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: http://amzn.to/1fRX2aQ

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 (www.lunajaffe.com).

“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 http://mitchelllevy.com

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 http://www.writersfestival.org/events/fall-2013/one-on-one-with-joe-clark


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 www.amazon.ca –


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.

Fire on the Hill: A Canadian historical suspense novel by Frank Rockland

February 1, 2013 11:38 am

Discover what really happened on the night of February 3, 1916, when a suspicious fire destroyed the centre block of the Canadian Parliament Buildings.

On tours of the Center Block of the Parliament buildings, guides explain that the previous building was destroyed by a fire on the night of February 3, 1916.

When asked what started the fire, they may tell you that a carelessly lit cigar in the Reading Room sparked the conflagration. They might mention in passing that German agents or sympathizers could have set the fire.

This suspicion is the starting point of local writer Frank Rockland’s novel Fire on the Hill. What if German agents were involved in destroying most of Canada’s original Parliament Buildings? After all, Canada was at war with Germany. While Canada’s reputation as a feared fighting force was still years away, Canada was still essential for the Allied war effort, providing the “muscles of war” such as iron ore for the arms factories and wheat from the prairie breadbasket to feed the millions of Allied soldiers in Europe.

These suspicions are not as far-fetched as they might sound. Driving forces behind these suspicions were the Fenian Raids into Canada in the 1860s, which were still vivid in many Canadians’ memories. Several leading figures had actually fought in the raids: Sam Hughes, Minister of Militia and Defence, and Sir Wilfrid Laurier served during the Fenian raids.

The fear of raids by German reservists was so great that Prime Minister Sir Robert Borden authorized $100,000 in funding to the Dominion Police’s Secret Service for counter-intelligence work. Everyone on the home front was looking for German spies.

The actual cause of the fire was never discovered. The Royal Commission appointed to investigate the origin of the fire concluded:

The fire started in a pile of papers on a shelf on one of the reading tables near the House of Commons. The first person to see the fire was Francis Glass, ESQ., M.P., who stated that the fire originated while he was in the reading-room: that he had been in the reading-room a short time when he felt a wave of heat passing up alongside of him from a hot-air register, and he turned around and almost immediately smelled the burning of paper; stooped down and saw smoke coming out.

As to the question of whether the fire was deliberately set, the report made the following conclusions:

Your commissioners are of the opinion that there are many circumstances connected with this fire that lead to a strong suspicion of incendiarism, especially in view of the fact that the evidence is clear that no one was smoking in the reading-room for some time previous to the outbreak of fire, and also to the fact that the fire could not have occurred from defective electric wiring. But while your commissioners are of such opinion, there is nothing in the evidence to justify your commissioners in finding the fire was maliciously set.

Your commissioners feel very strongly that it might be possible at a later date to obtain evidence (which they cannot reach at the present time) which might establish beyond question whether this fire was incendiary or accidental, and with the approval of Your Royal Highness, your commissioners would humbly suggest that this report be treated not as a final report but as an interim report, and that the commission be left open, and in the event of your commissioners being able to get further evidence at a later date, that they be permitted to do so.

The Plot

What really happened that fateful night when a fire destroyed the Centre Block of the Parliament Buildings in Ottawa?

Inspector Andrew MacNutt, his wife Katherine, and Count Jaggi know as they were there in the Centre Block’s reading-room when the fire started.

Ever since the war began, Inspector MacNutt, head of the Dominion Police’s Secret Police, has been struggling to secure the Canadian and US border against acts of sabotage by a network of saboteurs being run by German military diplomatic attachés Captain Franz von Papen and Captain Karl Boy-Ed out of New York City.

Inspector MacNutt’s job is not easy as he tries to get a grip on authorized and unauthorized counter-intelligence operations being run by various government departments, busybodies such as the wealthy and influential Mrs. Wayne Ramsey, gripped with spy fever and an overactive imagination, reporting anyone with a German-sounding name as a spy, and being informed of British counter-intelligence activities in New York City by the American newspapers.

The good news is that the military attaché’s activities had caught the attention of the American authorities, especially Inspector Thomas Tunney of the New York City Police Department’s Bomb Squad. They declared von Papen persona non grata and ordered him back to Germany. As for the bad news: German military intelligence had sent one of their best operatives in England, Count Jaggi, to replace him with orders to hamper and disrupt Allied shipping out of New York City’s harbour.

Before going to New York, Count Jaggi visits Ottawa to get the lay of the land. Ottawa was the key transit point for British gold shipments to pay for munitions contracts in Canada and the United States.

