Into the Blizzard: Walking the Fields of the Newfoundland Dead

November 10, 2014 2:59 pm

In October 1914, 537 young men from Newfoundland boarded the Florizel, the ship that would sail them across the Atlantic and towards the battle shores of Europe. The Great War had started in August of that year and Newfoundland’s governor had offered England this small contingent of soldiers. As a British Dominion – Newfoundland was still decades away from joining Confederation–this sort of contribution was expected. After ten days at sea the Newfoundland and Canadian regiments with whom they travelled would dock at Devenport, England. Other contingents of Newfoundland soldiers would eventually follow. Their first and for a time only experience of war was of the tediousness and often severe loneliness of training. That would change when they were called to fight in what would become some of the war’s great theatres of battle, Gallipoli, the Somme and Beaumont-Hamel, among others. By the war’s end in 1918, approximately 1300 young Newfoundlanders would lose their lives in the fighting. That number would be unexpectedly, devastatingly high.

Indeed, as Michael Winter discovers in his moving book, Into the Blizzard: Walking the Fields of the Newfoundland Dead, one of the most striking features of the Great War was the disconnect between everyone’s expectations and the war’s grim, horrific realities. Young men from Newfoundland enlisted seemingly in the spirit of fun and adventure and with every expectation that the whole enterprise would be short in duration. They would be home soon. No one had any inkling what lay in store for them. Parents of soldiers apparently thought no different. Families gathering at ports to see their sons off did so more in a mood of jubilation than foreboding. Only slowly did the horror of what was to come alter the community’s perception of war. Winter describes how one mother sent her son a parcel of socks, as though cold feet was the most dire hardship the young man would experience. When told that the son in question was dead, she asked that the socks be then given to her other son in the army. The mother’s response had both naivety and stoicism in equal measure.

Winter sets out to better understand the experience of Newfoundland’s young soldiers. He does so by flying to Europe and then traversing some of the same territory in which Newfoundland’s Royal Regiment found themselves. He bicycles to Beaumont-Hamel, Auchonvillers and Les Galets. He attends ceremonies honouring the soldiers of the Great War. He seeks out cemeteries containing the fallen. The result is a book that’s hard to classify. It’s at once a sort of memorial to all the Newfoundland men and women who fought in the Great War and a meditation on war itself. It’s also something of a personal traveling memoir.

There is a deep ambivalence running through Into the Blizzard. The ambivalence is expressed not so much in the questions Winter asks but in the thoughtful, searching answers he gives. How should those Newfoundlanders who enlisted and fought be remembered? How should they be memorialized? How should we understand the relationship between this chapter of Newfoundland’s past and the present?

Tracing the territory Newfoundland soldiers traversed and the places where the fiercest battles were waged and the greatest losses of human life occurred is, of course, meant as an act of memorial. The decision to walk through former theatres of war is also what gives rise to the book’s chief strengths. Winter is most effective when he finds himself in say, Salisbury, and casts his mind back to 1916. He employs seemingly the most innocuous type of activities as portals to go back in time. Kicking a soccer ball on the fields of Salisbury reminds him that Newfoundland soldiers in training likely engaged in the same sort of fun. Writing post cards to his wife and kids allows him to picture soldiers doing precisely the same thing.

More importantly, it allows him to imagine the nightmare in which those young men just beginning their lives were thrust. The lush fields of Gallipoli in which Winter himself stood were fields of slaughter and unbearable suffering during the war. The juxtaposition is meant to be jarring. For here in 1916 is where soldiers were introduced to trench warfare and the many hazards it wrought. Trench foot, dysentery, flooding: all were experienced by the soldiers living and dying in the trenches. Here in Gallipoli and the places of subsequent battles–at the Somme, for example – is where soldiers were forced to walk into a ‘blizzard’ of bullets and artillery. Nearly entire regiments could be mowed down in a matter of minutes, as was the case in Beaumont-Hamel. Winter honours their courage but laments the obscene waste of so much life.

The suffering soldiers endured, moreover, was not always inflicted by the Germans or the Turks. Winter tells the story of John Roberts, a 20-year-old soldier who in 1916 walked away from his regiment while stationed in France. When he was found a few months later he was charged with desertion. His punishment was to be blindfolded and then executed by a firing squad. Robert’s sorry end speaks to the tragic absurdity of the conditions into which all of these young men were unwittingly pushed and hopelessly unprepared. As Winter suggests, he was not simply afraid; Roberts was likely suffering from post traumatic stress disorder. But the army did not understand, let alone tolerate, any such afflictions. They were treated as signs of personal weakness that, left unchecked, would threaten the entire regiment and by extension the entire war effort. Winter uses Robert’s story as an important antidote to the sort of jingoism he takes pains to avoid. In honouring Newfoundland’s fallen, Winter is also insisting that war constitutes a type of madness that destroys and deforms the men sent to fight. Although hardly novel, this remains a vital insight in a world that remains so rife with conflict. Think Syria and Iraq.

The connections between the past and the present is never far from mind for Winter. One problem, however, is that those connections are not always evident, particularly when Winter refers to his own experiences. In one instance he talks about his family’s purchase of their new home in Toronto and the decision to renovate. The reader is left scratching his head. For there is no connection between the author’s home improvements and the book’s larger theme. On the contrary, that sort of discussion is too far removed from the idea of tracing the steps of Newfoundland soldiers fighting in the Great War–and is perilously close to self indulgent. There are other such moments in the book. Into the Blizzard , for this reason, works beautifully as a meditation on Newfoundland’s experience in the Great War but not very well as a memoir.

All of the young Newfoundlanders who fought in the Great War are now gone. Hundreds were buried under the ground that a century later Winter himself walked on in preparation to write this book. So much of what he writes is meant to evoke their memory and shed light on their respective legacies. To great effect, he recalls individual soldiers’ particular stories. We learn of Alexander Parsons, a soldier who was sent to Quebec in 1916 after contracting pleurisy and then returned to Europe’s battlefields in 1917. He survived and, in 1921, returned to Newfoundland and opened a family cabinetmaking business.

Other legacies are perhaps harder to discern, but no less profound. Winter shares Cyril Gardner’s story, a soldier responsible for capturing seventy Germans, but who was later killed at the Battle of Arras in the spring of 1917. When the German prisoners were handed over to the British he made sure all their lives were spared. If any Germans were killed, he declared, those responsible would be killed themselves. The Germans awarded him the Iron Cross. Gardner’s legacy is the memory of he retaining his humanity amidst so much carnage. Like thousands of his fellows soldiers, he did Newfoundland proud.

Whip Smart: Lola Montez Conquers the Spaniards

October 22, 2014 11:35 am

Whip Smart: Lola Montez Conquers the Spaniards, the first of the Whip Smart series by Montreal-based Kit Brennan, is an exciting page-turner transporting readers back to the Victorian era of 1842.

