthood. Leo survived to become a professional boxer, bootlegger, salesman, among other occupations. He was barely literate and had an ingrained contempt, his son writes, "for anything that couldn't be sold, drunk or eaten."

Clark, their only offspring, was diagnosed as an infant with "a form of muscular dystrophy that was considered fatal," Blaise records. A thyroid extract saved his life, but left his body flabby and unco-ordinated. That the family left Fargo shortly after his birth and moved frequently during his childhood made matters worse - he was a "classic schoolyard punching bag" for a succession of new bullies in new schools. And what schools some of them were! In the late '40s, the family roamed the hookworm territory of northern Florida, in towns where students were "let out of school to watch Klan floggings, cross-burnings and lynchings."

For years he found relief in prodigious childhood feats of memorization - "I knew the county seats of every county in America," he recalls - but in early manhood he discovered the more therapeutic powers of writing fiction, a discovery reinforced by a life-changing seminar at Harvard with Bernard Malamud and by his stint at the famous writing program at the University of Iowa, where he met and married novelist Bharati Mukherjee.

In 1966, the couple moved to Montreal, where Blaise taught at Concordia (then Sir George Williams University) and joined The Montreal Storytellers, initiated by John Metcalf, which enjoyed surprising success doing readings across the city. These were "the happiest years of my life," he recalls. In 1978, the couple moved to Toronto, and two years later left Canada when the country, in Blaise's words, "turned racist." (It was a particularly nasty period of assaults on East Indians in Toronto.)

The rest is a story of teaching jobs at various institutions in the United States, near destitution at times, the awkwardness of Blaise finding his wife's acclaim, with the publication of her short story collection The Middleman and her novel Jasmine, overshadowing his. Through it all, however, he managed to write 18 books of fiction and non-fiction, including nine volumes of short stories. Some of those stories, such as "The Fabulous Eddie Brewster," rank among the best stories written on this continent in the past few decades.

These bare bones of a life story are particularly relevant in a review of Blaise's latest book, his Selected Essays, edited by John Metcalf and J.R. (Tim) Struthers (Biblioasis), because, as Blaise himself notes, "More than most authors, I am dependent on autobiography." Much of the power of his writing consists not just in the remembering of the drastic conditions of his childhood and adolescence, but also in the layered points of view he brings to that memory. Recalling his early student days, he writes, "I began to see the intellectual dimensions of my life; I wasn't just Southern, I was Southern from a Yankee perspective, and I was Yankee from a Canadian perspective, and I was Canadian from a French and English perspective, and on it went."

Blaise's stories, which are intimate, accessible and usually possessed of a strong narrative drive, practically vibrate with the tensions produced by this layering. Blaise, like every other writer, had to work through the ersatz stuff - he recalls in one essay how, tempted by the atmospherics that come almost automatically with any depiction of life in the Deep South, he wrote Southern stories "so swampy they should have been drained, then sprayed." But he learned, and his interest in the pure craft of the short story, dating back to early days with Malamud, remains strong. "The most interesting thing about a story," he writes in a characteristic observation, "is its beginning, its first paragraph, often its first sentence. More decisions are made on the basis of the first few sentences of a story than on any other part."

No matter how detached Blaise becomes in his discussion of literary craft and contemporary literature, however, he never ranges far from the nakedly personal. It is his most American quality - like Whitman he can honestly proclaim, "Who touches this book touches a man."

His candour raises one interesting question. Recalling his father's habit of abandoning promising commercial ventures and moving from town to town, Blaise writes, "Had we stayed in any of those towns and cities, we'd be millionaires now." It is tempting to speculate, in similar fashion, that if Blaise had stayed in Canada, instead of exercising his own form of wanderlust, he might have developed a stronger platform for his work and his reputation - in this country and perhaps even outside it. Canada is not so impervious to strong literary voices that it could have ignored long the continued presence of such a writer, blessed and cursed with such comprehensive awareness.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

The Lily Pond: A Visual Presentation

Over a Mike Barnes's blog (, Mike has posted a couple of links to a combined talk / slide show which are definitely worth checking out. They can be found here.

Wednesday, February 04, 2009

Dragonflies: February's Editor's Choice

The Historical Novel Society has selected Dragonflies as one of their key titles for this month, slotting it in for as Editor's Choice Selection.

The ancient Greeks were masters of the written word. From Homer, to Euripides, to Thucydides, their stories of human pathos pulse with a power that, on the whole, is unparalleled in modern literature. A recent resurgence of popular interest in The Iliad, Homer’s epic poem about the Trojan War, has led many writers to try their hand at retelling some portion of the story. Buday may not be the first, but he is definitely one of the best.
When Dragonflies begins, ten years have passed since Paris “…arrived in Sparta wearing an indigo robe trimmed with pearl, crocodile sandals with gold clasps, his hair perfect, while all Helen had to look forward to was cotton dyed in onion skin. So off she went, taking half the treasury with her.” Hector and Achilles are dead, and the Greeks have splintered into factions that hate each other more than they hate the Trojans. Desperate to achieve his dream of conquering Troy, Agamemnon asks Odysseus to devise a plan of victory.
This first-person account of the final weeks of the Trojan War is written in Odysseus’s voice. Filled with longing for his wife and son, Odysseus takes a paternal interest in the welfare of his two young servants, Sinon and Dercynus, but once he conceives the plan for the gigantic wooden horse with its bellyful of soldiers, the fate of both boys becomes entwined with his own. Although Buday adds his own variations to the story, he holds true to the emotional power of the original. Here on the field beneath the walls of Troy are gathered warriors, commanders, and kings whose pride and stubbornness affect all. Violence and hope mingle. Troy falls. The gods laugh. And Homer smiles with delight. Highly recommended for anyone with a passion for the ancient world.

CNQ Launch: Montreal Edition

Back on the 28th of January, lo, before the flu-bug ensured I couldn't get out of bed for several days, Michael Carbert organized a CNQ 75 launch / Salon redux event at the Word Bookstore in Montreal. Despite the blizzard, a crowd of 40+ people showed up to discuss the Canadian canon, and listen to panelists Anita Lahey, Robert Lecker, Robyn Sarah and Carmine Starnino. I wish I could have been there: these photos will have to suffice. (above: Anita Lahey, Robyn Sarah and Robert Lecker, with host Adrian of the Word Bookstore watching)
(Carmine Starnino and moderator Michael Carbert)

(Robert Lecker and Carmine Starnino)

(Anita Lahey and Robyn Sarah)

CNQ75 is now, or will be soon, on the newstands. It is also arriving as I write this in mailboxes across the country. Our 40th Anniversary/ 75 issue, guest-edited by Carmine Starnino, it brings together a folio of essays that take the bearings on Canadian culture and fearlessly soothsay on what the next twenty-five years will bring. Then there's Steven beattie's sharp take on the Giller, Michael Lista's Open Letter on Brandt-gatepoetry by Jason Guriel and Mark Callanan, and much else besides. One way or another, please pick it up.