2023 Book Reviews

Book Reviews – 2023 Authors

Click on cover to take you to the review or scroll down to see all.

A Good War: Mobilizing Canada for the Climate Emergency
Away From the Dead
Each One a Furnace
Generation Dread: Finding Purpose in an Age of Climate Change
Home on the Strange: Chronicles of Motherhood, Mayhem and Matters of the Heart
Message in a Bottle
Siila Watt Cloutier | The Right to Be Cold: One Woman’s Story of Protecting Her Culture, the Arctic and the Whole Planet
The Adversary
The Book of Form and Emptiness
The Sleeping Car Porter
We Measure the Earth with Our Bodies
What Strange Paradise
Why Reconciliation Fails Indigenous People and How to Fix It

Omar El Akkad | What Strange Paradise

Reviewed by: Stewart Goodings

A few years ago, images of a dead Syrian boy on a Mediterranean beach shocked the world into vivid awareness of the growing tragedy of our global migrant / refugee crisis. This same image clearly inspired Omar El Akkad’s What Strange Paradise, a brilliant novel that won last year’s Giller Prize.

The book joins a growing body of fiction about refugees and migrants, such as Christy Lefteri’s “The Songbirds”, Aislinn Hunter’s “The Certainties”, Mohsin Hamid’s “Exit West”, Jeanine Collins’ “American Dirt” and Sharon Bala’s “The Boat People.” El Akkad previous novel, American War, was described as a chillingly prescient story about civil strife in the USA.

What Strange Paradise consists of alternating chapters from After and Before. After, a nine-year old boy named Amir is the only survivor of a wrecked migrant ship. Tension ramps up in the After sections as Amir is befriended by a local teenage girl, Vanna, and together they seek to elude capture by immigration authorities. Before chapters describe how Amir and his family fled the war in Syria. These segments offer graphic portrayals of the turmoil, bribery, abuse, and terrible choices facing millions like Amir’s family as they seek refuge. El Akkad has crafted an intimate tale, almost an adventure story, but framed within the context of the Big Story of forced migration. The powerful narrative is filled with superb writing that is enlivened by occasional moments of empathy and humour amidst the wreckage. A short book, 235 pages, it offers much to savour, reflect on, and be inspired by.

Omar El-Akkad is one of Canada’s brightest young literary talents and we are delighted to welcome him to our next Denman Island Readers and Writers Festival, in July 2023.

Seth Klein | A Good War: Mobilizing Canada for the Climate Emergency

Reviewed by: Howard Stewart

About the Author:    Seth Klein is a freelance policy consultant, speaker, researcher, and writer based in Vancouver. Currently Team Lead and Director of Strategy with the Climate Emergency Unit, Seth earlier spent 22 years as director of the BC office of the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives (CCPA). Seth is also a columnist with the National Observer, adjunct professor with SFU’s Urban Studies program, and research associate with the CCPA.

About the Book:     Seth Klein’s Good War is timely and important. It’s well written too, though it doesn’t make for good bedtime reading. It’s about our urgent need to go to war to save the world from the deepening climate crisis. As Al Gore did fifteen years ago and the UN fifteen years before him, Klein explores the ‘inconvenient truth’ about accelerating climate change: If we want to be spared its most severe and catastrophic outcomes then we’d better start acting like it.

When the first global treaty on climate change was penned in 1992, we still had considerable margin for manoeuvre. Then we burned fossil fuels like there was no tomorrow though the 1990s, the decade of SUVs. We’ve been doing it ever since and have squandered any wiggle room we used to have. Dealing effectively with climate change now requires mobilizing on a scale last seen during our global war against fascism in the 1940s. That’s Klein’s elevator pitch: we’ve done it before, we can do it again, and our wartime experience offers us invaluable guidance about how to “… mobilise all of society, galvanise our politics and fundamentally remake our economy” (p. xix) in the face of this existential threat.

