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International Festival of Authors Wednesday 23 October

The International Festival of Authors Parry Sound presents an evening to celebrate the written word, with readings by four authors – Lewis DeSoto, Alexander Maksik, Janet E. Cameron and Nicole Lundrigan - Wednesday 23 October at the Charles W. Stockey Centre. This week’s review has been written by Stevan McCallum, an educator currently teaching at our local High School, and a member of the committee that arranges to bring authors to Parry Sound.

A Marker to Measure Drift by Alexander Maksik – reviewed by Stevan McCallum When readers encounter a gifted writer with an important story to tell, they are afforded an opportunity to enter the minds of people they might never happen upon in a lifetime. Such readers can easily be transported across oceans, and through time, to destinations they could never otherwise look upon. In Alexander Maksik’s second novel A Marker to Measure Drift, he leads readers to places, and into people’s lives, which are at once enlightening and uncomfortable, but frighteningly believable.

Readers follow Jacqueline, a woman who has fled Liberia in the early-going of the Second Liberian Civil War. We are at times eavesdropping on her imagined conversations with the sister and mother left behind. At other times, we witness her fond recollections of her not-too-distant past. Both occur as she finds her way around a Greek Island.

Jacqueline, however, is only playing the part of a tourist. She has arrived illegally and carries with her little more than memories of her family (memories she struggles to keep, and it is only in the end we understand their value). Passing as an American student with impeccable English, we are reminded of her facts: “You are alone. You have the clothes you’re wearing. You have the contents of your pack. Including twenty euros. It will soon by night. It will soon be colder. You are thirsty. You will soon be hungry again.”

I found Jacqueline’s situation so vivid I couldn’t help feel I would make many of her same decisions. I also found her concerns believable: she takes great pain to avoid looking homeless, recognizing that she will be treated differently if she is discovered to be homeless--a fate she seems to dread more than being arrested. The desire to pass as a tourist often supersedes hunger, shelter or friendship.

It is between Jacqueline and reader where a vital parallel is created. At points, like her, we desire for her to meet someone, hope she can find the courage to ask for help, and question the methods of her parents. The parallel remains through to the end where I struggled hearing Jacqueline’s story as much as she did telling it. Moreover, the shock I experienced in hearing the story is minute compared to the shock Jacqueline experiences living it.

Though despite the focus on Jacqueline, Maksik offers other characters with whom we are able to see ourselves...or potential selves. In the tourists, residents of the island, and others like Jacqueline, we are presented with a variety of attitudes to Jacqueline. Her desire to form relationships is developed alongside the reader’s snapshots of tourists, some which hit close to home. It was in these other characters I questioned, which character am I most like? Which tourists have I been? And, most telling, am I the person who resembles the character I’d most like to be?

If fiction is about taking readers places and offering new or different perspectives, then we can be thankful our escape is figurative. To know that Jacqueline’s escape was a necessity--and is a necessary and literal escape playing-out with great frequency in our newspapers and television--is horrifying.

Alexander Maksik will read from A Marker to Measure Drift at the Charles W. Stockey Centre tonight at 7:30 pm.

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