Thursday, February 18, 2010

The Disappeared - Kim Echlin

As an intrepid traveller and a proud supporter or Canadian Lit, Kim Echlin's The Disappeared definitely appealed to me and it did not disappoint.

This is the story of Anne Greves, a Montrealer, who at sixteen, falls in love with Serey, an older Cambodian student who has been separated from his family because of Pol Pot. Eventually, Serey decides to return to Cambodia to try to find his family and Anne suffers the pain of losing her first lover. Although Anne tries to move on, she is unable to forget Serey and eventually goes to Cambodia and finds him. She finds more than just Serey -- she discovers not only the horror of Pol Pot's reign but also the indefatigable nature of the Cambodian people. Despite the terror they have been forced to endure, they guide Anne as she acclimatizes to this very different country.

One of the things that I liked about the novel, of course, were the settings in peaceful Canada as well as war ravaged Cambodia. I also liked the fact that the novel covered a significant part of the protagonist's life because we can see her as a young naive woman as well as a mature experienced woman who somehow has managed to preserve her love for her lover, Serey and her love for being in love.

Usually I am not very tolerant of what I perceive as a gratuitous and self-indulgent poetic style employed by some writers, however, perhaps because The Disappeared is not a seemingly unending piece of fiction, the poetic nature of Echlin's writing does not detract but actually effectively enriches the portrayal of the protagonist's sensitive and ingenuous nature. "I see your long silence as I see war, an urge to conquer. You used silence to guard your territory and told yourself you were protecting me. I was outside the wall, an intoxicating foreign land to occupy. I wondered what other secrets you guarded. Our disappeared were everywhere, irresistible, in waking, in sleeping, a reason for violence, a reason for forgiveness, destroying the peace we tried to possess, creeping between us as we dreamed, leaving us haunted by the knowledge that history is not redeemed by either peace or war but only fingered to shreds and left to our children. But I could not leave you, and I could not forget, and I did not know what to do, and always I loved you beyond love." p. 120

Would I read this again? Probably not. Did I enjoy it the first time? Definitely!

Sunday, February 7, 2010

The Bishop's Man - Linden MacIntyre

I must confess that when I learned that The Bishop's Man won the Giller, I was disappointed. Further, I didn't want to read about the Catholic Church and the way it literally screwed up in Newfoundland.

Nonetheless, since I like to read the Giller Winners, I felt there was really no way I could avoid this book.

Despite my initial misgivings, I am very happy to have read it.

It is amazing!

I loved the way that MacIntyre really captures not only the exterior setting of a little town in Nova Scotia, but the more interesting interior "setting" of Father MacAskill's thoughts. Here is an excerpt from p. 317:
"My sacred vocation. My vows of service. A blur of sacramental encounters, in retrospect like one-night stands. Have I ever really paid attention to the mumbled evasions on the other side of the confessional screen? Have I ever really spoken my true feelings about the ignorant, intoxicated bliss of the marriage ritual? Or the phoney, infantile expectations of the sacraments? Did I ever really care about the right to birth? And what about the rights thereafter? After we impose life on the unborn, then what? If we have a right to the beginning of a life, what about the middle and the end? And do we have a right to risk or, finally reject the life we never asked for? To just like down and wait...for...what?" For me, throughout the novel, MacAskill's internal dialogue seemed to realistically voice the repressed thoughts of those who have honestly believed themselves to be part of something important, only to, later in life, begin to doubt its legitimacy.

The other important characters are complex, believable and in spite of everything, sympathetic. MacIntyre is actually able to evoke in his readers the same tolerant understanding that life is complicated, and people, their motivations and their reactions are the result of the shaping by million little events, not all of them benign.

I was pleasantly surprised by this novel and someday, hope to read it again.