What’s stopping us? First, Klein blames a ‘new climate denialism’ that paralyses our politicians and enables our fossil fuel industries. Only a small minority of us north of the 49th still deny the human role in climate change, yet many of our leaders go on denying our need to do much about it. Instead, they collectively cling to ‘incremental’ or ‘adaptive’ approaches so conservative that even dowdy Economist magazine abandoned them years ago.

Yet it really is a dire, civilization-threatening emergency. Whence Klein’s WWII analogy, the vehicle he uses to show us how to best address today’s crisis, rather than being defeated by it: “… once emergencies are truly recognised, what seemed politically impossible and economically off-limits can be quickly embraced…” (p. xxvii).

Why wade into such a maelstrom of political and economic peril? Most readers are already familiar, but here’s a short list of the most serious effects we’re facing, according to almost every climate scientist: massive disruption of food systems, growing numbers of extreme heat events, far more catastrophic weather events, accelerated sea level rise, growing losses of fresh water resources, spikes in insect-borne diseases, and massive displacements of human populations.

I could go on. But better if you come and listen to Seth speak and debate these matters at our next Readers and Writers Festival, July 21-23, 2023.

Tolu Oloruntoba | Each One a Furnace

Reviewed by: Melanie Hewson

Biography Brief:

Tolu Oloruntoba lived in Nigeria and the US before settling with his family in the Coast Salish lands known as Vancouver. He spent his early career as a primary care physician, and currently manages virtual health projects in BC. His poetry has been nominated for the Pushcart Prize, while his debut chapbook, Manubrium, was a bpNichol Chapbook Award finalist. The Junta of Happenstance, his first full-length collection, was the winner of the 2021 Governor General’s Literary Award for English Language Poetry and the Canadian winner of the 2022 Griffin Poetry Prize.

Book Review:

Is there such a thing as a poetry page-turner? I believe there just might be.

Perhaps because I am not normally a poetry reader, the poems of Tolu Oloruntoba hit me deeply, emotionally. Normally, I consume poetry through song, but strip away the melody and add some density of thought, and here in this book of poetry you will find communication of feelings around important topics that fiction and non-fiction can’t convey. This collection of poems, centered around migratory finches, covers much ground about the migration of humans, unrest, violence and struggles of those who migrate, or immigrate.

In his poems, Tolu Oloruntoba communicates how it feels to leave, arrive and be in transit in a world that is not always welcoming, but can also feel safe and right. A rare glimpse into the heart of the bird, or person engaged in this flight. It gives insight well beyond statistics and news stories and brings the individual and collective experience into your heart. A much more meaningful read than we usually get from a story or newsclip. I am so looking forward to meeting and hearing from Tolu directly at the Denman Island Readers and Writers Festival. We hope you will join us, and also experience this wonderful poet in person.

Tsering Yangzom Lama | We Measure the Earth with Our Bodies

Reviewed by: Jane Edwards

The Author: Tsering Yangzom Lama was born in Nepal. She has an MFA from Columbia University and has lived in Toronto, New York City and Vancouver. Her debut novel, We Measure the Earth with Our Bodies was a New York Times Summer Reads Pick and a finalist for The 2022 Scotiabank Giller Prize, as well as being long-listed for The Center for Fiction First Novel Prize and The Toronto Book Award.

The Book:  What happens when people are pushed out of their homeland? Tsering Yangzom Lama describes this refugee experience in her first novel We Measure the Earth with Our Bodies. As told by Lhamo, a young Tibetan girl, the story opens in 1960, as the Chinese “Peoples Liberation Army”, or Gyami, continues its ruthless take-over of Tibet. Lhamo’s family and much of their community flee the violence and trek through the mountains to a safer land, leaving behind their country and the comfort of home. The story is told through the eyes of daughters, sisters and lovers to give several voices relaying the experiences of refugees living far from home in Nepal, India, and Toronto.

Displacement to a foreign land so often becomes permanent, leading to the hardships of refugee life: loss of opportunity, poverty, and unfulfilled dreams of the return to one’s homeland.  In spite of the hardships, within this novel there is love throughout: love of community, love of parents, love of sisters and the unfulfilled love of lovers.