Count Jaggi’s title and his cover as a Belgian Relief representative give him quick entry to the highest levels of Ottawa society, where he meets Conservative Prime Minister Sir Robert Borden and future Liberal Prime Ministers Sir Wilfred Laurier and Mackenzie King, as well as the Governor-General, his Royal Highness the Duke of Connaught.

In Ottawa, Count Jaggi, a womanizer with a weakness for married women, meets a very attractive Katherine MacNutt, the Inspector’s wife, who is helping with the homefront war effort by working on Ottawa’s Belgian Relief committee. Their first meeting was not very auspicious since she gave him a white feather while he was mailing reports, written in invisible ink back to Germany. Handing out white feathers was a common practice by Canadian women to encourage young men to enlist. Katherine starting handing out the white feathers when her son, Jaime, was reported missing in action in France.

When Count Jaggi arrives in New York, he and Hans Müller, his second-in-command, try to clean up the mess created by the British confiscation of von Papen’s personal and diplomatic papers, which detailed his intelligence activities, when his ship was stopped in the Port of Falmouth, England.

However, Inspector Tunney is hot on the trail of German saboteurs who have been targeting Allied shipping in New York City harbour and soon will have the Count in his sights.

As Count Jaggi takes a final trip to Ottawa to give his Belgian Relief lecture, he doesn’t know that Inspector MacNutt has intercepted his secret letters, written in invisible ink, and is waiting for him.

But the Count couldn’t resist seeing Katherine one last time with tragic consequences.

For more information about Fire on the Hill, contact Sambiase Books at www.sambiasebooks.ca


Frank Rockland is a pen name for an Ottawa-based writer. Born in Italy, he moved to Canada when he was one year old. He is currently employed as a civil servant with the federal government. When he attended Carleton University, he spent a summer as a tour guide on Parliament Hill where he got the idea of writing the suspense novel Fire on the Hill. Between May and September, Frank Rockland spends his time vainly trying to lower his golf handicap.


All images: Library and Archives Canada: Library and Archives Canada


Book Launch: A Colourful Life – the art and drawing of Josh Silburt

January 23, 2013 1:26 pm
Canadian $

On February 6 in Ottawa, a book launch for A Colourful Life – the art and drawing of Josh Silburt will take place at the Cube Gallery at 1285 Wellington St. W. from 6:30 to 9:00 p.m. The Cube is mounting a show of acclaimed Canadian painter and cartoonist Josh Silburt’s art from February 5 to 17. This show is the first of many in an art show kickoff across Canada, mainly in the markets that Josh made his mark in (i.e. Ottawa, Sydney, Toronto, Winnipeg and St. Catharines). Many of Josh’s cartoons tackled the topic of federal affairs (and are as topical now as they were in the 1940s), and some of his paintings were done in the Ottawa Valley area.

Author and Ottawa resident Allan Silburt has spent the last 4½ years writing and compiling this homage to his late father Josh, who died in 1991. Allan’s years of research and painstaking hard work have resulted in a spectacular hardcover art book incorporating much of the wealth of painting and political cartooning that made Josh a national treasure. The story of Josh Silburt is one with many layers – a story of his rise from poverty, involvement in Communist Party politics until he discovered the awful truth about the Soviet Union’s dictator Josef Stalin, art study under Group of Seven member LeMoine FitzGerald, penning political cartoons for many leading Canadian newspapers, and one-man art shows across Canada. Josh left a wonderful body of work with his painting, which many collectors across the country covet. His style is reminiscent of the Group of Seven, but with a special twist unique to Josh Silburt.

To find out more about the exhibition, visit http://www.cubegallery.ca/exhibitions/2013_02_05_the_art_and_drawing_of_josh_silburt

For more details on A Colourful Life – the art and drawing of Josh Silburt (published by GSPH/General Store Publishing House in Renfrew, Ont.) and how to order the book, visit  http://www.joshsilburt.com/?cat=6



December 17, 2012 12:03 pm

The best-selling success of E.L. James’ 50 Shades erotic trilogy has raised the profile of erotic romance fiction. Although extensive attention is being paid to it now, erotic romance has been around for years, and is one of many subgenres that fall under the romance banner.

Romance is frequently dismissed, but someone is reading it—romance is one of the world’s top-selling genres, commanding 14.3% of the U.S. consumer book market in 2011 and representing over 50% of all paperback books sold. In 2011, when almost all other publishing profits were down, romance fiction sales increased slightly to $1.37 billion. Its products span everything from religious/inspirational to science-fiction/romance to historicals, to bondage, discipline, sadism and masochism (BDSM).