Loosely based on the real-life adventures of Lola Montez, a notorious bad-girl of the era, Brennan fills in the gaps of the mysterious lost year during which London’s Eliza Rosanna Gilbert became the fiery Spanish dancer Lola Montez.

Lola is a rule-breaker from the start. With dreams of fame and eager to leave behind the failed marriage and impending divorce trial in London that would shame her for years to come, she seeks an escape from the life she has come to know. Taking advantage of her smouldering and magnetic good looks, she attracts the alluring offer of a paid-for trip to Spain to spy on the Spanish royalty.

She is thrilled to find out upon her arrival in Spain that her dreams of fame will be realized, as she will play a role in a musical as a cover. But, as so many of us can relate, love gets in the way. She embarks in a passionate and scandalous love affair with General Diego de Léon. From there, an array of exhilarating and nail-biting plot twists ensue. From risky border crossings and dangerous schemes to sexy rendezvous with her Spanish lover, readers will be captivated until the final page.

Brennan’s use of language reflects her meticulous attention to historical detail with the backdrop of Spanish and English society in the midst of the Carlist Wars. She brings to life the realities of survival for an ambitious, beautiful and sometimes reckless young woman of this time. Lola is an entertaining protagonist with a passionate spirit you cannot help but root for. We can all relate to the desire to escape from problems we face in our lives and admire her courageous choice to do something about it, despite dangerous circumstances.

Told from a flashback perspective, Brennan modernizes an age-old mystery by blending historical accuracy with fun, fictional storytelling. Connecting readers to an era long-forgotten, Brennan divulges the adventure, passion and romance that define notorious icon Lola Montez.

Whip Smart: Lola Montez Conquers the Spaniards is a must-read for anyone looking for a thrilling and provocative page-turner!

Need to get your hands on a copy ASAP? Click here or here to purchase.

Also be sure to check out the sequel, Whip Smart: Lola Montez and the Poisoned Nom de Plume.

The upcoming third installment of Brennan’s Whip Smart series, Whip Smart: Lola Montez Starts a Revolution, will be released on November 7th. If you simply can’t wait that long to find out what happens next, the ebook will be available on October 14th.

Click here for more information about Astor + Blue Editions.

Enjoy, Ottawa Lifers!

Food Frenzy in the Capital

October 16, 2014 11:59 am
458.8 Ottawa Food cover.indd

When the average Canadian thinks of Ottawa, they think of the national hub of power and politics. However, our great city is more than just that.

Don Chow and Jennifer Lim’s new book Ottawa Food: A Hungry Capital is a feast for your eyes. In it, they explore all things food in Ottawa. The result will leave your taste buds tingling and stomach growling.

Chow and Lim found their beginnings on foodiePrints, which Chow founded. He intended it to be a recipe collection, but it grew to be so much more. FoodiePrints has evolved into a collection of stories and restaurant reviews. Chow and Lim now use the website to document and share their food findings with readers.

Chow and Lim’s interest in food stems from their parents. Chow’s parents familiarized their children with “earth-to-table eating.” For Lim, it was exposure to a culture of food and cooking from her mother and father.

This heavy familial influence gives reason and sentimentality to Chow and Lim’s dedication in their book: “to our parents, who instilled in us a love for food, gardening, cooking and the importance of sitting down for a family meal each day.”

The core of their book explores the “vibrant food scene” in Ottawa and the wide variety of places to fill your appetite in the nation’s capital.

For example, Chow and Lim believe there is a culture developing in Ottawa that is “infatuated with craft beer, street food and eating and buying local.” This book speaks to that culture, with entire chapters devoted to each topic.

The duo believe “Ottawans are developing a love for good food and drink.” How could you not with so many delectable, unique and scrumptious options surrounding you!

Ottawa Food is available wherever books are sold and also online through The History Press.

Fall Reading List

October 15, 2014 2:04 pm

It is hard to beat a cool fall afternoon spent cozying up on the couch with a hot tea and a must-read. That is why OLM is bringing you its fall reading list. Choose from a variety of sci-fi to romance, or challenge yourself to read them all (more time on the couch!). Let us know your favourite fall reads!

Adventure, Resilience, and Renewal in the Arctic Wild
By Jennifer Kingsley, Greystone Books LTD
Take a ride on Back River with Jennifer Kingsley as she paddles for 54 days in the northern wilderness of the Arctic. Through raging winds, rapids and ice, Kingsley and five others test their physical endurance in an exploration unlike any before. Join the journey and visualize the Arctic landscape as you learn what beauty nature and wilderness have to offer.


In Times WantingIn Times Wanting
By Kevin Morris, General Store Publishing House
In search of a new beginning, Berrin and Eileen meet up in Ottawa after a decade of being apart. Having faced near execution and emotional breakdown, the two create a new story. Berrin is faced with challenges that force him to transcend trauma and ultimately, find hope. With Canada and Mexico as a backdrop, and a spark for discussion on international development, In Times Wanting sheds new light on youth and community engagement in today’s times.


The Future and Why We Should Avoid ItThe Future and Why We Should Avoid It:
Killer Robots, the Apocalypse and Other Topics of Mild Concern
By Scott Feschuk, Douglas & McIntyre Ltd.
Finally a book to help us navigate through the ever changing, technology ridden world. This part how-to manual, part product guide, part apocalypse analysis and part sardonic observation shares what the future may hold—and what we have to look forward to. Feschuk, a columnist for Maclean’s, infuses humour and mockery into his idea of what the fate of humanity holds. Buckle down and get ready for satirical look at our modern day world.


Love and Forgetting_webLove and Forgetting
A Husband and Wife’s Journey Through Dementia
By Ken Sobol and Julie Macfie Sobol, Second Story Press
This husband and wife duo take pen to paper to express themselves as they face one of the hardest challenges of getting older—the loss of control, health and self that comes from dementia. Ken was diagnosed with Lewy Body Disease in 2007 and this novel shares his stories as his condition slowly worsens. Julie opens her heart, sharing her own sadness and frustration of trying to help her husband. You will surely be touched by the openness of this love story and find condolence if anyone you know is touched by the disease.

TomesofTerrorTomes of Terror
Haunted Bookstores and Libraries
By Mark Leslie, Dundurn
Ready for a fright? Tomes of Terror takes you to the places where supernatural stories lurk—the local libraries, bookshops and art galleries of a city near you. With first-person accounts of ghostly encounters, Leslie aims to spook with the unexplainable presence lurking around what seems to be every corner.


blondeclubThe Blonde Club
By Garth Morris
Hasn’t the idea of making it big run across each of our minds at least once? Follow the journey of four young teenagers and their lives in an attempt to make it big-time in Hollywood. Between the rat packs, the brat packs and the blonde club, it will soon be revealed that Beverly Hills is tough place to figure out. Through love, family and finding what is truly important, The Blonde Club will teach the realism of life and how all that glitters in not always gold.