There is a thread through the story of the spiritual and mystical. The land holds sacred places, there are those who have the ability to hear the gods and there is the Nameless Saint or Ku, an ancient relic which appears in times of need, giving solace and taking on pain. In addition, Tsering’s gorgeous descriptions of the mountains, the rivers, and the lands travelled enhance the feeling of the sacred to these places.

As a Canadian living a comfortable life in my country of birth, this novel is a strong and emotional lesson of the hardships and losses of those who are forced from their homeland. We Measure the Earth with Our Bodies is a beautifully written story of a community and family enduring life as refugees while linked by love. There are moments within this book where the emotions of loss and love are so strong that is they are overwhelming. One cannot help but connect with and feel the emotions of the characters. I look forward to the pleasure of meeting and hearing Tsering at the 2023 Denman Island Readers and Writers Festival in July.

Suzette Mayr | The Sleeping Car Porter

Reviewed by: Helen Mason

Biographic Brief:

Suzette Mayr latest novel, The Sleeping Car Porter, recently won the 2022 Giller PrizeA professor of creative writing at the University of Calgary, Mayr’s previous novels – Dr. Edith Vane and the Hares of Crawley Hall, Monoceros, Venous Hum, Moon Honey and The Widows – have also won or been nominated for various literary awards.


Into the mid-1950s, sleeping car porters attended to passengers’ every need aboard Pullman ‘sleeping cars’. Their many jobs included hauling luggage, tending to beds, shining shoes, and serving food and drink. Most porters were Black men for whom the job was one of the few job opportunities in Canada.

The Sleeping Car Porter follows a porter named Baxter in the summer of 1929. He considers himself lucky to have a job on the train, despite working hours so absurdly long that he often hallucinates. He and his fellow porters are under constant threat of losing their jobs for the smallest infraction. At the beck and call of often difficult passengers, they rely on tips to top up their meagre pay and must hide their discomfort.

On a five-day journey from Montreal to Vancouver we meet the passengers in Baxter’s section, as well the porters in adjoining train cars. Mayr brings them alive for the reader. We suffer Baxter’s gruelling sleep deprivation and his hunger (porters had to pay for their own food). Mayr’s voice takes us there as Baxter’s green cloth buffs a passenger’s already shining shoes. She also reveals Baxter’s secret life as a gay man in an era when, as Oscar Wilde’s partner described it, this was still the love that dare not speak its name.

The story speeds up when the train is stalled for days by a mudslide outside Banff.  Passengers grow more unruly and we begin to learn of their dark secrets. What has happened to Miss Tupper’s fiancée?  Why doesn’t “Blancmange” leave his compartment?  Is there more to “Judy” than we first saw?

Hats off to Coach House Books, a small publisher devoted to writing that pushes the boundaries of convention. Enjoy this superb novel and come to the 2023 Denman Island Readers and Writers Festival where Suzette Mayr will talk about it.

Susan J. Lundy | Home on the Strange: Chronicles of Motherhood, Mayhem and Matters of the Heart

Reviewed by: Daryl Grumpy McLoughlin

The author:     Susan J. Lundy is the author of two books: Home on the Strange, Mayhem and Matters of the Heart and Heritage Apples: A New Sensation. Ms. Lundy has won more than two dozen feature writing awards from Canadian and regional newspaper associations. She is also a two-time winner of a Jack Webster award for journalistic excellence. She is currently the managing editor of Boulevard Magazine and resides on Salt Spring Island.