It also pays off as a writing career choice for many authors, the vast majority of whom are women. Former Ottawa resident Kathryn Smith, whose Kady Cross young adult steampunk novel, The Girl in the Clockwork Collar, is the latest in a long string of
successful novels, makes over six figures annually. She is one of many authors who once belonged to the Ottawa Romance Writers’ Association (ORWA), which usually has about 50 members, about half of whom are published.

Members range from the wildly successful and famous historical romance author Jo Beverley, who was a charter member of ORWA, to recently published e-book authors still waiting for slim royalties, to every situation in between, including profitable erotica.

Local author Sharon Page had written several historical romances before creating an erotic romance set in the hidden orgies of the Regency Period. The result was her first sold manuscript. Since then, she has published 16 books, won the Romantic Times Reviewers Choice Award twice (and is nominated again this year), and a National Readers Choice Award.

Opal Carew started in contemporary romance then switched to contemporary erotica. Her newer books go deep into the realm of kinky, but like all good romance novels, end with a satisfying and happy romantic resolution. Smith, Page and Carew are prolific
writers, producing several books per year.

Other ORWA members past and present have written in a variety of genres. Joyce Sullivan wrote nine books for the Harlequin Intrigue line, which is a cross-genre blend of romance and thriller. Nonnie St. George wrote two traditional Regency historical
romances, charming readers with the witty repartee that characterizes the genre. Her first book was nominated for two Rita Awards, which are the romance novel equivalent of the Oscars. Jo Beverley has won several Ritas.

Romance is one of the only art forms that treats female sexual pleasure as healthy and a woman’s right. So it is no wonder romance authors also consider themselves feminists, although not the commonly perceived stereotype. They tend to champion women’s reproductive rights, literacy, freedom of expression, and the need for men and women to benefit from a committed relationship. The worldwide phenomenon that is Romance Writers of America (RWA) is also one of the largest and most supportive writing associations in the world.

Although romances tend to be hotter than they were even 10 years ago, they’re not all about sex. Love scenes cannot be gratuitous but must be essential to the character-driven story. Some books contain nothing beyond a kiss, others describe threesomes,
but the vast majority fall into sweet, spicy or hot. Romance can also cross several subgenres. For example, Page’s latest book is Blood Fire, an erotic Regency-set vampire tale.

Sounds easy, doesn’t it? Write a quick romance, sell it to Harlequin and spend days eating bonbons. It doesn’t quite work that way. While Smith and St. George sold to New York publishers early in their careers, they had spent considerable learning the art of commercial fiction writing, and had read reams of books in subgenres before putting pen to paper.

Other authors wrote for years before getting “the call” from an editor. Debbie Mazzuca had started writing romance with an eye to publication 25 years before her first sale. Madelle Morgan, an engineer, worked full-time, raised her son, and spent years learning her craft before Diamond Lust was published.

As for the big money, Beverley and Smith were receiving royalties for many books before being in the position to command large advances. Many authors, like Annette McCleave, who won several writing awards before publication, are still working full-time.

A lot of time and resources go towards marketing and administration. Being an author is a business like any other and the non-creative time spent can be frustrating. Any career in the arts has its risks, but the rewards are plentiful, not least working in pyjamas while creating fantasies loved by thousands.

Potential romance authors can check out ottawaromancewriters.com or rwa.org. For those who are just curious about the genre—maybe a hot romance novel would be a perfect Valentine’s Day treat.

…Insightful Reading on Urban Sustainability

November 22, 2012 4:45 pm

The University of Toronto Press has published Urban Sustainability: Reconnecting Space & Place, edited by Ann Dale, William T. Dushenko and Pamela Robinson.

Given ongoing concerns about global climate change and its environmental and economic impacts, the need for urban sustainability has never been greater. Urban Sustainability: Reconnecting Space & Place explores concrete ways to make cities more sustainable through integrated planning, policy development, and decision making. It is the first book to provide an applied inter-disciplinary perspective on the challenges and opportunities that lie ahead in this area. This volume sheds light on the theoretical underpinnings of urban sustainability through narrative case studies. The contributors provide fresh perspectives on how issues related to sustainable urban planning and development can be promoted through collaborative partnerships and community engagement.