AfterlifeofStarsThe Afterlife of Stars
By Joseph Kertes, Penguin Group Canada
Sibling rivalry, family secrets and incalculable loss are not the only things you will run across when you take a read of The Afterlife of Stars. Transport yourself to 1956 with Robert and Attila Beck as they flee from Russia to Paris in search for a cultural identity often lost in the chaos and confusion of adolescence and war. Join the boys on their journey and feel the uncertainty and displacement running through their minds as they search for what they thought they had lost: home.


My OctoberMy October
By Claire Holden Rothman, Penguin Group Canada
Follow the private struggles of the Levesque family—husband, wife and son—as they learn today’s Montreal is plagued with the weight of its past. The story weaves real-life figures and facts into a tantalizing tale examining issues of history, language and cultural identity. Rothman explores the barriers to ethnic and linguistic diversity through the actions of the Levesque family.



WhipSmartWhip Smart
Lola Montez Conquers the Spaniards
By Kit Brennan, Astor + Blue Editions
Based on the real-life adventures of Lola Montez, Brennan takes you away to 1842 in London to meet the gorgeous young lady who is in trouble and needs an escape. She gets one in the form of a paid trip to Spain. But nothing in life is free and Lola soon finds herself fulfilling tasks for a theatre impresario and government agent. Love, heartbreak and disaster take Lola on a wild adventure of hot pursuit.


Canadians at WarCanadians at War Vol. 2
A Guide to the Battlefields and Memorials of World War ll
By Susan Evans Shaw, Goose Lane Editions
Feel the power of World War II as you take a tour through the battlefields and memorials where Canadians fought and died for their country. Seventy-five years after the announcement from King George VI that started it all, this guidebook will have you join the journey of the Canadian troops from Hong Kong to Dieppe, through Italy and Holland. With maps and photographs to help your experience come alive, Canadians at War Vol. 2 gives a glimpse into our history.


TSOW-en-3D-205x200 copyThe Secret of Weight
By Florence Delorme
With all of the conflicting advice out there, it comes as no surprise that weight loss can be a bit of a mystery! Luckily, The Secret of Weight by Florence Delorme lays out a simple and easy method for managing weight. Forget fad diets, this method relies on basic nutritional principles that anyone can incorporate into their lives. Delorme is revealing her secrets to the masses in this cheerful guide that has already transformed the physical and emotional well being of thousands of people.

Music Meets Medicine: Allison’s Brain

October 14, 2014 2:47 pm
AllisonsBrain (533x800)

Robert McMechan and his wife Allison Woyiwada recently released Allison’s Brain, a book they wrote together. It is the story of Allison’s medical journey, from diagnosis to recovery.

Woyiwada was diagnosed with a large brain aneurysm in 2011. In a surgery that followed, the aneurysm was clipped. After the procedure, Woyiwada experienced severe physical and cognitive problems.

Before her diagnosis Woyiwada was a music teacher at Hopewell Elementary School. Upon her retirement, a wing of the school was dedicated to her continuing legacy. The Allison Woyiwada Music Award was established and is now given to students at Hopewell School annually.

Although she was unable to stay musically active due to her debilitating medical condition, Woyiwada’s love for music remained near and dear to her.

Years later, Woyiwada has made an astonishing recovery. She regained physical and cognitive strength and function to the extent that she was able to sing with the Ottawa Brahms Choir in December 2013. In April 2014, she also staged a children’s musical she wrote.

McMechan and Woyiwada hosted a breakout session at the Brain Injury Association of Canada’s 11th annual conference, held in Gatineau, QC. The husband and wife duo shared more about the book and Woyiwada’s story with attendees of the conference.

A book launch for Allison’s Brain was also held at the conference. The event celebrated the release of the book, but more importantly, Allison’s tremendous medical progress.

The book is available for purchase online through Friesen Press in hardcover, paperback and e-book format.

To read more about Allison’s medical journey, you can visit her blog.

OLM Book Review: Half Blood Blues by Esi Edugyan

May 15, 2014 1:51 pm

Author Esi Edugyan’s eloquent prose pays a worthy homage to the blues, as it is often considered the simplest yet most difficult music to play.

The beginning of World War Two has The Hot Time Swingers on the run. This Blues band, along with their prodigy trumpet player, Hieronymus Falk flee to France to escape racial persecution and to track down the great Louis Armstrong.

Deep but also reader friendly, the story of Half Blood Blues unfolds in large chunks from two time periods.

In the 1940s the band, a mix of black-American and black-German musicians, split their time between playing in smoky bars and recovering from the rot (a hangover).

“The unfair distribution of talent”, as protagonist Sid Griffiths puts it, has him at odds between his ego and his morals. The dialog in Half Blood Blues is sharp, honest, and one would guess, accurate of the dialect heard in the nineteen-forties blues scene:

“I admit it, he got genius, he got genius in spades. Cut him in half, he still worth three of me,” Griffiths laments about his friend and love rival Falk.

Driven by jealously Griffith betrays Falk in a move that changes the course of blues music forever.

Fast forward to the 1990s and Griffith doesn’t play bass anymore but the blues still haunts him.

Reconnecting with his former band mate, the now famous Chip Jones has Griffith revisiting his past where he has long been carrying the burden of guilt.

Griffith and Jones return to Berlin as old men to attend a screening for a documentary about the now legendary Falk. It is at this time that Griffith is forced to either come clean or to carry his guilt to the grave.

Half Blood Blues is a story about the struggle and sadness in lives lived to create something as sweet and soulful as the blues.

Ma Rainy, one of the earliest known American Blues singers is famous for saying: “White folks hear the blues come out, but they don’t know how it got there.” Half Blood Blues is one story about how the blues got there, and it will have you hearing it like you never have before.

Half Blood Blues was the 2011 winner of the Scotia Bank Giller Prize and is published by Harper Collins.

Fake It Til You Make It: Perfecting Life’s Performances

March 11, 2014 2:54 pm

Self-help books are sold on the promise that they can fill the gaps between who we are and who we want to be. Who are we really though, but actors?  If “all the world is a stage,” as Shakespeare famously wrote, then stage fright can be a real problem. This is why Dr. Richard R. Reichel is here to offer guidance in his book Everybody is an Actor.

“That key component [in this book] is the fact that we’re all actors — at work, school, home, even alone in front of the bathroom mirror.”

In addition to earning a doctorate in counselling psychology, Dr. Reichel has had a long and varied career in the film and TV industry.  He attests that the methods in Everybody is an Actor address what is often missing from other self-help books:

“Self-help strategies can work, as far as they go, but they don’t address a key component that affects everything from how we feel about ourselves to how successfully we interact with others.”

Nerves can often get in the way of our best performances, causing us to overthink and freeze up. This stress inhibits us from achieving our best, as Dr. Reichel explains:

“Stage fright undermines concentration and we lose our character objective,” he says. “Why do so many people cower in light of their dreams? Why do they procrastinate on getting their degree? Why do they tremble at the thought of approaching Mr. or Ms. Right? It’s because of stage fright.”

