Category Archives: Book Review

Book Review: The Reason You Walk by Wab Kinew

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The political climate regarding Canada’s Indigenous People is hot, the federal government is trying to make an inquiry to Murdered and Missing Indigenous Women work. There are questions about the government’s integrity to their commitment to reconciliation while Trudeau and Liberals made reconciliation one of four themes for #Canada150 celebrations.

Through all this, it can be a difficult story for non-indigenous Canadians to understand and to wrap their heads around the history and the issues that continue to drive this story to the top of the national news programs. For most Canadians it is difficult to comprehend the pain of the past of residential schools, sub acceptable living conditions, child suicides and losses due to fires and other living conditions not permitted in the mainstream.

For the longest time I’ve been looking for something to read that will give me the sense I was looking for to understand the tragedy, pain of the history of our First Nations communities. There were books of political nature; non-fictional accounts and fiction that told the stories; magazine and newspapers articles were too formal. I searched through the entire bookstore shelves searching there was nothing that I felt was a good introduction for me to dive into.

I stumbled onto The Reason You Walk by Wab Kinew; the book only had two rows on the top shelf. The Reason You Walk on the back cover is described as “a father-son reconciliation.” Flipping through a few pages, The Reason You Walk, describes a son, learning from his father about the life his father’s father had and the lessons and how those lessons came from the elders. The father, a residential school survivor is ill and in the months of his life. Wab tells the story of that last year with his father.

While The Reason You Walk is about how Wab and his father are reconnecting, it is also the life of his father, his life before Wab and his live as a residential school student, being taken to Kenora Ontario – away from his parents and community and from the years in school in Kenora, with only a few weeks back home each year. Yes, The Reason You Walk is the book for me that could explain the pain, the suffering and the loss that the residential schools brought, it would be my first step to understanding the importance of reconciliation and truth. The Reason You Walk is the book that opened the door to the first step of wanting, make that being able, to learn more and though I have used the word quite a bit, understand more.

Wab and his father are not perfect, in fact they have had dark periods in their lives, death, alcoholism, divorce and multiple spouses are all part of their lives before the wisdom of the elders is absorbed and accepted. They accepted their responsibility for their roles in the lives of their people, family and children. Wab and his father were exceptional men in their lives; they were a journalist, professor, Chief and activist. Kinew now sits as a MLA in the Manitoba legislature.

The Reason You Walk shares the troubled lives of Wab, his parents, siblings, wives and children. But it shares a message that goes far beyond the teaching of the elders, it is a message that applies to everyone, it is about the reason we walk…as Wab sings the song after his father dies.

“I am the reason you walk, I created you so you might walk the earth.

I am the reason you walk, I gave you the motivation so you would continue to walk,  even when the path became difficult, even seemingly impossible.

I am the reason you walk, I animated you with that driving force called love, which compelled you to help others who had forgotten they were brothers and sisters to take steps back towards one another.

And now my son, as that journey comes an end, I am the reason you walk, for I am calling you home. Walk home to me on the everlasting road.”

The idea that reading the story of a father and son reconciliation can be a mirror for a greater appreciation of the challenges from our First Nations communities is not lost on me. They do not forget or try to rewrite their past, it used to remember and drive towards future goals. This is something that should be considered, when nationally efforts are made to wipe the past from our sights.

As demonstrated in The Reason You Walk, the past is used for a good future and so it should be and governments, Canadians and Indigenous People to move forward from the actions of those in our past.

Thank you for reading this post; to catch all my posts and be notified as new ones come up please follow me on WordPress. You can also see me on www.redheartbluelife.wordpress.com where I post about the little things in life I see and do.

I can be found Twitter @robertdekker, @rdmediaottawa and on Facebook at http://tiny.cc/n5l97. I can be reached at rdmedia@bell.net.

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Book Review: Legacy – How French Canadians Shaped North America

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The editors of Legacy start and finish the book, in between those pages are the stories of twelve French-Canadians, some I knew of and some I have not – though their names were known to me as street names in Gatineau, across the river from Ottawa.

Andre Pratté contributes the Foreword and Jonathan Kay the Afterword. In the foreword, Pratte hints of who might be considered for a second volume as they were left out. Kay writes in the afterword of his ‘regret’ as a Anglo-Quebecer and how English Canada needs to know about these twelve French Canadians, but also that there are others that need to be heard and known of west of the Ottawa River. Both speak with pride about the role French Canadians played in the growth and prosperity of North American.