The book: Home on the Strange is an insiders’ book. It’s a nudge-nudge, wink-wink approach to life on a Gulf Island. It’s a book that will appeal to Gulf Islanders, with “I can relate to that” threads throughout the book. I can relate to this Gulf Island whiff. The differences between living on a Gulf Island and living in an urban setting. I can relate to that too. Life when the power is out. That too. A community where people know who you are. Check. However, the “I can relate to that” charm of this book goes beyond just life on the Gulf Islands. There’s also life as the parent of sports playing kids. I can relate to that too. The anxiety of shopping for your daughters’ grad dresses. Well, I cannot relate to that, but it is witty. Susan Lundy used to write newspaper columns and the book is formatted as a series of sometimes amusing, sometimes philosophical and sometimes thought provoking mini-chapters. Ms. Lundy loves living on the Gulf Islands and it shows in her writings. To be fair, she also has some good things to say about Calgary. She lists seven more favourable things about Calgary that I would have, but she is taking as close to a balanced approach as any good Gulf Islander would on this subject.

While there is humour in this book, I do salute the courage of Susan Lundy for coming out as a spousal survivor of a Toronto Maple Leaf’s fan. The horrors of living this nightmare are laid out in the book. Hopefully this will encourage others trapped in this same hellish existence to find the courage to seek help. 

Susan Lundy will participate in this year’s Denman Island Readers and Writers Festival. Don’t miss this chance to hear her talk about her writing and about her new passion. Some, when looking for a change in the direction in their lives, take up things like Mixed Martial Arts or nuclear physics. Susan Lundy has taken up apples.


Britt Wray | Generation Dread: Finding Purpose in an Age of Climate Change

Reviewed by: Barb Mills

The Author: Dr. Britt Wray is an author and leading researcher into climate change and mental health. She is currently a Human and Planetary Health Fellow at Stanford University and the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine.

The Book: Generation Dread is an important resource for anyone with the courage to look the Climate Crisis in the eye and strive to do something about it. When we confront the reality of our precious, deteriorating planet, we are often assaulted by overwhelming feelings of fear, anger, dread, or grief. Ignoring such distress can lead to denial, numbing, and failure to effectively do our share in averting disaster.

In her engaging book, Britt Wray seamlessly merges scientific knowledge and emotional insight to show us why our intense feelings are a healthy response to the world we live in. She explores the internal ecology of climate anxiety with insight and sensitivity. She provides a thoroughly researched perspective on the impact of the deepening climate crisis on mental health and coping. The extensive research that informs her book was primarily focused on young adults, people who question whether they dare bring children into an ever-deteriorating world or whether studying for a career is worth it anymore. But her findings are relevant to all of us who strive to address this crisis.

Wray analysed a variety of mechanisms that people have used to process their overwhelming feelings of eco-anxiety. She concluded that the crucial first step towards becoming an engaged steward of the planet is to deeply connect with these troubling emotions. Wray suggests we should see them as signs of our humanity, and learn how to live with them. She argues that only by processing our fears, grief, and anxiety, can we truly be capable of moving into meaningful climate action. Only then can we be effective in changing the deeply ingrained, widespread reactions of denial and disavowal that have ushered humanity into this alarming era of ecological decline and disrespect for the Earth.

Dr. Wray consulted counselling professionals and research programs that have been effective in treating Eco Anxiety. She observed that methods which engage community groups in guided, respectful, therapeutic dialogue were more effective and realistic than methods that involve traditional, individual, therapeutic approaches. 

Wray concludes that if we hope to live fully, and contribute to the changes needed for this precious Earth to survive, then we must first address our ubiquitous, immobilizing emotions. Coming together as a community to process our feelings, and to collectively support each other, is the best way to do this. 

“Now is the time to transform humankind’s relationship with the natural world 

and with each other. And we must do so together.”

Antonio Guterres, UN Secretary General 

Dr. Bruce McIvor | Why Reconciliation Fails Indigenous People and How to Fix It

Reviewed by: Heather Neun

The Author:   Bruce McIvor is a lawyer and historian, and a partner at First Peoples Law. Bruce’s ancestors took Métis scrip at Red River in Manitoba. He is a member of the Manitoba Métis Foundation.