Dr. Reichel introduces his Psychophantic System in Everybody is an Actor, to help both film actors with their performances and everyone else cope with daily life. To combat stage fright, he offers tips such as taking a “mind walk” – thinking positively and focusing on that thought in times of stress. He also suggests the practice of projecting emotions in a social situation, by aiming to express an emotional reaction in the moment. Lastly, Dr. Reichel advises focusing on what you’re good at, and being aware of your vocal projection and body language.

While it is important to be true to yourself, it’s also worthwhile to acknowledge all the roles we play in our lives.

“We’re always playing the character of ‘Me,’ but we also have to play other characters,” added Dr. Reichel. “The better we are at it, the happier and more successful we’ll be.”

Everybody is an Actor is available on Amazon:

Oh Brother, Where Art Thou?

February 12, 2014 4:34 pm

The Lowland

Jhumpa Lahiri

Knopf Publishing, Toronto, 2013, 340pp.

Reviewed by Don MacLean

February 2014.



A scene in the early pages of Jhumpa Lahiri’s marvelous novel The Lowland is formative for the story’s two main characters. Suhhash and Udayan are young brothers, separated by only 15 months, growing up in India not long after the country achieved independence.  After learning of the location of a private golf club not far from their home, they decide to scale its walls and walk along its fairways and greens. They are struck by the severe contrast between the cramped space in which most Indians live and the golf course’s manicured lawns and lush, open expanses. As the two sneak out under the cover of darkness they are confronted by a police officer who knows they have trespassed. He takes the older brother aside. The beating is short but punishing enough to teach the intended lesson: the golf club is a place to which they do not belong and cannot enter. Although it is only Subhash who suffers physically, the episode is most significant for Udayan. He is appalled by the sight of his brother at the mercy of the officer, wilting under the blows. Privilege in India, Udayan now understands, is protected by violence.


Although The Lowland explores many themes, at its heart it’s a story about the relationship between two brothers. Udayan and Subhash strike the reader as archetypes, created by Lahiri as a way of exploring competing responses to India’s predicament. They are close and, when young boys, inseparable. Both are brilliant science students whose academic success will give them choices not available to most of their contemporaries. Yet every highlighted feature of their respective childhoods is meant to illuminate their differences.  From a very young age, Subhash is uninterested in challenging authority. He is content to respect his parent’s wishes, even as he senses it’s Udayan they prefer. He is older than Udayan and yet it is he who often follows his younger brother’s lead. Uduyan, by contrast, is rebellious, a risk taker. He loves his parents but grows scornful of their conservative tendencies. The brothers’ divergent dispositions fuel different personal choices, the effects of which ripple long into the future.


Through Udayan especially, Lahiri explores the complex connections between philosophy and the world that discipline attempts to understand. Despite his gift for the subject, Udayan cannot fathom committing himself to physics. Not when India is coming apart at the seams. The country is rife with sectarian violence. Economic injustice fuels landlessness, poverty and even starvation. When landless peasants in a remote Indian village attempt to organize the state’s response is ruthless in the extreme: people are shot to death, the protest squashed. When authority is challenged elsewhere the consequences are even more severe: women are raped, dead bodies left on the road for others to see. Udayan is revolted by the needless suffering, by the horrible injustice of it all. Philosophy – and not physics – allows him to understand the world, provides a framework with which to make sense of India’s colonial past and its authoritarian, unjust present. As Marx once famously wrote, however, the point of philosophy should not be to simply understand the world, but to change it. It is a maxim Udayan takes to heart. He is intoxicated by the example of those who, inspired by the promise of a better world, set out revolutionize it. Chairman Mao is an inspiration, so too is Castro and Che Guevera. Mao has been at the vanguard of revolution in China, he tells his skeptical brother. There’s no good reason, he insists, something similar can’t happen in India.


As for Subhash, he is sensitive to the suffering and injustice that so enrages his younger brother. Still, he remains detached from the world of clandestine meetings and revolutionary fervor. Like his parents, he is wary of blueprints for wholesale social, political and economic transformation. He takes exception to how Udayan’s revolutionary politics puts their parents at risk. And unlike his brother, he believes he should pursue a career in science. He excels at it, after all, and what he’s spent his youth preparing to do. He enrolls in graduate studies at a prestigious American university located on Rhode Island. The island is small, but to Subhash the world now seems vast. India’s political turmoil recedes from view. Only the occasional letter from his brother asking him to someday return acts as a reminder of what he’s left behind. He begins a relationship with a woman. He knows his parents would not approve, but does not care. So long as he lives on the other side of the planet, he is untroubled by such considerations.


Subhash’s choice to study in America is important for a number of reasons. It’s the basis for the sprawling quality the novel eventually assumes. At some point, the reader feels, the story becomes less about two brother’s contrary responses to Indian politics and more of a family drama played out in two countries and spanning generations. A child is born, a dysfunctional family started. A daughter-in-law grows estranged from her in-laws. Resentments build and tears are shed. Secrets are revealed. Lahiri’s luminous prose sustains our interest throughout. Nevertheless the transition is bound to disappoint some readers. Indeed, the story has a more urgent quality in its earlier stages. The palpable threat of political violence gives it an ominous, suspenseful quality that fades too soon. We want more.


Yet Lahiri is always careful to draw the reader back to a time when Subhash and Udayan are either young boys or young men and India is politically charged in a way hard to imagine today. Lahiri’s point seems clear. No matter how divergent their paths and temperaments, the two remain inextricably linked by their shared upbringing and brotherly love. Similarly both are touched by the tragedy of India’s zero sum politics. Udayan expects as much: for all of his idealism, he is acutely aware of the lurking threats to his well being. Subhash believes otherwise: the world of science and the promise of America was to be his deliverance from the sectarian, unequal and authoritarian world in which he grew up. But even half a world away, he cannot escape the pull of family and the dangers of radical political hope.



Family Ties

January 15, 2014 9:08 am

 Sugar in the Blood: A Family’s Story of Slavery and Empire

Vintage Books, 2012, 353pp.

By Andrea Stuart

Reviewed by Don MacLean

Family trees are all the rage. Part of their appeal is surely the element of surprise. The deeper one digs, the more likely a discovery that the tree’s roots twist and shoot in unanticipated directions. When tracing one’s lineage, in other words, expect the unexpected. For as long as people have migrated from place to place there have been both forced and forbidden unions and the equally taboo offspring such unions often produced. In the golden age of discovery, for example, Europeans didn’t simply colonize and subjugate much of the world. They sexualized their subjects, too. Thus female slaves may have been considered heathens but Europeans still often found them irresistibly attractive. Slaves had little defense in the face of a white master’s predatory advances. Children were often the predictable – if unwanted – outcome. The world, from this perspective, has been a melting pot for far longer than America’s embrace of that term.