Kay says as much in a reply to a tweet I wrote after completing the book.

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My dilemma in reading Legacy was HOW do I read it? Do I read the essays in the order I want, or do I follow (trust) the Editors Pratte and Kay have purposely placed these essays in a particular order? I trusted the editors. 

Legacy was an interesting read, the subject matter was great, but because of the format, I was as at the mercy of the contributors of the book. There were some essays that I had difficulty getting through because of the writer’s style, but I got through them and learned more about the contributions our Quebec cousins made to Canada and North America.

In reading some of the essays I had questions as in with Deni Ellis Bechard’s essay on Jack Kerouac I couldn’t tell if it was written when Kerouac was alive as Bechard doesn’t mention his death in 1969. I was drawn into the life of Montreal’s Paul David and his medical accomplishments. The political tour de force of Thérese Casgrain left me wondering why we had not heard of her and why her name is not mentioned with the Famous Five when it comes to women who leave their mark on this country.

In reading the essays on Thomas-Louis Tremblay and Georges Vanier, their heroics and bravery were outstanding. They are connected through their membership of the 22nd Battalion, the Van Doos and their battles in WWI. It’s interesting that another great Canadian has such a presence in the life of Vanier, Vincent Massey was the foil for everything that Vanier stood for – but both became Governor Generals of Canada, George Vanier was appointed Canada’s Regal representative following the death Massey in 1959.

What I anticipated the most ended up being the most difficult to read. Lucien Bouchard’s essay of Henri Bourassa was riveting. It being a hard read, it forced me go through it twice, I am glad I did. Bourassa ‘s battle with the Catholic Church and Pope Pius XI is well documented, as is his passion for Quebec, a passion that lives on long after his death.

From explorers Pierre de la Vérendrye and Albert Lacombe to Jacques Plante and Kerouac, Legacy brings nine men and three women, all French Canadians and all-important contributors to North American Anglophones AND Francophones to learn about. Writers Ken Dryden (Jacques Plante), the afore mentioned Lucien Bouchard Bourassa), Samantha Nutt (Casgrain), Roméo Dallaire (Tremblay) and Jean Charest & Antoine Dionne-Charest (George-Étienne Cartier) add their voices through their words on Quebec’s and French Canada’s history and place in North America.

Surely there are more than enough subjects for a Volume II.

Thank you for reading this post; to catch all my posts and be notified as new ones come up please follow me on WordPress. You can also see me on www.redheartbluelife.wordpress.com where I am celebrating #Canada150 with a daily post of an event celebrating our sesquicentennial in Canada.

I can be found Twitter @robertdekker, @rdmediaottawa and on Facebook at http://tiny.cc/n5l97. I can be reached at rdmedia@bell.net.

 

Book Review: “The Jersey Brothers” – A Compelling Page Turner

Jersey Brothers

If I were to draw a Venn diagram describing “The Jersey Brothers” there would be four circles intersecting with a larger circle that would be the war in the Pacific. While the war is in the forefront of the Mott-Cross family, it is merely the backdrop for all that takes place as three brothers and a mother fight for country and survival.   Do not get fooled thinking that The Jersey Brothers is the navy version of “Saving Private Ryan”. The Jersey Brothers reads like a well-crafted novel, but is a fact-based account of brothers Benny, Bill and Barton along with their mother Helen and their struggles that was 70 years in the making.

Sally Mott Freeman, daughter of brother Bill, researched and wrote The Jersey Brothers over ten years. She wisely leaves out observations of family relationships until the end in her epilogue. Using the information from Navy records, letters, diaries, accounts from fellow Navy Prisoners of War and until 10 years ago an unopened box of documents, letters and photos belonging to her Uncle, Barton Cross, The Jersey Brothers is a very compelling read. The facts surrounding the battles in the Pacific and the behind the battlefront activity is a history buff’s dream. From Pearl Harbour to Hiroshima and the end of World War II in Japan, Mott Freeman tells a brave story that leaves you pulling for an ending that everyone has fought for, but this is a war story.