The Book: Bruce McIvor’s “Standoff: Why Reconciliation Fails Indigenous People and How to Fix It” is an accessible entry point for readers aiming to deepen their understanding of the denial of Indigenous rights in Canada, but don’t know where to start. Standoff takes some staying power for those without legal training, but it’s worth the effort. The book consists of a collection of essays that weave together themes of systemic racism and marginalisation, the ever-present threat of violence employed against Indigenous people in their continued oppression and displacement, and recurrent news stories of Indigenous peoples’ efforts to protect their lands and resources for future generations. The short essay style means you can easily pick up from where you left off. Recommended for all non-lawyers, and lawyers, who want to be real about the failure of reconciliation in Canada.

I was reading this book when news headlines heralded the Vatican’s long overdue repudiation of the Doctrine of Discovery. This is the racist notion that upon “discovering” them, colonising European nations acquired the underlying title to Indigenous Peoples’ lands, thereby extinguishing Indigenous Peoples’ sovereignty and their rights to benefit from their lands and decide how they will be used. McIvor’s Standoff is a timely reflection on the ways this doctrine remains embedded in Canadian law. The book sketches out how the federal government might abandon all policies, acts and laws based on this doctrine, and redress its pervasive effects.

Standoff offers compelling reflections about the continued denial of the inherent rights of Indigenous Peoples and the “massive failure” of Canada’s vision for reconciliation. The book lambastes the pretensions of politicians that talk of reconciliation but whose actions speak otherwise. McIvor hopes to advance a vital national dialogue that could help resolve this standoff over reconciliation. He offers clear summaries of the historical and legal forces that have led to this standoff. Free of legal jargon, his essays track court decisions over the last decade that have both supported and thwarted the recognition of inherent Indigenous rights and legal orders.

Other essays shed light on the steady stream of news stories about Indigenous people defending their lands and waters against extraction and environmental ruin. Drawing on deep knowledge of Canadian history and law, McIvor deftly explains legal doctrines, arguments and advances in the law, and the all-too-common dead ends that Indigenous peoples confront in litigation and negotiation.

There have been advances in the courts. The Supreme Court’s 2014 judgment in Tsilhqot’in was the first court decision to declare lands to be imbued with Aboriginal title. McIvor observes that Tsilhqot’in might have kick-started the beginning of the ‘post-denial’ era of Indigenous rights and led to the overhaul the BC government’s treaty process and Canada’s land claims policy. But when Indigenous people obtain such favourable court decisions, governments then delay their implementation or simply ignore the decisions. McIvor cites Canada’s post-Tsilhqot’in land claims policy that continues to be based on the principle of extinguishment of Indigenous title rather than its recognition.

Readers will appreciate hard-hitting pieces like “Reconciliation at the End of a Gun: The Wet’suwet’en and the RCMP” and “The Wet’suwet’en, Aboriginal Title and the Rule of Law: An Explainer:”. The latter sifts through the conflicting information that was presented to Canadians and counters the dominant narratives full of misconceptions and denialism.

Another essay critiques the BC government’s failures to adopt a different approach after its much-lauded implementation into law of the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. The international standard endorsed by Canada, UNDRIP recognizes Indigenous Peoples’ historical and legal interests in their lands. McIvor illustrates BC’s failure with examples like the continued development of Site C dam, which portends the permanent destruction of significant portions of the lands of Treaty 8 First Nations in BC, and the RCMP’s violent enforcement of the Coastal GasLink injunction against the Wet’suwet’en.

McIvor ponders whether Canada’s proposed act to implement UNDRIP (Bill C-15) will make a difference. A good question, given that successive governments have failed to fulfill their existing legal obligations. This is just one example of Canada’s failure to uphold the rule of law, something we prefer to associate with other countries, but not our own. McIvor points to successive government decisions that ignore or fail to implement advances made in Canadian law, and under international principles. He reminds us that the rule of law includes not just Canadian but Indigenous law.

Standoff offers timely reflections at a potential turning point in Canada’s face-off with its colonial past and present. It also suggests a way forward based on honesty and respect. McIvor sets out what needs to be done, if reconciliation is to be more than empty rhetoric:

  • Stop trying to reconcile the rights of Indigenous peoples with the codification of the Doctrine of Discovery in Canadian law. Instead, repudiate the doctrine.
  • Recognise Indigenous rights.
  • Move away from our often empty, legal ‘duty to consult’ approaches and towards consent based decision-making that is grounded in an understanding that Indigenous peoples “never relinquished their right and responsibility to make decisions about their lands”.