The three themes of family history, migration and slavery are at the heart of Andrea Stuart’s marvelous family memoir, Sugar in the Blood: A Family’s Story of Slavery and Empire. Stuart’s ancestry is indeed conducive to a compelling story. Although Stuart is black, her earliest known ancestor is George Ashby, a white Englishman who migrated from England to Barbados as a teenage blacksmith in the 1630s. His arrival initiated a long line of Ashbys in the former British colony. Like so many white English settlers, the Ashbys were slave owners who slowly accumulated wealth and property. By the standards of white Islanders, they were reasonably well to do. The Ashby family’s trajectory then changed in 1794 when Robert Ashby married into a wealthy family and subsequently fathered a child with one of his female slaves.

Stuart’s challenge in telling her ancestors’ stories is not unlike the challenge of telling an individual slave’s story.  Slaves were so violently subjugated, their freedom so ruthlessly quashed and their time so thoroughly stolen, that writing was effectively impossible. There is thus a paucity of slave narratives from which to draw. Similarly, George Ashby did not leave first-hand accounts of his experience on the ship that took him from England to Barbados, no account of his life on an island so thoroughly different than the island from which he came. Much of what Stuart says about him is thus speculative or conjecture: based on the prevailing conditions and sentiments, this is what he likely would have experienced, what he likely would have thought.

Fortunately Sugar in the Blood is as much a history of slavery in Barbados as it is a family memoir. It is on this level that the book works best. Stuart lays bare slavery’s economic underpinnings. Those leaving England for Barbados were not simply in search of a ‘better life.’ Most were rough and, as time would soon tell, ruthless in their determination to tame the land and in their pursuit of money. Their road to riches was eventually paved with sugar cane. But the cost of producing the sweet stuff was prohibitive, the work involved brutally tedious and harsh. Islanders had indentured servants but not nearly enough to satisfy the needs of the island’s burgeoning sugar cane industry. Slaves solved the industry’s two most pressing needs: a cheap and steady supply of people to do the work whites were not prepared to do. Thus as sugar cane’s importance grew exponentially, so too did the market for slaves. There was a symbiotic connection between the two.

Any book worth reading on slavery must focus on the combination of inhumanity and violence at the heart of this most horrible of institutions. For Stuart the challenge of doing so was heightened by her white ancestors’ complicity in sustaining it. Nevertheless, she does not abstain from describing the unimaginably harrowing migrations – the Middle Passage – slaves were forced to endure. They were enslaved in Africa and then sold at slave markets, usually located somewhere near shore lines. Once sold, they were forced onto ships destined for, among other places, Barbados, Jamaica and North America. Slaves would be relegated to the ship’s dungeon, where they were typically chain bound to one another. Those who did not survive the fearsome, tortuous journey across the Atlantic were left lying next to their living companions. Rapes were routine. Nor was it uncommon for the physically weak or the disobedient to be thrown overboard, regarded as nothing more than dispensable cargo. Others sometimes chose this fate themselves: better to die at sea than to live condemned as a slave. Whites often didn’t even have It in them to allow their black captives to make this one achingly difficult choice. Rather in many cases those who jumped overboard would be caught, forced back on to the ship and, in front of others, whipped or subject to other forms of torture, indignities.

After the perilous journey across the Atlantic, slaves could then expect to spend the rest of their days confined to a plantation. As Stuart skillfully makes clear, the vast majority of their waking hours were spent engaged in cane cutting, a task that is at once arduous, monotonous and often horribly debilitating. Obedience was sustained through tortuous violence: whippings and worse were common to life on the plantation.

What is perhaps most striking about Barbadian society in the 17th and 18th centuries was the tension between forces of change and the ongoing efforts of white islanders to impose a sense of permanency through slavery. Europe and North America by this time were tumults of revolt. England promised liberty for those slaves who fought on their side in the American Revolution. English abolitionists like Granville Sharpe changed people’s hearts and minds by exposing the inhumanity and barbarity of slavery. The French Revolution, with its promise of liberty, equality and fraternity, inspired slave rebellions in Saint Domingue.  For those with any sort of vision, such developments would have exposed the grotesque absurdity of an ideology that condemned so much of humanity to a life of violence, captivity and back breaking toil. It’s time would surely pass. Yet for centuries white Barbadians refused to countenance an island without slavery.

It was in a sense the sordid privileges of white planters that served to slowly undermine the illusion of a permanently fixed social order and racial hierarchy. This is where Stuart’s family tree profoundly intersects with the region’s broader history. White males – particularly those at the heads of households – routinely had sexual relations with women slaves. Children were born. Their arrival into the world fuelled questions, the answers to which would slowly but inexorably erode the sort of thinking that rationalized slavery. What was a white man to make of his own black children? Did he regard them as inherently inferior? Were they to remain slaves? The answers, of course, varied. Many white men thought no differently about their black offspring. Such children would have suffered the same bleak fate as other black children. Other whites, such as Robert Cooper Ashby, could not ignore all sense of responsibility. His black son – John Stephens – was granted privileges, if not freedoms. The first decades of John’s life were thus lived in servitude, but he was allowed to develop skills as a tradesman and was not forced to engage in the same sort of ceaseless drudgery as his fellow slaves. Eventually he was allowed to charge for his services off the plantation – a small but vital measure of freedom. One likes to imagine that as John Stephen’s world opened, he knew the brutal world of slavery was drawing to a close.



3 Things Every Woman Should Know About Herself & Her Money

January 3, 2014 3:45 pm

‘It’s a Relationship That’s Not Going Away,’ Advises Female Financial Expert

If you’re a woman, chances are good that in the years ahead, it will be you and you alone who’s responsible for managing your money.

That could be a problem: Even among the very affluent, many women admit they know little to nothing about bigger-picture money concerns such as financial planning and investment management, according to a recent survey.

“A lot of women cede those responsibilities to their husbands or partners because they say they don’t have the time, interest or opportunity to learn,” says Luna Jaffe, Certified Financial Planner, psychotherapist, and author of the new Wild Money: A Creative Journey to Financial Wisdom and its companion workbook Wild Money: A Financial Field Guide and Journal (

“Things are changing: more women are choosing not to marry or have been devastated by divorce or the death of a loved one,” Jaffe explains. “They recognize they can’t ignore money any more, but don’t know where to turn or who to trust.”

But even women with a net worth of at least $1 million concede they aren’t especially knowledgeable about money management. In the Women & Wealth Study sponsored by GenSpring Family Offices, only a third said they know a lot about financial planning, and 30% said the same for investment management.

Part of the problem is that financial education is male-oriented, catering to how men’s brains are wired and what appeals to them, Jaffe says.

“When we approach it creatively and from a more emotion-based perspective, women are not only drawn to learning about it, they have no trouble getting it,” Jaffe says.



