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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.

Noah Richler 16 October at the Stockey Centre WHAT WE TALK ABOUT WHEN WE TALK ABOUT WAR

WHAT WE TALK ABOUT WHEN WE TALK ABOUT WAR What We Talk About When We Talk About War is the most recent book by Noah Richler – an exceptional thinker and writer – in the words of Stephen Lewis, a writer of “courage and insight”.

Noah Richler will talk with us about WHAT WE TALK ABOUT WHEN WE TALK ABOUT WAR at the Charles W. Stockey Centre on Wednesday 16 October at 7:30 pm.

For each of us, what we talk about when we talk about war is as personal and as different as we are as individuals. My generation – the baby boomers – grew up as the children of those who fought in the Second World War and, or, Korea. I remember the scare of the Bay of Pigs and the Cuban Missile Crisis – we really thought it might be the end of the world – as we hid under our desks at school. We are old enough to remember the nightly news with the body count of those killed in Vietnam. We came of age during the migration of young Americans to Canada, avoiding the draft – we went to University with them, many of us married them.

I realize that as a reader, we also have a fascination with war – and wartime - in the literature that we read. Just think about how many novels are still being written that take place during the First and Second World Wars - it was a time of drama and suspense – and, as writers and readers, we love it.

Noah Richler introduces his book with a discussion about men and war – the years that boys spend preparing to be warriors. Think for a moment about how little boys play and behave, and you know exactly what he means.

As the daughter of a career officer in the Canadian military I grew up with an awareness about war – and peace. My father fought in Europe during the Second World War and in Korea – he came home in between these wars to marry, reproduce and attend officer’s training school.

For much of my father’s career he worked as a Canadian liaison officer attached to the British Armed Forces or NATO. Some postings were in Germany with his family along. There in the late 1960s our neighbor, a member of the British Armed Forces, was transferred to Ireland. It was supposed to be for a short time – the British Forces were there for years – and still there is no real peace. Then there were the “unaccompanied” postings. The Gaza strip in 1959 and 1960, “keeping the peace”. There were a few years in the early 1960s with the British in West Africa, training Ghanaian cadets for the military under Kwame Nkrumah – an army that ousted him in a coup after we returned to Canada. In 1967 and 1968 he was in Cyprus with NATO before returning to Canada, followed again by a posting to West Germany.

My father left the military by the time I was an adult, and my experience since the late 1960s is much the same as yours – news of war on television. I will admit to being a “peacenik” as a teenager – but now I am simply a confused, sad and disillusioned adult when I think about peace. I am afraid I don’t believe it is possible. I see only the destruction that war brings – and there seem to be more and more places in the world at war. We are very fortunate to be citizens of a country that has known only peace in my lifetime. Growing up I knew how lucky I was to be a Canadian and I know that now more than ever. What Noah Richler writes about is how we have changed – no longer a nation known for our peacekeepers, but a nation with a military fighting, “feet on the ground” as they say. How many members of our military have been killed in Afghanistan? That is not peace keeping. And where else are we? Where else will the men and woman currently serving in our armed forces find themselves fighting?

Margaret MacMillan, author of Paris 1919 writes, “You don’t have to agree with everything Noah Richler says — I don’t — but you must take him seriously.” What we talk about when we talk about war is an important conversation – an exploration of our past, present and future. Don’t miss this opportunity to spend an evening with Noah Richler.

International Festival of Authors - Parry Sound - at the Charles W. Stockey Centre - 23 October 2013

International Festival of Authors - Parry Sound - at the Charles W. Stockey Centre - 23 October 2013 Fall in Canada means trees in full colour, deliciously cool nights and surprisingly lovely warm days. It is also the time of year when the big literary awards are presented – weeks of suspense for the authors on the short list, are weeks that readers spend feverishly reading the nominated books and making our own predictions.

Not coincidentally fall is the season when readings are presented by the International Festival of Authors across the province of Ontario – including Parry Sound. Our local committee has been busy since last year’s event fundraising and preparing for IFOA Parry Sound, when we will present an evening to celebrate the written word, with readings by four authors – Lewis DeSoto, Alexander Maksik, Janet E. Cameron and Nicole Lundrigan.

Janet E. Cameron grew up in the Annapolis Valley of Nova Scotia, and has lived and worked in Halifax, Toronto, Montreal, Vancouver and Tokyo. A graduate of Dalhousie University, she taught in Tokyo for four years. There she met an Irish journalist who became her husband. Janet completed a Master's of Philosophy in Creative Writing from Trinity College Dublin. Her first novel, Cinnamon Toast and the End of the World, was published March 2013.

Gillian Holden, IFOA Parry Sound committee member, an educator in our community has written this week’s review.

CINNAMON TOAST AND THE END OF THE WORLD by Janet E. Cameron

‘Oh, Stephen, I just want to wrap my arms around you and tell you that it gets better. It really does.’ And fortunately, by the end of this heart wrenching account of Stephen Shulevitz’s childhood and adolescence, it does start to get better.

