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The Other Side of the World by Stephanie Bishop

The Other Side of the World by Stephanie Bishop is prefaced with a quote – “Nostalgia is a longing for a home that no longer exists or has never existed. Nostalgia is a sentiment of loss and displacement, but it is also a romance with one’s own fantasy……”. I think we can all understand this – that the childhood we might remember as being idyllic was probably not really so perfect – that first love affair is only wonderful in retrospect – if it had really been so wonderful it would not have ended. But, the cold light of reality does not completely erase the feeling of yearning for that time or place. For someone who has been moved from the place they feel most at home the feeling of nostalgia and the sense of loss is more profound, and that is certainly the case for both Charlotte and Henry – the protagonists in this novel.

Henry grew up in India, in Delhi. Sent to England, to school, at the age of 11 in 1945 there was later nothing to return to in India. He is a citizen of the British Empire, and chooses to stay in England and marry Charlotte. They are very much in love, they have dreams. Charlotte studied art, she is a painter. Henry an academic. It is the early 1960s - they have one child, Lucie, and soon another, May. They live in a damp little cottage. Henry goes to work, and Charlotte stays at home with the children.

Henry misses the warmth of the weather in India and applies to emigrate from England to Australia with his young family. When their application is accepted Henry is happy to think of a new start in a warm climate – but Charlotte has no desire to leave England – it is her home and she is deeply attached to the landscape and the place where she was born and grew up. But, unable to convince Henry she submits and they leave.

Australia is indeed a new life – a very different landscape, new people, all strangers. Henry enthusiastically starts a new job as a lecturer at the University. But, it is more difficult than he expected. He finds that he is considered “coloured” here. In England many East Indians emigrated from the colonies for education and opportunity – but here in Australia it is different.

Charlotte at home with the children – children who demand care and attention – struggles to get through the day. Charlotte loves her children but she is floundering – she cannot paint – she feels she has completely lost her own identity. Her one attempt at a portrait of her husband is not entirely successful.

As I read about this time in a young woman’s life – from the perspective of someone so much older – I recognized that for young parents it is often a time when many find themselves overwhelmed with the care of children. The months, or years, of sleepless nights, the childhood illnesses that sometimes feel unrelenting – the loss of any time for oneself and ones own needs and desires that must take second place to the needs of children. Most of us survive that time – we may look back and wonder how on earth we managed – but we did manage. We counsel our own children to take care, to understand that this time will pass – to hang in there. To get help if they need it physically or emotionally. Henry and Charlotte did not have parents there to help in Australia – nor did they have friends they felt they could confide in.

Charlotte knows that she has a “burning love” for her children; she is “made whole” by this love. She is torn by her “great need for them, the great love. Then the swift feeling of being overcome, smothered”. She very clearly sees her choices, and knows no matter what her choice is, “ she will not be forgiven”.

Stephanie Bishop has written an exceptional novel about love – between husband and wife, parent and child. She tells a story based in large part on the life of her grandparents who did in fact emigrate from England to Australia at this time.  I will attach an article Stephanie Bishop wrote for the Guardian newspaper to the Parry Sound Books website with this review. The Other Side of the World is a terrific novel – one I bet you’ll be up late at night to finish. 

FYI The Other Side of the World has won the following awards

 Readings Prize for New Australian Fiction 2015 & Literary Fiction Book of the Year ABIA's 2016, and Shortlisted for  The Victorian Premier’s Literary Award 2016, Indie Book Awards 2016 & NSW Premier's Literary Awards 2016 and Longlisted for The Stella Prize 2016

The Following is an article published in the Guardian 17 Sept 2016

My grandmother’s £10 ‘exile’ returned to haunt me

Stephanie Bishop’s grandmother reluctantly emigrated to Australia in the 60s and never let the family forget it. Now Stephanie knows exactly how she felt.

Among my papers is a yellowing pamphlet calling on Britons to migrate to Australia. It is dated from the early 1960s and depicts a version of the happy life: in one photograph a nuclear family is playing on a beach, in another they are strolling down a suburban footpath. There is a photo of a wife doing the shopping and one of a well-dressed man going off to work, smiling and swinging his briefcase.

The captions promise everlasting sunshine and a “British way of life” in a country populated by “British stock” – for only £10 (about £150 today) with children travelling free. It was a seductive vision of the migrant’s life and my grandfather fell for it. He was one of many: the Assisted Passage Scheme was one of the 20th century’s largest planned migrations. Those who participated are commonly known as ten pound poms.