Here is what every woman should know about their relationship to money:

• Your investment decisions are influenced by your emotional baggage.
We all bring baggage into our relationships, and it’s no different with money, Jaffe says. When you’re not aware of the baggage operating quietly in the background, you may think you’re making smart decisions when you’re actually simply reacting to past experiences. And those might not have been even your own experiences! “Whether you or a loved one suffered the consequences of a bad financial investment, it can color your thinking in many ways, from destroying your confidence in your judgment to writing off all similar investments as ‘bad.’ ’’ Take time to reflect on the experiences you’ve had with investing, the decisions you made, and the conclusions you made as a result. What stories do you tell yourself because of these experiences?


•  Understand the emotional response with which you receive money, whether a paycheck, a gift or an inheritance. It’s important to receive money with grace – to savor it, to be grateful for it, to be at peace with it. But depending on the circumstances by which it arrives, and lingering emotions from past experiences, we sometimes receive money with anger, guilt, resentment, greed, entitlement or any of a host of other negative emotions. This can lead to self-destructive actions. Jaffe shares a story about receiving a small inheritance from her father at a time when she had no money. She loaned the whole sum to a friend, who promptly vanished. “I was still grieving his death, and I received money that represented his legacy, yet it was only a tiny fraction of his estate – his second wife got everything else. Deep inside, I felt ripped off. Perhaps I thought by loaning my inheritance, I could wash the confusion and grief out of the money, making it clean and safe to use. ”

• Know your Comfort Zone for risk and stay within it. Investment comes with risks; you can assume a lot for potentially greater returns, or less for lower returns. Understanding your Comfort Zone and staying within it will help you stay committed to your financial plan. Would your best friend describe you as a risk taker? If you got $100,000 with instructions to invest it all in just ONE of these options – stocks, a savings account, a mutual fund portfolio of stocks and bonds, or your best friend’s start-up – which would you choose? Knowing whether you’re very conservative; happy with a little growth; comfortable with some ups and downs; or in for adventure will help you avoid taking financial advice that makes you uncomfortable.

Thought Leadership Will Empower Your Workforce

December 18, 2013 9:45 am

On average, only 29% of employees are actively engaged in their work.

Marketers often view thought leadership as a platform that is focused externally. But while thought leadership is an effective means of influencing customers, it’s also a very successful way of empowering employees.

Over the last decade, various organizations have shifted their policy towards encouraging employee empowerment. Studies have shown that organizations with empowered employees perform better than their competitors by a factor of up to 202%. Empowered employees are known to be more engaged, inspired and productive in their work. They are more likely to take initiative and are expected to last longer within the company.


Though thought leadership is a great tool for spreading your brand message, it can also be used as an effective means of empowering your staff from inside your organization.

How Thought Leadership Empowers Your Employees

Mitchell Levy, CEO and Thought Leader Architect at THiNKaha of Cupertino, California, says: “Influence is the currency of thought leadership. That’s because effective thought leaders can have a profound effect on the people they influence. As a tool for change, influence has a longer-lasting effect than simply giving out orders on the office floor or through e-mail. It can refocus your company and empower your entire workforce.”

Here are just a few of the ways thought leadership can empower your employees:

 Thought leadership allows employees to see the bigger picture of the organization by sharing the company’s long-term goals and longstanding principles.
 Thought leadership encourages employees to excel at their responsibilities, inspiring them to come up with solutions that allow them to go above and beyond their roles.
 Thought leadership provides employees with incentives other than monetary gain. Employees understand the larger, more intangible goals of the organization: success, satisfaction and service.
 Thought leadership allows employees to discover the importance of their roles in the organization. It allows them to see the worth in their actions and become proud of their accomplishments.

This is why thought leadership should help influence the organizational culture beyond one that is geared towards customers, but one also focused on staff and employees. The infusion of thought leadership into an organization’s culture can unite and empower the organization.

Empowerment through Influence


To gain influence over your employees, it’s important to equip them with the right tools, skills and responsibilities to make sure they perform to the best of their professional abilities.

On average, only 29% of employees are actively engaged in their work. While managers can increase salaries, improve benefits and promote key staff, nothing takes the place of genuine leadership.

Thought leadership uses edu-training tools that empower your workforce by making them advocates of the organization. These internal initiatives provide insight and ideas that are of value to employees. They are activities and platforms that help inspire the staff and bring the organization together. Whether it’s through an internal social media platform, speaking, training or other forms of internal communication, these are all means of introducing a culture of empowerment into the organization.

Followers are the lifeblood of any thought leader, but followers can be found inside as well as outside the organization. In truth, empowered employees are the most effective followers of all. They look to their leaders for more than just their next paycheck. They look to them for inspiration and ideas.


Mitchell Levy has created and operated 15 firms and partnerships since 1997. Today, he works with companies that are active in social media to leverage their IP and unlock the expertise of the employee base to drive more business. He is also an Amazon bestselling author with 18 business books, including the recently released #Creating Thought Leaders tweet. Levy has provided strategic consulting to over 100 companies and advised over 500 CEOs on critical business issues. Get a free copy of his latest eBook at

Distant Stars – John Banville – Ancient Light

December 2, 2013 2:40 pm
Ancient LIght - John Banville

John Banville – Ancient Light
Vintage Canada 2012
Reviewed by Don MacLean

Readers familiar with the great Irish writer John Banville will also be familiar with the characters Alexander (Alex) Cleave, his wife Lydia and their troubled daughter Catherine (Cass), all of whom feature prominently in some of his previous works. They do so again in Banville’s most recent novel, Ancient Light. The story is told by Alex and revolves around two events central to his life: his torrid affair started in his 15th year with his best friend’s mother, Mrs. Gray and the more recent suicide of Cass. The affair and the suicide are separated by over half of Alex’s life and are seemingly unrelated. We read with the expectation that at some point the connection between the story’s disparate parts will be revealed.

Alex has a complicated relationship with the past. He excavates it incessantly without necessarily trusting what he discovers. At one point he uses stars as an analogy to explain both his fascination and wariness. Like a star, that which happened long ago sends a light that takes years to reach its destination and illuminate. This, in a sense, is the role of memory in the human experience: to use that light from the past to make sense of one’s life then and now. The problem, of course, is that memory is an imperfect filter. Or to use a more exact metaphor, the prism through which the light from the past is distilled can distort as much as it illuminates. Memory, in other words, is fallible. People forget. What we do recall is often embellished or sometimes not true at all. “Images from the far past crowd in my head and half the time I cannot tell whether they are memories or inventions” Alex tells the reader at the novel’s outset. And so we are never quite sure if his recollections of making love to Mrs. Gray in secret places are accurate or mere tricks of the imagination.