Cinnamon Toast and the End of the World, a first novel by Janet E. Cameron, features seventeen year old Stephen, finishing his final year at high school. He is an extremely intelligent student, with plans to pursue post secondary education. Having spent his early years being home schooled on a pseudo commune, it is a big adjustment for Stephen to enter Grade 3 in a regular school after his parents move the family to a nearby town. Soon after, Stephen’s father leaves the family and there is no contact with him for many years. Stephen’s mother, a victim of abuse at the hands of her father, and a proponent of the ‘do as I say, not as I do’ school of parenting, raises Stephen herself.

Throughout the story, Stephen is befriended and protected by Mark, a boy who has been his bodyguard since Grade Three when he was paid 50 cents to beat him up on the playground. Instead of carrying out the deed, Mark, a student with learning difficulties, decided to befriend Stephen in exchange for having his homework completed. But as the book begins, Stephen reveals that he is in love with Mark, a boy who is homophobic in the extreme.

Cameron deals with very heavy themes such as bullying, homophobia and teenage pregnancy in this novel which takes place in the distant 1980s. Thirty plus years later, our society is so much more familiar with these themes. As I read the book, I had to keep the timeframe at the forefront of my mind in order to understand why the violence, extremism and narrow mindedness were so strong. As well, I was constantly in fear of the possibility of Stephen taking his own life, and turned the pages with great trepidation at times.

But Cameron also deals with the themes of resilience and forgiveness. Stephen has a remarkable capacity for resilience. Despite the literally never ending bullying he has endured, he continues to look forward to the future and to associate with the people who have tormented him since he first moved to town. Despite his betrayal by his best friend, he does not seek revenge. When a new acquaintance betrays his confidence at a house party, Stephen makes the most of the experience.

Following the climax of the novel, Stephen demonstrates great strength when he forgives the perpetrator of the worst beating he has ever received. It is incredible that Stephen is not warped and destroyed by the pain and suffering he has experienced in his short life. Cinnamon Toast ends on a hopeful note, as Stephen begins a new life in which he is able to be true to himself, and find a peer group that accepts and supports him. By the end of the novel, I no longer felt I had to hug and reassure him.

Janet E. Cameron will read from Cinnamon Toast and the End of the World at the Charles W. Stockey Centre at 7:30 pm on Wednesday 23 October.

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International Festival of Authors Parry Sound 23 October 2013

The International Festival of Authors Parry Sound takes place Wednesday 23 October at 7:30 pm at the Charles W. Stockey Centre. This is the seventh year that this prestigious organization has worked with a local committee, with the support of local sponsors, to bring internationally recognized authors to Parry Sound.

This year four authors, Lewis DeSoto, Alexander Maksik, Nicole Lundrigan and Janet E. Cameron will read from their most recent novels. I first met Lewis DeSoto in 2005 when he accepted my invitation to come to Parry Sound to read from his first novel, A Blade of Grass. Set on the border between South Africa and an unnamed country, A Blade of Grass tells the story of a young couple, Ben and Marit, farmers maintaining old traditions, their days passing peacefully. They manage the farm, and their black workers cultivate the fields and tend the animals. But when guerilla violence and tragedy erupt the novel proceeds to its devastating conclusion, unfolding a tale that is both terrifying and hopeful. We are offered a profound perspective on what it means to be black and white in a country that both call home. A Blade of Grass is on my list of favourite novels. Lewis De Soto’s most recent novel is The Restoration Artist. This novel is set in France, mostly in Normandy, where Lewis DeSoto and his wife live for part of each year. We meet Leo, a painter, his wife Claudine and their son, Piero, on holiday in Cyprus when tragedy occurs. Claudine and Piero are killed and Leo survives – a man broken by grief and guilt. A year and a half later we find Leo on a small island off the coast of Normandy where he has come to find a way to carry on – or not. What follows is the story of a man struggling to find love and peace and fulfillment. The cast of characters includes others who are damaged - a child, Tobias, and a woman, Lorca - and the very perceptive local curate who truly lives his faith and helps each one in his own quiet way. This is a novel that explores loss, despair and hope.

Lewis DeSoto was born in Bloemfontein, South Africa, to a family that arrived from Europe in the eighteenth century and eventually located to farming country near Vryheid in Zululand after the Boer War. Lewis attended the University of British Columbia, where he received a master of fine arts. Lewis DeSoto is also the author of Emily Carr a volume in the Extraordinary Canadians Series.

Joining Lewis DeSoto, Alexander Maksik and Janet E. Cameron is Nicole Lundrigan.

Nicole Lundrigan is a native of Newfoundland, where she grew up in Upper Gillies with her five siblings. She now lives in Ontario.

She is the author of The Seary Line, Thaw and Glass Boys all set in Newfoundland.

Nicole Lundrigan steps far away from Newfoundland with her new novel. She will read from The Widow Tree, a novel set in the 1950s, in post-war Yugoslavia. When a trio of young men find a cache of Roman coins they argue over what to do with their new found wealth. Silent betrayals take place in this tightly knit village, where suspicion counters hope in the post war years. Secrets, once closely guarded, are revealed, resulting in tragic consequences.

The International Festival of Authors provides a unique opportunity to hear authors not usually available for readings right here in our own community. Join us for an entertaining and exhilarating celebration of the written word.