The loyalty of the three men is tested by not being not only being able to know where the others are, but also by a loyalty to their mother who is suffering under the cloud of Navy protocol, privacy and the Navy’s number one priority of winning the War in the Pacific. While there are the personal accounts of suffering, depression and injury, the war goes on and The Jersey Brothers provides an account of actions by leaders in the White House, the Army and the Navy. Readers are given the backroom deliberations and arguments at sea and on land, the destruction of American battleships and the loss of tens of thousands of American soldiers. Reading of the Pacific War was a new experience for me – my knowledge was very limited, I started reading The Jersey Brothers as the 100th Anniversary of Battle of Vimy Ridge of The Great War was being commemorated in Canada and France.

Through many pages, I found myself hoping for that happy ending, only to be emotionally dragged through setbacks and disappointments. While in real life these events may need us to sit back and rest before moving forward, Mott Freeman drives us forward onto the next pages. Whether it’s Helen and her correspondence to government officials, her comfort in her garden or how her sons endure the ups and downs of the war, The Jersey Brothers is about the bond of family and the efforts each take to keep the ties alive through distance and desperation.

The Jersey Brothers takes us back, as a reminder that if at all possible a war on that scale, or any scale should never be fought again.

Thank you for reading this post; to catch all my posts and be notified as new ones come up please follow me on WordPress. You can also see me on www.redheartbluelife.wordpress.com where I am celebrating #Canada150 with a daily post of an event celebrating our sesquicentennial in Canada.

I can be found Twitter @robertdekker, @rdmediaottawa and on Facebook at http://tiny.cc/n5l97. I can be reached at rdmedia@bell.net.

It took me almost 40 years to read The Handmaids Tale

 

Handmaids TaleI never read The Handmaids Tale in high school. I graduated before the book was published. If I had though I am pretty sure I would not have “got it”. I didn’t have the life experience to comprehend what Margaret Atwood was writing about. I would have only learned through current life examples, at the time, through news or history lessons. When I graduated from Erindale Secondary School in Mississauga (in 1979) the only parallels to The Handmaids Tale I would’ve known of were the Khomeini in Iran and the Soviet Russia, which while severely cracked was still in one piece. If I were to read and discuss Atwood’s ‘1984’ in high school I would have been far too influenced by the teacher’s impressions. Honestly, at that time, it would have not made me enjoy the book.

It is only now, 38 years later that I can say I read The Handmaids Tale and enjoyed every page. This is not a knock on Margaret Atwood, but back then I was reading books about a fictional Canadian takeover of America by Richard Rohmer and music biographies. Yes, it is now after 38 years after graduating from high school that I could read the book, appreciate the book, understand the book and fear the outcome of a world that seems too real.

Margaret Wente in the Globe and Mail (April 29, 2017) wrote “Are we living the The Handmaids Tale?” (http://www.theglobeandmail.com/opinion/are-we-living-in-the-handmaids-tale/article34843333/) . Wente discusses the recent calls from Vanity Fair, The New Yorker that under recent events women’s rights are under attack. She says “…the book is regarded as prophetic…more than ever people are convinced that women’s rights are under threat…”.

Wente and others are not wrong, and as a man reading a book that reduces women to providers of children and to complete the simplest of duties it scares me to think what happens when some have too much influence. Maybe purposely, but they also forget that in The Handmaids Tale men to things – also reduced to simple chores, driving a car, gardening and impregnating the Handmaid.  In The Handmaids Tale we see that men are afforded certain luxuries taken from women – access to computers for work purposes only), information and reading. In the book we do not know what the Commander of the house does, where he goes from 9 – 5 and how he earns his status in the new state. His marriage is just a marriage, not a marriage – a partnership or something to enjoy – but never a marriage. To keep appearances, there are a lot of whispers, clandestine signals and prohibited rendezvous. The Commander and his wife are under the same roof, but do not live under it.

While not to the extent that the rights of women have been taken away, the Commander and others like him also lost in the Gilead.  The freedom and happiness that the Commander seeks can only be done in secret. His midnight meetings with his handmaid only to talk and play scrabble show us that in a world that creates a strict doctrine, it removes the simple joys of life we take for granted. The Commander has to sneak out with the handmaid to be able to have enjoyable sex with her, sex for procreating is not fun in Gilead – it is a job and if either person involved this duty fail, whatever little they have now is taken away. Banishment from the ‘good life’ and the few accommodations allowed in Gilead are removed.

Atwood correctly identifies that women are not things and portrays an image of what feminists fight for everyday. But, she also identifies that men also suffer under strict doctrines and in The Handmaids Tale while not advocating for what might be called masculinism, she is warning that under the control of few, the many lose.