Nevertheless, there remains a sense that in recalling their affair Alex is attempting to recover the sense of wonder and newness that is the privilege of youth and too often a casualty of age. Readers of a certain vintage will identify with his impassioned reveries. What middle aged man or woman can’t recall those first kisses or other acts of intimacy shared in the back seat of a car or the basement your parent’s house? For Alex that magical stretch of adolescence was wrapped in additional layers of mystery and complications. Why, he wonders, would a married woman more than twice his age and the mother of his best friend be drawn to him? Why would she want to introduce him to the life of the flesh? He doesn’t know and doesn’t much care so long as Mrs. Gray was intent on swimming naked with him or making love in the back of her station wagon. But for all of his adolescent joy, Alex can’t avoid the complications stemming from their unlikely liaison. He allows it to tear asunder his friendship with his best friend. He is occasionally aggressive towards his older love and, like most 15 year old boys, horribly jealous. He believes Mr. Gray is a boring oaf and secretly imagines doing violence towards him. If the affair is a test of Alex’s maturity, he often fails.

In the present Alex is more or less a retired actor when he’s asked to play the role of a famous individual whose biography is to be the basis for a movie about his life. He accepts and in so doing establishes a tenuous connection between the man he’s playing and Cass, his deceased daughter. The two were residing in the same city at the time of Cass’s death. Alex has reason to believe they knew each other. If so, could he have had something to do with her deep unhappiness? Not likely, but any possible connection is enough to concentrate Alex’s thoughts on his daughter’s suicide and the unresolved questions it left in its wake.

Although Banville’s prose is uniformly beautiful, the sections in which Alex describes his and Lydia’s relationship with Cass are the most poignant. This is in part because in talking about his wife and daughter Alex is at his least self absorbed. He reveals a vulnerability and generosity of spirit that isn’t always evident in his recollections of his affair with Mrs. Gray. Although he and Lydia are equally bereaved, Lydia strikes the reader as the more tormented. Alex talks of Lydia’s night time episodes of sleepwalking, during which she is convinced of Cass’s presence in their home. He must follow her as she wanders around their dark, empty house in a fruitless search to find their dead daughter. There is something not only deeply sad about these scenes, but beautifully mysterious as well. Neither Alex nor Lydia believes in the promises of religion: they don’t expect Cass is attempting to communicate with them from somewhere in the afterlife. But her death doesn’t mean Cass’s absence. She has a ghostly, haunting presence that serves to draw them back to a time when she was alive.

Banville is hardly mining new territory in Ancient Light. The themes of adolescent love, the relationship between the past and present and suicide and loss are as old as literature itself. And although there are some intriguing twists, the story isn’t what one could call plot-heavy. The language in which it is told, however, is unfailingly unique. Indeed, as is true of any Banville novel, the story is as much about the prose as it is the plot. Reading him is like listening to a virtuoso performance by one of the world’s great pianists or guitarists. From the opening page you immediately recognize you’re in the presence of a master who remains at the height of his considerable powers.

How terrible it was to witness Mrs. Gray caught up in such innocent enjoyment – the innocence more than the enjoyment was what was terrible, to me. She sat there, canted backwards a little, her face lifted in dreamy ecstasy to the screen and her lips parted in smile that kept trying to achieve itself but never quite succeeded, lost as she was in blissful forgetfulness, of self, of surroundings and, most piercingly, of me.

There are few writers who can string together words in ways that are as consistently unique, challenging and beautiful. Although he is often humorous, Banville’s prose is marked more by a combined sense of melancholy and loss. Given his fascination with the past, this is fitting. As Alex suggests, the past can be mined but never recovered.





World War I Could Easily Have Been Avoided but for Human Folly

November 14, 2013 12:21 pm

Margaret MacMillan’s The War That Ended Peace: The Road to 1914 is  a compelling narrative of the political, cultural and personal forces that shaped Europe’s path to the First World War (1914-1918).

Countless volumes have chronicled the political struggles, the diplomatic efforts, the battles and the strategies behind them, the terrible conditions that soldiers fought in, and the social and class divisions at home. But few historians have looked so extensively at the years and circumstances leading up to the war. In the first years of the 20th century, Europe believed in a golden, prosperous future, but a complex web of ethnic nationalism, colonial legacies and shifting alliances and rivalries derailed a long period of peace, MacMillan argues. It was a war that could have been avoided up to the last moment—so why did it happen? After all, the century since the end of the Napoleonic wars had been the most peaceful era Europe had known since the fall of the Roman Empire.


Beginning in the early 1800s and ending with the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand and the declaration of war, MacMillan depicts the huge political and technological changes, national decisions, and small moments of human muddle and weakness that led Europe from peace to disaster. (And of course the First World War sowed the seeds of the Second World War and the Cold War.)

The War That Ended Peace: The Road to 1914 | ISBN: 9780670064045 | $38.00 | Allen Lane

Publication Date: October 29,2013

Shopping for Votes: How Politicians Choose Us and We Choose Them – Susan Delacourt (Douglas & McIntyre)

October 31, 2013 10:14 am
Shopping for Votes Final Cover_D&M

Here is an insightful and provocative look at the inside world of political marketing in Canada – and what this means about the state of our democracy in the 21st century – from a leading political commentator.

“Canada is now a nation of shoppers… We may want to ask whether it’s time to draw some clearer lines between our civic life and our shopping pursuits,” says Susan Delacourt, author of Shopping for Votes: How Politicians Choose Us and We Choose Them.

Inside the political backrooms of Ottawa, the Mad Men of Canadian politics are planning their next consumer-friendly pitch. Where once politics was seen as a public service, increasingly it’s seen as a business, and citizens are the customers. But its unadvertised products are voter apathy and gutless public policy.

Susan Delacourt takes readers into the world of Canada’s top political marketers, from the 1950s to the present, explaining how parties slice and dice their platforms for different audiences and how they manage the media. The current system divides the country into “niche” markets and abandons the hard political work of knitting together broad consensus or national vision. Little wonder then that most Canadians have checked out of the political process: less than 2% of the population belongs to a political party and fewer than half of voters under the age of 30 showed up at the ballot box in the last few federal elections. Provocative, incisive, entertaining and refreshingly non-partisan, Shopping for Votes offers a new narrative for understanding political culture in Canada.

How We Lead: Canada in a Century of Change by Joe Clark

October 29, 2013 12:25 pm

In HOW WE LEAD: Canada in a Century of Change, former Canadian Prime Minister Joe Clark launches an impassioned argument for Canada to reassert its international position as an agent of change, diplomacy and peace. Drawing on our history, successes, and the unique qualities that we possess today, Clark describes an ambitious but vitally important role for Canada – for the world’s benefit, but also for our own.