Joseph Boyden reads from The Orenda at the Charles W. Stockey Centre

On Thursday 19 September Joseph Boyden will read from his new novel,The Orenda, at the Charles W. Stockey Centre. Joseph Boyden has a strong connection to this part of the world. His native roots, Ojibway Metis, as much as his Irish Scottish background, is a personal part of who he is. “I’m a Canadian”, says Joseph. Raised in a very Irish Catholic home, his father a military man, Joseph calls himself “a suburban boy” who spent all of his summers, with his family, on Beckwith Island and Christian Island on Georgian Bay. He still feels a strong connection to this place that was so special in the lives of his parents. To Joseph, as it is to so many of us, Georgian Bay is, in his own words, “a magical, a spiritual place, it is Ground Zero”. The Orenda is Joseph Boyden’s Georgian Bay novel, in which, he said, it was “difficult to capture the beauty of that place … this is where my heart is”. This is Georgian Bay in the 1600’s, and the landscape we follow in this novel is along the shoreline of Georgian Bay between Midland and the French River - the Sweet Water Sea that was the route of the native people, and the early explorers and settlers who came after.

My challenge with this review is how to write about a book that I want each of you read without knowing what is going to happen to the characters. For me some of the pleasure of reading is that discovery of an unknown story. Although, if you have read any of the many reviews published in newspapers and magazines this past week about The Orenda, you may already know than I’d have disclosed.

Joseph Boyden describes the pace of this novel as a headlong car chase, yet I found it a book that I wanted to hold back from reading as quickly as usual. I wanted to savour each short chapter - each perfectly crafted sentence.

The Orenda is told in three voices, a mature man, Bird, an Haudenosaunee warrior, a young girl, Snow Falls, who is Huron-Wendat, and a Jesuit priest, Christophe. Joseph Boyden writes as though he witnessed this time himself – using each of these narrators to tell us, in their own words, their story, as we move forward in time. This is a time of conflict among the native people of the region, and into this mix come the Jesuits – called crows by the native people. Bird describes one, “he walks among the dead and wounded like a bird that he is, pecking at the poor men’s foreheads, trying to gain something for himself from their dying bodies.” Of course, we realize the priest is blessing the dead, but we can also completely understand Bird’s interpretation - we’ve all seen the crows along the highway pecking at the dead.

The native people who were here before the rest of us did not know what the future would bring anymore than the Jesuits did. The people of the region had their own spiritual beliefs. One Jesuit reflects, “these savages believe that we all have within us a life force that is similar, if you will, to our own Catholic belief in the soul. They call this life force the orenda…what appals me is that these poor misguided beings believe not just humans have an orenda but also animals, trees, bodies of water, even rocks strewn on the ground.” I know I am not alone in feeling that there is something very spiritual in the rocks and the endless sky over the open water of Georgian Bay. The Jesuits, whether anyone believes they had any right to attempt to convert the native people or not, were men who believed in what they were doing. And this is what Joseph Boyden so perfectly conveys in this novel. The Jesuits did come, they did attempt to convert the native people to their ways and, as we all know, the consequences in the years that followed are tragic. As Joseph says in this book “the past and future are present.” But the future, our own time and the years in between, are in the far distance for the descendants of Bird, Snow Falls and Crow Christophe. Over a decade we witness the growth of the Jesuit community, the aging of Bird, and the maturity of Snow Falls.

This is a novel that explores love, loss, grief. There are times of peace, and travel, paddling canoes on the glittering water of the Sweet Water Sea, planting and harvesting the Three Sisters, and peaceful gatherings within the community. I learned about the rich culture of these people, their spiritual beliefs and their way of life. There are also many periods of warfare. Sleeps Long, tells Snow Falls, “We hurt one another because we’ve been hurt ... We kill one another because we have been killed …”. The notion of having to avenge a death is strong in this culture.

As third section of The Orenda begins three important questions are posed. “How do you keep going when all you loved has been lost? What role did I play in the troubles that surround me? Will I see my loved ones again?” Fundamental.

Many of us who read Three Day Road called it brilliant and brutal – and the same could be said of The Orenda – but I found the brutality more controlled, for lack of a better word, in this novel. Most of the novel is told in such a way that I did not find myself as emotionally involved with these characters as I might have expected. Not that I was not completely engaged – I was. But it was not until close to the end of the book, when the characters I had come to care for and know so intimately were in extreme danger, that I found myself brought to tears. I think this is one of the strengths of the novel. Reading without my emotions in turmoil I was reading clearly, captivated by the story, entranced by the writing and completely absorbed. That Joseph Boyden can write like this is a wonder – it is magnificent. I thought what it must have demanded of him to write this book, a book he said he’s “been wanting to write since he was a boy”. The Orenda is an important book for all of us. This book should win every literary award, in Canada and Internationally. I cannot imagine that a jury who reads this book will read anything else that is as perfectly written, and brilliantly told as The Orenda. It is also important to us as Canadians – to our native people, to those of us born here, and to those who came as immigrants. We are all Canadians, and no matter what we think of our shared history we do share it.

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