Freedom and Darkness in Salman Rushdie’s Joseph Anton

November 14, 2012 1:37 pm
joseph anton a memoir

Salman Rushdie begins his brilliant new memoir Joseph Anton (Knopf Canada, 2012) by describing a phone call from a BBC journalist in February 1989 in which she asks what it’s like knowing that he’s going to be killed. Iran’s Ayatollah Khomeini, she went on to tell him, had issued a fatwa calling not only for his death but for the death of anyone knowingly associated with the publication of his novel The Satanic Verses. According to Iran’s supreme leader, the work of fiction was blasphemous. Ever since that fateful day people have speculated on the Ayatollah’s motivation. Was he as outraged as he declared by The Satanic Verses? Did he actually read the book? Or, as Rushdie himself suggests, was the fatwa likely a cynical ploy on the part of Iran’s leadership to divert attention away from the country’s faltering revolution? Whatever the reason for it, the threat the fatwa posed was very real. Many Muslims the world over were prepared to mete out the punishment of death they felt Rushdie had coming to him. One of the most obnoxious characters in Rushdie’s memoir is a high profile British Muslim leader who took every opportunity to publicly declare that the author must die. (When we learn late in the book that he died of a heart attack it was impossible to feel any sympathy for the man.) Rushdie obviously lived to share his tale, but many others did not. Some guilty of nothing more than working at a book store in which the book was sold were killed. Others survived attempts on their life but suffered grievous physical harm. Rushdie tells of how a Danish publisher of The Satanic Verses emerged from his house one morning to discover a tire on his vehicle had been slashed.  As he approached to investigate he was shot three times. He survived, much to the dismay of all those who believed he should die by virtue of his association with Rushdie. Although the fatwa was recently lifted, it remains a most shameful episode for which those responsible must answer.

So what was all the fuss about? What did Rushdie write that could possibly upset Iran’s Ayatollah Khomeini and the country’s mullahs and Muslims the world over so much that they believed that his death was the only appropriate response? One of Joseph Anton’s many highlights comes early when he reveals The Satanic Verses are part of Islamic lore.  Rushdie traces them back to the religion’s early days. Islam’s initial appeal was shared among the most underprivileged in rapidly urbanizing environments. These early adherents were persecuted by Mecca’s elites. Around this time the prophet Muhammad was apparently visited by an imposter of Gabriel and asked about three goddesses that were important revenue sources to the city of Mecca. They wouldn’t have the status of Allah, but could they be worshipped nonetheless? Muhammad was tempted.  The words spoken became sura 53 in the Quran. At some point in the not too distant future the real Gabriel informed Muhammad that the verse in question was not real and thus ‘satanic.’ It would have to be replaced by the godly verse.

The episode, Rushdie goes on to suggest, raised a thorny question: why was Muhammad tempted to elevate the status of the goddesses? Rushdie proposes that he might have been prepared to enter a bargain of sorts. Mecca’s elites were prepared to end their persecution of Islam’s followers if the goddesses so important to the city’s financial well being could be incorporated into the new religion. Muhammad, he adds, might have been tempted if it meant endearing himself to Mecca’s elites. In the end, Muhammad didn’t succumb to the temptation.

How does imagining and writing about such a proposition constitute ‘blasphemy’ or a grave insult to Islam? It’s hard to know. As Rushdie says, if he knew he’d be sentenced to death for writing The Satanic Verses, he would have really criticized Islam.

But sentenced to death he was and thus forced to exercise every precaution to keep his assassins at bay. Rushdie details how every aspect of his life suffered as a consequence of the fatwa. He assumes an alias – Joseph Anton, a hybrid derived from two of his favourite authors, Joseph Conrad and Anton Checkov – to conceal his identity. He was forced to live a life both on the run and in perpetual hiding. For years living in Britain he couldn’t so much as go to a corner store without planning it with the team forced to protect him. Airlines refused to allow him to fly on their planes. Publishers refused to publish the paperback version of The Verses. India, his native country, banished him. Indeed, he discovers first-hand what it’s like to have your freedom ruthlessly stripped away. If there can be said to be one benefit to his ordeal, it’s that he draws on it to write often beautifully and poignantly about the theme of exile.

Salman Rushdie and Padma Lakshmi PHOTO: FishbowlLA

Salman Rushdie and Padma Lakshmi PHOTO: FishbowlLA

Rushdie’s emphasis, however, is on his relationships with those closest to him.  Relationships sometimes buckled under the strain of constant threat to not only his life, but his family’s as well. His depictions of the women he loved and married are often generous and sympathetic, but were also often characterized by bitterness and acrimony. The effect on the reader is curious. On the one hand, you appreciate the author’s vulnerability. The reader senses his desire to be loved. On the other hand, although he does not spare himself from criticism, one still wonders if his version of tumultuous events with the women in his life are one sided. Was he as magnanimous as he sometimes portrays himself? It’s hard to know, especially given that for a time he was publicly vilified as volatile and egotistical and with a fondness for younger and strikingly beautiful women. He admits to leaving his third wife and mother to his younger son for Padma Lakshmi, a woman 23 years his junior who gained notoriety when she posed for Playboy magazine. He acknowledges it wasn’t his finest hour. Nevertheless, after reading the memoir, that sort of characterization seems more than a little unfair. Rushdie demonstrates too much insight into the world, too much sensitivity for the suffering of others and too much love for his two sons to be as selfish as he was sometimes made out to be.