After reading The Handmaids Tale, a friend of mine send a recommendation for more Atwood via Twitter:

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Thank you for reading this post; to catch all my posts and be notified as new ones come up please follow me on WordPress. You can also see me on www.redheartbluelife.wordpress.com where I am celebrating #Canada150 with a daily post of an event celebrating our sesquicentennial in Canada.

I can be found Twitter @robertdekker, @rdmediaottawa and on Facebook at http://tiny.cc/n5l97. I can be reached at rdmedia@bell.net.

Review: Robbie Robertson’s Testimony

In the late 80’s I interviewed The Band, the Robbie Robertson-less version of the band. I was working for CJCS1240 in Stratford Ontario at the time. Back then I know about the music of The Band as a “oldies” radio station the CANCON music policy allowed us to play only the best of Canada back then – and The Band qualified as a mainstay of our playlists. I was selected to interview Stratford’s Richard Manuel, Rick Danko, Garth Hudson and Levon Helm who had started touring again in1983 after then five person band stopped playing live following 1976’s Last Waltz.

I interviewed The Band with Brian O’Neill, our Sales Manager at the time, and a real music buff. We would interview the guys before they went on stage; take the tape and put together a 1-hour special featuring the interview and music. We had one hour to interview the band, and what a great interview it was, great answers to the questions, and lots of laughter with the stories they told. When we were done, and had talked for more than an the hour allotted, we took the tape back to the studio only to find that the batteries on the cassette recorder had died 30-40 minutes into the interview, a good chunk of what we recorded didn’t.

In Testimony, Robbie Robertson was told, by his mother, that when he was older he too would be a storyteller, just like the Elders of the Six Nations Reserve near Brantford where he spent the early years of his life. Even without publishing Testimony Robertson told stories, just read about the music of a career he writes about from hitting the stage with Ronnie Hawkins and the Hawks to leaving the stage after playing for hours in The Band’s farewell concert in the “the Last Waltz”

From Ronnie Hawkins, to Bob Dylan to Helm, Danko, Hudson and Manuel Testimony is about his musical relationship – make that musical partnerships and how they made the music that executives in 1968 didn’t know what to label. It was the music that shifted the musical world much like Dylan did by going electric, which Robertson had a stage view of.   The tours with Dylan were illuminating as Robertson describes the lifestyle of rock stars, the drugs and alcohol that eventual drove The Band from the stage. He writes of the struggles, especially with Richard Manuel who struggled with alcohol only to turn to marijuana and then cocaine to help with a heroin habit. Rick Danko and Levon Helm also had major issues and Robertson writes of not only their issues but also his use, but when it comes to this part of his life and the story telling, he leaves out his struggles with his use of drugs and drinking. He makes it seem like he is the big brother who did no wrong, but was always there when his little brothers fell down.

I tweeted out when I started reading Testimony that it was like being counted into a song by Levon Helm; 1-2-3-4 Bam, you are into a song. What kept me turning pages was the music. What the band did in 1967 and 68 leading up to two of the greatest albums of the sixties is amazing reading, it gets into your mind and your imagination. Following Dylan’s motorcycle accident The Band retreat to Woodstock NY and the Big Pink, chapters 18 and 19 are required reading on the creation of Bob Dylan’s “Basement Tapes” and The Bands’ “Music from the Big Pink”. There is a passage about the vocal arrangements for “The Weight” that will forever by in my head, and when I listen to the song I will hear Robertson say…

“I began singing the chorus to “The Weight” over and over to the guys, trying to convey the staggered vocal idea I had. “Levon, you go, ‘aaand’, then Rick , ‘aaand’, then Richard on top, ‘aaand’. Levon, ‘you put the load’, Rick, Richard, Levon, ‘you put the load right on me’.”

Now, just try listening to “The Weight” without having this text in front of you or in your head hearing Robbie give those instructions.

Robertson only takes us through to the end of the Last Waltz, which is timely as I figure he has another book in him with his Post Waltz music. In the book he takes the reader through the thought, action and performance of what many call, the greatest rock concert film ever made. I could write more about the last few chapters leading up to the concert, but I think you would get more reading about creating the line up of artists, the new budding professional relationship with Martin Scorsese and how it was all managed to be held together AND the fabulous dinner served to 5000 people before the concert began.