To these ends, McIvor invites non-Indigenous Canadians to dig deeper, be courageous, and face the inevitable discomfort that will come from confronting our world views and resisting the pervasive myth of “Canada the good”. McIvor invites us to accept the challenging truth that the historical project of colonialism continues and that Canada is “fundamentally a racist state… built on denial of Indigenous Peoples’ rights and humanity”.

Our acceptance of this challenge raises the possibility of advancing a meaningful project of reconciliation based on respect for Indigenous People’s rights and legal systems and control over their lands and resources. Accepting these truths, says McIvor, will create new opportunities. Failure to accept them will mean more of the same.

Bruce is one of the exceptional writers invited to this year’s Denman Island Readers and Writers Festival (July 21-23). Come listen to him speak about his book, and discuss it in a mainstage event with Denman Island lawyer, Noah Ross.

Ruth Ozeki | The Book of Form and Emptiness

Reviewed by: Claire Kennedy

The Author: Ruth Ozeki is a novelist, film maker, creative writing Professor and Zen Buddhist Priest. She splits her time between Massachusetts, New York City and Cortes Island. Her latest book, “The Book of Form and Emptiness” won the Women’s Prize for Fiction in 2022. Her previous book, “For the Time Being” was shortlisted for the Booker Prize in 2013. Her novels have been translated and published in over 30 countries.

The Book: With “The Book of Form and Emptiness” Ruth Ozeki has given us another brilliant, multi-faceted novel. This richly layered book tells the tale of Benny Oh, a 14 year old, who loses his jazz musician father in a tragic accident. His mother, Annabelle, then falls into a depression. Between excessive hoarding, the threat of losing her home, and trying to balance the demands of her job and son, Annabelle is caught in a quagmire. Benny, struggling with his own mental health and grief, begins to hear the voices of objects speaking to him. He tries to ignore them, but as his mother continues to clutter their home, the voices get louder and harder to ignore. Annabelle’s love for Benny is strong, but her hoarding and awkward attempts to show her love only push him further away. Benny begins to skip school and hang out at the library instead, where he meets interesting characters who welcome him into their little circle. His new friends include an enchanting young woman, Alice (The Aleph), who struggles with addiction and an abusive past, and Bottleman, an old, philosophizing, alcoholic poet. Ozeki masterfully gives life to these characters who help Benny discover his own voice. As Benny’s voice emerges, so does another pivotal character in the narrative, namely, Benny’s book. His book has its own opinions and tries to help.

Ozeki’s novel adeptly explores the line between awareness and higher consciousness and psychotic illness. The Aleph, Bottleman, Annabelle, and Benny all walk this razor’s edge, all uniquely intelligent but disastrously failing to keep their balance in one way or another. Ozeki, herself a Zen Buddhist monk, references Buddhist themes throughout the book. The title, “The Book of Form and Emptiness”, alludes to a famous Buddhist text, The Heart Sutra. Best known for the line “Form is Emptiness, Emptiness Form”, this sutra reminds us that although we believe things are concrete and real, their existence depends upon our own perception or mental constructs. Form is ultimately illusory and empty without our mental participation. There is nothing absolute; what we think is real involves an interdependent arising of both the objective and subjective.

Come listen to Ruth speak about “The Book of Form and Emptiness”, and other things, at the Denman Island Readers and Writers Festival (21-23 July), where we are lucky to have her as part of this year’s lineup of amazing writers.


| Message in a Bottle

Reviewed by: Barb Mills

Holly Hogan’s book Message in a Bottle is a timely, complex, beautiful and distressing book.  A must read for all of us who love this planet’s oceans and her creatures.  As a  seabird biologist for 30 years, living on the coast of Newfoundland and travelling the ocean currents of the world,studying sea life; Holly is able to provide  an in-depth understanding of the complex patterns that sustain this planet’s waters and the complex ecosystems within it.