There are stretches of the book when it is sometimes difficult to discern its arc. One feels anecdotes described in chapters 5 and 6 are too often the same in tone and substance as those in chapters 1 and 2. For this reason, the reader may have to contend with occasional bouts of tedium. But he is rewarded for his patience. The slow transformation to Rushdie’s character and life are eventually manifest. He writes movingly about his readiness to succumb to the relentless pressure to admit his folly and his sin. Repent, he was told more than once, and perhaps the Iranian authorities will lift the death sentence. Tell them you were wrong to write what you did about the prophet Mohammad. His desire to live freely and his declared need to be loved conspired to make him to do just that. Yet even after he made such a gesture the fatwa wasn’t lifted. Muslims everywhere insisted he still had to die. From that moment forward he writes of his growing defiance against the tyrants who would kill him for using his imagination to creatively engage with Islam. He uses his considerable prowess with the written word to expose their hypocrisy, their extraordinary capacity for cruelty and the danger such fanaticism poses to freedom.

Indeed the book soars when he writes less about himself and more about the ideas and principles at stake throughout the entire ordeal.  “How does newness enter the world?” he asks early in The Satanic Verses. Literature at its best is meant to explore this question and, in so doing, stretch and challengethe reader’s experience of the world. History is littered with examples of writers facing the wrath of holy institutions who oppose this sort of impulse. The same tension between newness and authority is often at stake in the world of science. Rushdie alludes to Darwin’s radical thesis of evolution and how the Church derisively characterized him as a menace to society. As for Islam, Rushdie is hardly the only person to suffer at the hands of its most conservative adherents. Challenging the faith can indeed pose grave risks. Rushdie refers to the brutal murder of Theo Van Gogh, the Dutch filmmaker who dared to depict Muhammad. If he were writing the memoir now, he would undoubtedly lament the Taliban’s attempt to murder Malala Yousafzai, the young Pakistani girl who so publicly, courageously and eloquently declared her and every other young girl’s right to an education. She was shot in the head by a Taliban sniper for promoting ‘secular’ values. Mercifully, she survived. But the response to this latest outrage has been ineffectual and tepid. As Rushdie warns, we’re losing the nerve and the basis on which to criticize the ideas that fuel this sort of monstrous violence.

Joseph Anton: A Memoir (Knopf Canada) is out now.

Joseph Anton: A Memoir (Knopf Canada) is out now.

Ottawa Writers Festival: One on One with Jian Ghomeshi

November 6, 2012 12:08 pm

Jian Ghomeshi, the host of CBC Radio Q (a national arts magazine show), was in town on October 27 to discuss his 1982 memoir.

1982 is the story of Ghomeshi’s life in grade nine while living in Thornhill, a Toronto suburb. Ghomeshi tells stories of girls, concerts, school, parents and how he wanted to be David Bowie. Wendy, his dream girl and a female version of Bowie, played a very dominant role in his life in 1982. Ghomeshi said it was difficult having a crush on a girl who was two years his senior and “way cooler” than he was. While his relationship with Wendy never lasted beyond high school, Ghomeshi recalled what an important influence she had on him during his early adolescence. Ghomeshi met up with his dream girl years later. While writing the book, Ghomeshi realized he would need her permission before publishing the story. He contacted her and she said she remembered a very different version of the events he described. But, she still gave Ghomeishi permission to publish the story, telling him to write the book however he wanted, since it was his story to tell.

While he didn’t repeat anecdotes already related in the book, the author reminisced about his life before a large audience at Knox Presbyterian Church. When the floor was opened to audience questions, Ghomeshi shared more about his life after 1982, including his assessment of his infamous interview with Billy Bob Thornton.


One thing I really admired about Ghomeshi was how much he praised the arts. His parents immigrated from Iran a short time after the Iranian hostage crisis of the late 1970s. Ghomeshi talked about his difficulties with his parents, who wanted him to be a successful doctor or engineer. Ghomeshi candidly told the audience that this was a path he never wanted to follow and was thankful for the opportunities he had in contributing to Canadian arts and music. Ghomeshi believes that his interaction with artists, actors, musicians and authors allowed him to become a critical thinker, never taking answers for granted and questioning the accepted norms of society on a regular basis. This is one of the reasons Ghomeshi has become such a successful interviewer on Q, and now, such a successful author.













Recent Posts