My maternal grandparents migrated to Sydney in 1965, but it was not an easy decision, as far as the story of their marriage goes. It was something my grandfather wanted very much, and which my grandmother wanted not at all. This rift was complicated by their different backgrounds: my grandfather was part of the Anglo-Indian diaspora. Born in Calcutta in 1926, he was sent to England as a boy in the lead up to Indian independence but he never felt wholly at home here and the claim that Australia would be just like Britain, only sunnier, appealed.

My grandmother, on the other hand, had never lived anywhere other than England and identified intensely with the landscape and its people. When they left, they had four young children, and my grandmother discovered she was pregnant with a fifth on the voyage. She did not want to move, and has resented this, to varying degrees, ever since.

Growing up in Australia, what I heard again and again was my grandmother complaining about this ill-fated event. Her longing for England never lessened.

I can’t remember a time when I was in her company and she did not say something about the great pleasures and beauty of England and compare Australia unfavourably. Yet in our family it was part of our routine entertainment to quietly mock my grandmother’s grief. All the while my grandfather silently bore her criticism, aware that his wife thought he had done her some great wrong. As a child, and young woman, I accepted the wider family’s take: my grandmother was simply a whingeing pom.

In my mid-20s I moved to the UK to undertake a PhD. Towards the end of my studies, my grandparents came to visit: they stayed nearby and I invited them for dinner.

What surprised me most about that visit was the joy my grandmother seemed to feel simply by seeing me going about my days in England. It was as if by my moving here I had fulfilled something in my life that she couldn’t achieve in her own. If she couldn’t return, then at least I could. She spoke, that night, of England being my spiritual homeland because it was, so to speak, in the family. It was the first time we had really met alone, as two adults, and during the meal my grandmother confessed things that I didn’t know of.

She wondered why she had agreed to move to Australia when she hadn’t wanted to. If it hadn’t been for the children, she said, she might have left her husband. Until this point I’d always viewed her as the archetypal stay-at-home mother: a strong feminist, but a feminism in which maternal experience stood at the apex of a woman’s life. With this new knowledge – with the recognition of her own doubt and uncertainty – she seemed both more fierce and more injured.

I started to understand the grief she had lived with for more than 40 years. This was partly because I, too, had come to feel attached to this place and could comprehend something of what she had lost. I then saw her in a completely different way: riven by opposing impulses, unsure of her own actions.

I came to realise that my tendency to dismiss and overlook what, for my grandmother, amounted to an experience of exile, was part of a broader and persistent attitude towards this migrant group. The trials specific to British women migrants at that time were easily deemed insignificant. We generally resist describing migrants as exiles because it’s assumed that the migrant is free to return. But after this conversation with my grandmother such a position seemed inaccurate, especially for this group of women, often with young children, and without independent means of their own that would allow them to choose otherwise.

Not long after this visit, I discovered I was pregnant. Out of the blue, my husband and I found ourselves having conversations that seemed to replicate those my grandparents must have had 50 years before: where was the best place to raise a child? What experiences did we want our children to have? What did home mean to us, now that we’d been away for so long?

While we were trying to make a decision about our own lives, I began to feel that my experiences and my grandmother’s were overlapping to an uncanny degree. It seemed as though my life were directly replicating that of my grandparents’. And it was against my grandmother’s life that, at the time, I often found myself trying to understand my own.

While my mother thought I should come “home” to have the baby, my grandmother thought I should stay put. Even childbirth was better in England, she said. So I sided with her and we remained, our daughter born on a frosty night in December. Eventually, though, my husband and I returned to Australia with our child in tow. It was a decision that only further strengthened the strange overlap and subsequent bond between my grandmother and me.

 

Poet Catherine Graham to read in Parry Sound with The International Festival of Authors on 6 November.

 

Poet Catherine Graham to read in Parry Sound with The International Festival of Authors on 6 November.

 

Review by IFOA Parry Sound Committee member Gillian Holden

The International Festival of Authors returns to Parry Sound this fall for the 7th year. In 2008 the touring program of the IFOA was an experiment, it is now an event that readers eagerly look forward to attending each year.

This fall, on Thursday 6 November at 7:30 pm we will present readings by Michael Crummey, Craig Davidson (writing as Nick Cutter), Catherine Graham and Helen Humphreys.

Catherine Graham will read from her fifth poetry collection Her Red Hair Rises With The Wings Of Insects.