The reader is quickly drawn into this book with its  lyrical prose that engages the senses leaving the reader deeply enamoured with the biologist’s subjects. Ws are introduced to the birds, fish and mammals that follow the ocean’s currents from pole to pole and back again in order to migrate, feed and reproduce. Because the author’s writing is so exceptional,  the reader may even forget that she is getting a complex science lesson and a disturbing understanding of how warming temperatures and ocean pollution threaten the essential life processes of its inhabitants..

Once the reader falls in love with the awesome marine ecosystems, Holly skillfully introduces the threats that plastic and fossil fuel exploration and production pose to these precious creatures and their life processes.  In her travels to study her subjects, she also documents such sights as seabirds with plastic bags attached to both wings struggling to fly and dive.  Whales dying a slow death encased in fishing nets; and disturbing images of 3000 dead dolphins washed ashore on Peruvian beaches as a result of seismic testing for the presence of seabed oil.  And this of course makes us question our government’s Baie to Nord plan to explore and drill for oil in Canada’s most productive Grand Banks ecosystem.

Mark your calendars because we will have the privilege of hearing Holly discuss her book on January 6, 2024, where she will co-present with her husband Michael Crummy.  Keep your eye out for more details in the Flagstone or the Readers and Writers Festival website.  https://denmanislandwritersfestival.com/

Michael Crummey | The Adversary

Reviewed by: Stewart Goodings

Seven years ago, Michael Crummey came to the Denman Festival from his home in Newfoundland to read from his best-seller of 2015, “Sweetland”. On January 6th, at the Community Hall, he’ll present his latest historical fiction “The Adversary”.

Crummey specializes in quirky character-filled tales from Newfoundland’s rich history. This one, set in a small fishing village called Mockbeggar, takes place in the 18th century and features three main characters: Abe Strapp, The Widow Caines, and The Beadle. All are odious, scheming, amoral and thoroughly memorable. They are ‘adversaries’ in this tiny community, finding fault with each other, plotting revenge, and all are deeply self-centred. Appealing villains all. Crummey’s set of minor characters are all worthy of their own stories and he draws their personalities superbly, with elegant language as well as a smattering of Newfoundland phrases appropriate to the era. Crummey is a renowned poet too, and it’s always a pleasure to be enchanted by his writing.

Abe and the Widow are brother and sister who hate each other. They head competing fishing enterprises and each have their acolytes and sworn enemies. Crummey draws the reader into the long ago world of a remote fishing community whose leaders behave in cruel and corrupt ways—behaviour that is perhaps reminiscent of some of today’s leading political figures. But his affection for, and curiosity about the characters he has created elevate “The Adversary” to an epic story which will appeal to all readers.

The elements play a big part in Crummey’s novels: ruthless storms, roving icebergs, bitter winters, and so does religion, with the Church of England, the Quakers and the Catholics all striving to maintain their hold on local residents and to expand their influence. It’s a tough life in these small outports, but music and dance and booze all combine to bring relief and occasional joy to the hard-scrabble lives of their residents.

“The Adversary” is a worthy successor to his earlier six novels. Denman is lucky to have this remarkable writer back on the island on January 6. Tickets are on sale at Abraxas, and on the Readers and Writers Festival website: www.denmanislandwritersfestival.com



David Bergen | Away From the Dead

Reviewed by: Howard Stewart

About the Author:    David Bergen has published thirteen works of fiction. He has been nominated for the Governor General’s Literary Award, the Impac Dublin Literary Award, and a Pushcart Prize. Bergen won the Giller Prize in 2005 for his novel The Time in Between. In 2018 he was given the Writer’s Trust Matt Cohen Award: In Celebration of a Writing Life. Away from the Dead is Bergen’s latest novel. 


About the Book:    As the Russian war against Ukraine enters its third year, reading David Bergen’s latest novel is a stark reminder of how war, violence, and upheaval have, in past times, shattered the lives of people in that part of eastern Europe.