“As power disperses in the world, so does the capacity to lead ­ and, in almost every case, the most effective leadership will have to be shared, not only among states, but with other entities and, often, with citizens.” In this scenario, Clark asserts, the best approach should be “leading from beside.” No longer will disagreements and conflicts be meted out using the hard power assets like military strength. Today’s world calls increasingly for diplomacy, conciliation, and development – soft power assets  – says Clark.

joeclark2The cast of characters is also shifting, he notes. The traditional powers are not faltering so much as a diverse group of new emerging countries ­ including many in Asia and Africa ­ are growing in importance and power. Individual citizens, informed and at times inflamed by the Internet, are “less docile and compliant.” Extremist groups are taking footholds in many regions and finding ready converts in the young, poor and unemployed. And a rapidly growing contingent of non-state actors –  non-governmental organizations, faith-based groups and volunteers – play increasingly powerful roles in the developing world and in the development of international treaties and policy.

Clark holds that Canada’s respected reputation is needed today more than ever before. Drawing on our diplomatic successes on the Suez Crisis, apartheid, the Vietnamese boat people, the Tehran hostage drama, the environment and several lesser-known but equally instructive issues, Clark argues that Canada is in a perfect position to guide world politics through future challenges.

No fan of the current government’s approach to international affairs, Clark examines how Stephen Harper and his Conservative Party have altered Canada’s profile to that of a war-fighting nation and placed our diplomatic and development capacity in “a steady and deliberate decline.” Worse, he notes, in a country that has thrived on vigorous national conversations, this change has been made without any corresponding public debate.

Volatile demographics, unemployment, natural disasters, and the dramatic decline in foreign aid threaten great masses of the world’s population. Add to this scenario a mobilized, independent citizenry much less inclined to deference than in the past. Never has the world needed an experienced, trusted mediator more than it does today. Clark writes: “When control and command grow less effective, consensus and persuasion become more valuable.”

Canada, says Joe Clark, has all of the qualities needed to step into a critical role of influence and leadership. “Of the range of opportunities open to a society like Canada, one of the most important lies outside our physical borders, in a world whose explosive tensions, conflicts and inequalities would benefit from the moderation, initiative and respect for others that have been among Canada’s signature characteristics.” The next step is simply to begin.

HOW WE LEAD: Canada in a Century of Change

by Joe Clark

288 pages


A Random House Canada Hardcover from Random House of Canada Limited

Release date: November 5


On the evening of Thursday, November 7, Joe Clark will appear at the Ottawa International Writers Festival to discuss and sign copies of his new book. Mr. Clark will be interviewed by former CBC Television host Don Newman.

Tickets to the event may be purchased at


Conversations with a Dead Man: The Legacy of Duncan Campbell Scott by Mark Abley (Douglas & McIntyre)

October 24, 2013 9:34 am

Duncan Campbell Scott (1862-1947) died one of the most respected men in Canada – a well-known poet and short-story writer, a former president of the Royal Society of Canada, a founder of the Dominion Drama Festival, and a recipient of honorary doctorates from Queen’s University and the University of Toronto. A memorial service was held in his honor at St. Martin’s in the Fields Church in central London – an almost unprecedented tribute to a Canadian poet. When Margaret Atwood edited the New Oxford Book of Canadian Verse in 1983, she granted Scott 11 pages (most of them for his poems about Aboriginal people); only three poets in the entire book received more space.

Yet in 2007, when The Beaver (now Canada’s History) asked experts to name the 10 worst Canadians of all time, Scott appeared on the list – alongside the founder of the Canadian Nazi Party, among others. How did his reputation fall so dramatically?

The answer lies not in Scott’s work as a man of letters, but in his day job as a civil servant. He joined the federal government as a copy clerk while still a teenager, and remained there for 52 years. Unfortunately, the department he served with such tireless efficiency was Indian Affairs. He became its chief clerk and accountant, then the supervisor of residential schools, and finally (for 19 years) the deputy minister. In 1920, he told a House of Commons committee: “I want to get rid of the Indian problem. (…) Our objective is to continue until there is not a single Indian in Canada that has not been absorbed into the body politic, and there is no Indian question.” Today he stands accused of cultural genocide. To a few historians and many Aboriginal people, he is considered Canada’s equivalent of Hitler.

Is the accusation fair? How could Scott do what he did by day, while writing good and occasionally superb poetry by night?

That’s what this book sets out to answer – not in a dry, academic manner, but by using the techniques of creative non-fiction. The book is thoroughly researched, and contains some new details about Scott’s life – but it is dominated by a series of conversations between “Mark Abley” (a character in his own book) and the ghost of Duncan Campbell Scott, who appears before “Mark Abley” in the opening chapter and asks for his name to be cleared. Can it be? Should it be? Is there any way to forgive the man for what he did, and for what he refused to do?

Such questions throw some of Canada’s current difficulties with Aboriginal issues into a sharp, unexpected light. Conversations With a Dead Man is not only a book about a disturbing historical figure; it’s also about how today we need to come to terms with the shadows in our past if our country is to move forward.

The author will be in Ottawa on December 8, 2013 for a signing and talk at Books on Beechwood (35 Beechwood) from 1-3 pm.

Conversations with a Dead Man: The Legacy of Duncan Campbell Scott will soon be sold at bookstores everywhere and through –

Building the Orange Wave: The Inside Story Behind the Historic Rise of Jack Layton and the NDP (Douglas & McIntyre)

October 23, 2013 11:29 am
Building the Orange Wave cover

Building the Orange Wave is a true insider’s account of Jack Layton and the NDP’s rise to success.  Brad Lavigne was not just the campaign manager of the New Democratic Party’s 2011 breakthrough election campaign that took Jack Layton from last place to Official Opposition – he was a key architect throughout the decade leading to Layton’s ultimate success.

This is the definitive account of Layton’s ascendency to Leader of the Official Opposition and the realignment in Canadian politics. Lavigne was the only one with Layton every step of the way – from helping get him elected party leader in 2002 to serving as an honorary pallbearer at his state funeral in 2011. Lavigne recounts the dramatic story of how Layton and his inner circle developed and executed a plan that turned a struggling political party into a major contender for government, defying the odds and the critics every step of the way. This is the ultimate insider’s account of a political upheaval that took everyone by surprise that saw the NDP make huge gains in Quebec.

With Jack Layton’s widow Olivia Chow providing an introduction, Lavigne had access to other key players, including Layton’s son Mike, NDP Leader Tom Mulcair, former NDP Leader Ed Broadbent, former campaign manager Brian Topp, Tim Murphy (Paul Martin’s former chief of staff), and Stephen Harper’s former Director of Communications Kory Teneycke. Lavigne reveals details about how Layton’s team managed some of their biggest crises: Layton’s political missteps, embarrassing candidates, the cancer diagnoses, and the massage parlour bombshell on the eve of the 2011 vote.

Lavigne will also cast ahead to the 2015 federal election and beyond to map out the meaning of Layton’s legacy and provide a blueprint for how to entrench the gains of Jack’s Orange Crush. 

Jack Layton’s political and personal legacy continues to resonate with Canadians of different political stripes.  Beyond Canadian political observers and students of political science, this book will speak to a wide audience who want to know what goes on behind political closed doors.

Building the Orange Wave will be in bookstores on November 2.

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