Graham, Catherine (c) Prosopon Photography.JPG

Catherine Graham is a Hamilton-born Canadian poet whose work has been strongly influenced by poets P.K. Page (Canada) and Dorothy Molloy (Ireland).  This collection was launched in the fall of 2013, and was a finalist for the League of Canadian Poets’ Raymond Souster Award, as well as the CAA Poetry Award.  Graham’s poems form a permanent exhibit on the Burlington, Ontario waterfront.  She has also served as a founding member of the board of directors of Project Bookmark Canada.

This latest poetry collection is based on the style of writing known as glosa, which was developed in the early part of the Renaissance.  Glosa is a Spanish form of poetry related to the cantiga.  It is a poem that begins with a line or a short verse (cabeza) which states a theme. This first verse is then followed by separate verses for each line of the cabeza which explains (glosses) that line. The line often appears as a refrain in the first or last line, or both.

In this collection, Graham has used the glosa format more loosely, writing poems that expand on poetry written by Dorothy Molloy.   Graham has used italics to indicate the words that come from Molloy, and has not strictly adhered to the original form.  In the words of Michael Dennis, ‘She has the technical mastery to make the glosas disappear . . . and we are left with strong, vibrant poems that aren't bridled by technique. There is humour, wit, sensual experience, fantasy and grace in these poems.’

Catherine Graham currently lives in Toronto, having spent several years living and writing in Northern Ireland.  She commented that ‘Poetry is a big part of people’s lives in Northern Ireland, Ireland, and the UK where my journey as a writer began.  It isn’t confined to the backs of bookshelves or to no shelves at all, it’s at the front of the bookstore, the latest publication. Poetry is reviewed regularly in national newspapers, heard on national radio and contemporary poets are often seen on TV. People from all walks of life attend poetry readings, not just poets and emerging poets. It’s alive and vibrant and embedded in the culture.’

Catherine Graham began writing poetry following the deaths of her parents, which occurred while she was an undergraduate student at McMaster University in Hamilton, Ontario. This outlet for her grief became a passion in and of itself, causing her to move to Northern Ireland and study poetry.  She earned an MA in Creative Writing from Lancaster University while there and also published her first collection.  Graham’s work has been influenced by the strong community of Irish poets.  Her work was broadcast on BBC Radio Ulster and anthologized in The White Page/An Bhileog Bhan: Twentieth Century Irish Women Poets and The Field Day Anthology of Irish Writing, Vol IV & V.

 

Picks and Sticks by Michele Muzzi

Hometown girl writes about figure skating & hockey! Picks and Sticks by Michele Muzzi I do not like competitive sports, getting out of bed in the dark on winter mornings or the bone chilling cold of winter. So, why did I read a young adult novel about elite level figure skating and small town hockey that involves all of this? Because, Picks and Sticks written by Michele Muzzi, who grew up in Parry Sound has set her first novel in her hometown.

What I expected was a simple little book for young teens, what I read is a thoroughly captivating, well-constructed, very well written, and powerful novel. Although the target audience is really thirteen to eighteen year olds, Picks and Sticks is a novel with more depth and compassion than most for that age. I read it from cover to cover in one sitting.

Picks and Sticks opens with the famous 1972 hockey game between Russia and Canada – and don’t we all know where we were on that day. I was working at the York University Bookstore where someone had brought in a television for all the hockey crazy fans. Jane Matagov is in Parry Sound, in high school, watching the game with her classmates. Jane is a figure skater, daughter of a hockey player, Bud, who died some years earlier in an automobile accident. Jane’s mother, Deb, now a caregiver at the local nursing home, was once also a young figure skater heading for fame, and Jane’s brother, Michael, who plays with the Shamrocks shows promise of being an accomplished hockey player. Jane’s skating coach, Leonard, was once her mother’s pairs partner – a man disappointed by his own lack of success as a skater. So, we have our central characters. Added to the mix is Ivan, the Zamboni driver at the local arena, and his daughter, Irina, and various assorted friends of Jane and Michael. And, the arena manager and hockey coach, Al, a thoroughly miserable man - and the principal of the local high school, Mr. Marsh, a man many Parry Sounders will recognize.

Until I moved from Toronto to Parry Sound in 1988 I had no idea of the importance of both hockey and figure skating in the lives of small town Ontario - and I expect, across the country. But, I have learned that it is a passion that many live and breath for – and Michele Muzzi has nailed it.

Jane practices hard, she has just won the Junior Ladies skating event for Northern Ontario and is heading for the Canadians. But, unknown to others, Jane sometimes puts on hockey skates and goes alone to a pond where she skated with her father, the place she feels closest to him. One morning Jane sees Ivan and Irina skating there, playing hockey with each other, and she joins in. This becomes their secret place and secret time. Jane, along with the reader, discovers there is a lot more to their story than is at first apparent, and how that is revealed is one of the most interesting parts of this novel, as we discover how Ivan is connected to Russia, and hockey, and Jane’s father.