The title, Away from the Dead, is a rueful yet hopeful indicator of a story that take us to Ukraine in the early part of the 20th century, then up to and including the confusing and battle-scarred period of the Russian Revolution and the First World War.


The characters are memorable: Julius Lehn, the bookish atheist living in a Mennonite community near Kyiv, his loving but doomed wife Kakta, sister and brother Inna and Sablin, peasants living on the estate of Heinrich, a prosperous landowner whose property is eventually ransacked by Bolshevik marauders. Their stories are war stories, and love stories, and the reader inhabits their dreams, fears, and sadness, as well as their occasional joys and contentments.


Bergen’s prose is spare and eloquent, and he wastes not a word in portraying the fates of his protagonists. As a reader of several of Bergen’s earlier novels (The Time in Between was a Giller winner), I was intrigued by how different this novel is to his previous books. His own Manitoba Mennonite heritage is no doubt an influence on the theme and details of this book.


What a treat for us on Denman to have one of Canada’s most renowned authors at this year’s Festival.

Siila Watt-Cloutier | Siila Watt Cloutier | The Right to Be Cold: One Woman’s Story of Protecting Her Culture, the Arctic and the Whole Planet

Reviewed by: John C. Clark

About the Authors:   Siila Watt-Cloutier is an environmental and human rights activist from northern Quebec. In 2007, she was nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize for her advocacy work highlighting the impacts of global climate change on human rights. She is a recipient of the Aboriginal Achievement Award, the UN Champion of the Earth Award, and the Norwegian Sophie Prize. She is also an Officer of the Order of Canada and past international chair of the Inuit Circumpolar Council. 

About the Book:    Siila Watt-Cloutier’s memoir, “The Right to Be Cold”, was shortlisted for Canada Reads and a finalist for the BC National Award for Canadian Non-fiction. The intriguing title (who wants to be cold?) is an early warning that the Inuit Arctic experience may be different from what we assume. It is a powerful and sometimes painfully candid narrative.

Siila Watt-Cloutier was born in the Inuit community of Kuujjuaq in northern Quebec where she was raised by a single mother and single grandmother. Her father, who became an RCMP officer, refused to acknowledge any connection to her. Kuujjuaq was a community in rapid transition, changing from a tiny, mostly traditional outpost into a community – like many in today’s North – organized around southern living arrangements and ill suited to the needs of northerners.

The book’s anecdotes are poignant. For example, the RCMP removing and destroying all sled dogs over a vast area, out of a concern for potential disease transmission. Watt-Cloutier describes the effect of this on her uncle, who had his beloved dogs shot in front of him with little warning and no options available to him (despite the questionable rational for the action). The roots of the author’s activism are easy to see.

Watts-Cloutier describes how it felt to be sent, in grade 4 young and alone, to live with a new family in the South so she could attend school. She was then sent to a barracks-like residential school, also in the South, for the next phase of her education. Having one foot in modern western society and the other in her Inuit community – but never having both feet in either – stoked her lifelong ambition to bridge this gap.

The book describes the author’s many powerful connections to her Inuit heritage. She beautifully describes her participation in traditional hunts with Inuit hunters. Such experiences gave her a profound understanding of the delicate balance between human activity and the Arctic environment. She helps us see this interdependence between Inuit livelihoods and the natural world, and makes a compelling case for the preservation of Indigenous knowledge and practices.

Siila Watt-Cloutier’s advocacy has extended well beyond Indigenous rights to encompass broader environmental issues. Her efforts to highlight the impacts of climate change on Arctic ecosystems and communities earned her a nomination for the Nobel Peace Prize (she was co-nominated with Al Gore, who never bothered to meet with her).

“The Right to Be Cold” is an amazing account of one woman’s resilience and determination in the face of cultural and ecological crises. Siila Watt-Cloutier is also a warm and wonderful speaker. We are looking forward to having her at this year’s Readers and Writers Festival, and to her helping us understand the challenges that face the North in this era of rapid climate change.