Testimony is two-way mirror into making music, great music and a looking into how success put strains into relationships and what the five did to survive. Levon, Rick and Richard used the drink and drugs, Garth fiddled with electronics and Robertson made music and films with others and discovered the west coast. But as he writes his eulogy to The Band in the final pages, the love of the brotherhood is greater than all the troubles and sins that happened between 1960 with Ronnie Hawkins and the Hawks to Thanksgiving 1976 and “The Last Waltz” , the love clearly outlasts any pain and misunderstandings that took place.

In the end, Testimony is the BEST rock and roll book I have ever read, its honesty and admiration of the players Robbie Robertson shared a stage with is something I have never taken from pages before.

Testimony is required reading for anyone that plays or loves music that changes how we listen to music.

While I knew the music of The Band, Testimony would have been a great primer for my interview with The Band, in the late 80’s. After reading Testimony, I now understand the music and brotherhood of The Band, and man what questions I would have asked if only I knew as I do today.

Thank you for reading this post; to catch all my posts and be notified as new ones come up please follow me on WordPress. You can also see me on www.redheartbluelife.wordpress.com for what I see, hear and read.

I can be found Twitter @robertdekker, @rdmediaottawa and on Facebook at http://tiny.cc/n5l97. I can be reached at rdmedia@bell.net.

 

Book Review – “Himself” by Jess Kidd

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“a read out of ‘time’ and ‘place’”

I like my books two ways; the quick enjoyable read that leaves you breathless and satisfied. The second is a book that makes me understand the characters, their places, plot placement and personality. It may take longer to finish the book, but the work as a reader that goes into it is just a satisfying. Himself is of the second type of read for me, rereading some passages in Himself allowed me the satisfaction of not putting the book down as the plot lines and timelines converged.

The book is about a boy (Mahoney) and a girl (Orla), the boy is alive and girl sadly is not; the boy is looking for the girl. Set in Ireland in Mulderigg in the 50’s and the 70’s, it’s the hometown of the girl and birthplace of the boy. The shifting narratives of the past, the present, and the past in the present pull you into each time capsule and at times makes you sad that the author has pulled you out – seemly to make sure you don’t know more than you should at that moment. It’s OK though, because as you adjust to the next capsule of time it takes little effort as the reader before you pulled in that as well.

Mahoney sets off a series of spiritual storms as soon as he enters Mulderigg; the spirits take notice of him from his first step out of the cab that delivers him to Kerrigan’s, the local pub. There is a cast of characters in the story, they really are characters as in Himself, Kidd injects colour into the town through those that have lived and will likely die there. The only people that see Mahoney for what he might become, the great disrupter, are those that came to Mulderigg, not by birth, but by choice.  There is Mrs. Cauley, the towns theatre star and Father Quinn, who needs the eccentricities of Mrs. Cauley’s productions for raise money for the parish but would gladly see her and Mahoney run out of his town.

The towns’ folk relish any opportunity to have something more than their daily lives take over their imaginations and their time.   Their lives all travel separate paths until Mahoney comes into town and like a storm approaching, no one can be as prepared as they want to be when it hits. Using the vehicle of an annual theatrical presentation that is the only real fundraising event for the local parish church, Mrs. Cauley initiates and runs her investigation in a manner that would make Agatha Christie proud. Mrs. Cauley is determined to find out how Mahoney’s mother disappeared and by whose hands it happened.

The real charm in the story is how Kidd writes and brings the spirits of the dead alive and gives them a freedom of movement that would make the living envious. The writing was lively and I found myself looking forward to reading the next passage that has Mahoney observing with the spirits. Kidd writes for the spirits in a manner that there are no limits to what or how the ghosts could move around and influence Mahoney, for only Mahoney has the privilege of seeing them.

Himself is a very enjoyable read, it’s an escape in time and into magic where the humans and worldly spirits reside, not always peacefully.

Himself is Jess Kidd’s first novel and if you read her bio on www.jesskidd.com, she also ambitious with her second, third and fourth books all in one stage of composition completion. Himself is available in Canada on March 21, 2017 and is published through Simon and Schuster. Thanks to Simon and Schuster for the opportunity to read and review Himself.

Thank you for reading this post; to catch all my posts and be notified as new ones come up please follow me on WordPress. You can also see me on www.redheartbluelife.wordpress.com for what I see, hear and read.

I can be found Twitter @robertdekker, @rdmediaottawa and on Facebook at http://tiny.cc/n5l97. I can be reached at rdmedia@bell.net.