At the local arena where Jane practices in the early mornings and after school, and the boys play hockey, there is a rather nasty atmosphere as the coaches compete for ice time. Jane is a very talented, disciplined and committed skater but she feels an intense loneliness as a figure skater with all of the other skaters her competition. But hockey is giving her a community as gradually, with a group of other girls, a sort of team is formed. Jane for the first time experiences the camaraderie of her peers, while skating on a pond overlooking Georgian Bay in the early dawn.

Jane at fifteen is experiencing what a difficult draining age that can be. She has the usual conflicts with her mother, complicated by the death of her father and her skating career. The self confidence and determination that she has as a skater serves her well – she is able to stand up for herself in the face of opposition by the adults in her life. Jane is determined to play hockey against the orders from her mother and her skating coach.

I don’t want to reveal any more of this story. Jane’s development as a figure skater heading for International fame, her relationship with her mother and how that changes over the course of the novel will bring you to tears.

I found myself full of questions about the background to this novel. I know there is very active figure skating, and hockey for boys and girls in Parry Sound. This is after all is the home of Bobby Orr, who does make an appearance in this story. We now have girls and women’s hockey teams here and around the world. So, I picked up the phone to talk with Michele Muzzi.

Michele Muzzi grew up in Parry Sound, living here until she was nineteen years old – most of that time on Church Street, where Jane also lives in Picks and Sticks. Michele was a figure skater herself, “but not a really good one”, she says, and she did do the early morning practices, the figures.

One well-known person who makes an appearance is Hazel McCallion, long time mayor of Mississauga. She did play hockey herself in the late 1920’s, later turning professional in Montreal. Michele told me that girls hockey was quite popular, and organized, in the years before the Second World War, but repressed for some unknown reason in the 1950s, 1960s, and 1970s.

You will also recognize Bobby Orr. Although he was in Parry Sound recuperating from knee surgery, he did not make an appearance at the arena as he does in this novel, but I like to think he would have.

I recognized many Parry Sound locations in this novel – and you will think that you recognize some of the people – but this is fiction and Michele has used the writers’ prerogative to change things to suit her story.

Michele Muzzi will be home in Parry Sound to share her book with hometown readers, on Sunday 15 December from noon until 2 pm she will be at Parry Sound Books to sign her books, and celebrate with family and friends the publication of Picks and Sticks.

Icebergs by Rebecca Johns

Icebergs by Rebecca Johns Several years ago while browsing in The Strand in New York City I came across a book titled Icebergs by Rebecca Johns – picked it up because of the cover – a sort of ghostly image of a Second World War style airplane coming in low over a barn surrounded by harvested fields – yes, you can judge some books by the cover. The description was appealing – Newfoundland, World War II, romantic love, deceit, death, survival – sounded good to me.

However, because I like to read books I can review, when I discovered that this book is out of print I put it aside until recently when I was looking for Newfoundland related books to read on a trip to The Rock. Published in 2006 this title is unavailable except for the few copies I was recently able to order that I can offer to my customers.

Icebergs begins as a plane crashes on the Labrador coast – two men in the freezing cold, the rest of the crew dead. The survivors talk and attempt to help each other stay alive in spite of their injuries and the freezing cold. We learn their individual stories – their pasts, the people they love and what they want to stay alive to come home to.

We move forward into the post war years, with those who returned from the war as they adjust to living again with wives and children – and the families whose fathers and husbands did not return are adjusting as well. Then the next generation – the children of these men as they enter adulthood – in the United States the boys are just the right age to fight in Viet Nam. At this transition I was, at first, reluctant to leave those earlier Second World War years, but found myself just as captivated by these new characters, their children. We do return to the earlier characters as the novel progresses. When we reach the present time – two generations removed from the Second World War, we have the adult grandchildren of the men we first met – and the wives, the grandmothers, now elderly women.

The characters in this novel are mostly people born in Canada who went to the United States for employment opportunities, the novel, and the characters, travel physically and emotionally between the two countries.

Rebecca Johns is able to write in the voice of an elderly man, a teenager bent on self-destruction, a woman in love with such accuracy of detail. There were so many times as I read that I wondered, “who is this writer”, and “how can someone so young write this”. I occasionally contact an author with my questions, and when I sent Rebecca Johns an email from Newfoundland she answered immediately.

“My connection to Newfoundland was that my grandfather was stationed at Gander during the war and survived a crash very like the one in the book (except not as many people died, thank goodness!) in 1944 outside of Goose Bay. I remembered his stories about it and about my grandmother at home waiting for news of him, and while I was in graduate school in Iowa I wrote a short story about a young woman waiting for news of her husband who'd gone down in such a crash. It seemed natural to add the husband's perspective and to show the things that happened to them afterward. I couldn't stop writing until I had their stories fully told to the ends of their lives.”

I did some research in Newfoundland while I was writing the book, including a trip to Gander and to the coast, and even down to St. John's, where my mother and I went on a whale-watching tour. It's beautiful country, and I don't know if I ever would have had a reason to go there without the book, so I'm glad I wrote it for that alone.

The middle section of the book went through a number of changes as I was writing, but it too was inspired by my dad's story as a Vietnam vet born in Canada who emigrated to the US as a small child. When so many young men were trying to escape over the border, my father volunteered for the service and did one of the worst tours imaginable. The connections between the two stories always seemed mysterious to me, and I wanted to have a chance to explore them.

In a strange and delightful footnote, the book introduced me to the man who saved my grandfather's life in 1944 when he dug him out of that snowbank. We've been in touch several times by phone and letter. The plane itself, which lay in the woods in Labrador all these years, is in the process of being restored (or was, the last I heard). I like to think all this would have pleased my grandfather very much, if he were still alive.”

Icebergs, was a finalist for the 2007 Hemingway Foundation/PEN Award for first fiction and a recipient of the Michener-Copernicus Award. We can only hope that Icebergs comes back into print in the future for more readers to have the pleasure of reading this terrific novel.

Daniel Kalla in Shanghai

The Far Side of the Sky by Daniel Kalla languished in my “too read” pile for a couple of years, until it’s sequel Rising Sun, Falling Shadow was published this fall.

The Far Side of the Sky was a departure for this author who is well known for his medical thrillers. Daniel Kalla is an emergency room physician in Vancouver whose first book Pandemic was published in 2005. Pandemic was based on Dr. Kalla’s experience during the SARS crisis in 2003 – but, he considered, what if this virus was being spread on purpose? A good idea for a thriller he thought and he has been at it ever since writing several books, all thrillers, in medical settings.

The Far Side of the Sky takes place during the Second World War, in Shanghai. This novel would be considered more literary fiction than thriller – although the danger the Jews who left Europe for Shanghai experienced made their lives extremely thrilling, as they hoped to survive the war in this place so far from what had been home.

The story itself is fascinating – a doctor, Franz Adler, widowed, flees Vienna with his young daughter, Hannah, leaving behind his elderly father. He is also accompanied by his sister in law, Esther, whose husband was brutally killed when the Nazis marched into Austria. All Austrian Jews were considered stateless as they were not German citizens and consequently had great difficulty in obtaining entry visas to other countries when they attempted to leave Europe. Shanghai, however, had no such restrictions and many European Jews headed there as they fled the Nazis.

Dr. Adler finds work in both the local hospital and a hospital catering to refugees, where he meets an enthusiastic and brash young American working on behalf of Jewish refuges. He also meets a young Chinese woman, Soon Yi known as “Sunny” and you can already guess what happens next. I found myself reading what is really a rather ordinary novel – but one that held my interest primarily because of the real history behind the fiction. Daniel Kalla’s writing is a little too floral for my taste – more suited to what I’d expect of a bodice ripper, and although there is lots of love in this novel it is all very proper. With that being said, I was interested enough to immediately read Daniel Kalla’s most recent novel Rising Sun, Falling Shadow as he continues the story into the final years of the Second World War.

Rising Sun, Falling Shadow finds Dr. Franz Adler and Sunny still working at the Refugee hospital, although they have few supplies and often operate without adequate anesthetic. There are shortages of all kinds in the area where the Jews are allowed to live, smuggling is dangerous but is attempted by many. There is a strict curfew and life often feels futile, as the months become years and these stateless refuges wait out the war just trying to stay alive. Children are born in spite of the dreadful conditions, bringing the joy of new life to their parents even as they fear for their survival. Those involved in the underground attempt to hide others and protect their community from the reprisals of the Nazis. The Japanese are in charge in Shanghai, and have no issues with the Jews, allowing them to live as other refugees, but there is unease between the Japanese and their German allies. The Nazis would like to imprison and ultimately annihilate the Jews but the Japanese will not give up control over all refugees in Shanghai, and ultimately they are saved.

Daniel Kalla has drawn on family stories and historical research for both The Far Side of the Sky and Rising Sun, Falling Shadow creating two novels that capture a fascinating time and place.

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