Library Column: Magical Forests, Crocodiles and Racial Justice

Reviewed by Shanna Bernier

While visiting a friend, who also happens to be a Canadian author, my daughter Beatrice was gifted a book. Our friend told us that her friend “Larry” had written a book for 9 to 12-year-olds, and had asked her to pass it on, the next opportunity she got. We all agreed it was perfect, because the protagonist was also named Beatrice. The “Larry” in question is the award-winning author of masterpieces such as Book of Negros and The Illegals. Lawrence Hill did indeed publish his first novel for children in 2022, and Beatrice and Croc Harry is the book my daughter was tasked with reviewing.

After deciding that this book was a bit too dense for Bea to read independently, and because I was really intrigued and wanted to read it as well, we shared it together as a family, out loud.

Beatrice and Croc Harry is quite a dramatic (as described by Meredith, age 6) adventure story, about a young girl who wakes up in a treehouse in a magical forest with no memory of how she got there. She slowly unravels the complex mystery of her location: the enchanted bio-experimental forest of Argilia. To do so, she must communicate—and eventually form alliances with—unlikely members of the animal kingdom. Within the forest limits, they can all communicate across species. Meanwhile, she is having terrible nightmares about a giant breaking into her brain, having small flashes of memory of her life before the forest, and learning little bits of history and context about her location. Her closest friends are a 700-pound king crocodile, a small and hyperactive rabbit, a spotted lemur and a fuzzy blue tarantula. As the story unravels, we learn about the complexities of the world Beatrice came from, a Queendom in the year 2090. The world has not rid itself of inequity, and there are fighting factions which threaten her ability to return home. After solving a series of clues, with the help of her animal companions, Beatrice must leave the safety of Argilia and journey back to the Queendom through dangerous territory.

I asked my Beatrice what her first impressions were of this novel, and here is what she said:

“I think all the characters are sweet. The whole book-world is easy to imagine, and sometimes I forget that we are reading, and I feel right there in the moment.  I think Beatrice and Croc Harry has an important message about discrimination. We are shown Beatrice as a strong and confident girl, sure of herself even when being attacked.”

Lawrence Hill’s inspiration for this novel began with bedtime stories about a girl and a crocodile which he made up for his youngest child (the protagonist’s namesake), more than 15 years ago. Those characters and stories were waiting in his brain and heart to be woven into a more complex and meaningful story

Hill masterfully introduces us to the character of Beatrice in new ways throughout the book. The reader know she has brown skin, curly and unruly hair, but it isn’t until part of the way through the book that the concept of race, blackness and racial identity, division and prejudice are introduced.

“It became my goal to write in an exuberant, playful way about a subject close to my heart: the loss and rediscovery of identity, which is at the core of the historical experiences of peoples of the African Diaspora.”

It is amazing how this novel is at times hilarious and absurd, but also deeply poignant and troubling. Hill finds a way to balance the difficult and very real struggles that the characters face with humour and the fantastical magic of the setting.

“I do feel that it’s really mandatory to let enough shafts of light in a story so that the child can feel uplifted by it and not beaten down by it. I don’t want to beat down any child. But do I want to flinch from real issues such as racism or the courage involved in confronting injustice? No. Do I want to help a child laugh and have some fun and dance through this story that has a painful bed underneath it? Yes.”

Another aspect of this book which instantly appealed to me is the exploration of words and language. In Beatrice’s treehouse she is equipped not only with the supplies to feed herself, but also with a library. Among her selection of books is a dictionary, which she frequently refers to in order to learn the meaning behind new words, especially ones introduced by the eloquent and illustrious communicator, Croc Harry. As we are a family of word lovers, we appreciated all the vocabulary enrichment that was woven into this complex and beautiful story.

If you are looking for a meaningful story with tremendous world building and delightful characters, do not hesitate to check out this excellent middle grade novel at the Lennoxville Library!

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Will Any of Us Learn Why?

Review by Spencer Nadeau

Canadian literature is tough to define. What makes it Canadian per se? Hockey? A landmark city? Tackling indigenous issues and traumas? All of these are features that could be argued as making literature produced in this country unique. Regardless, it is easy for works written by contemporary Canadians to get lost in the shuffle or simply go unnoticed internationally and even by the Canadian reading public. The good news is that with minimal effort it easy to discover a vast array of novelists and poets nationwide who are writing right now and publishing exciting works!

One of these writers is Jonathan Ball, from Winnipeg, Manitoba. I stumbled upon Ball in grad school completely by chance, and I am glad it happened that way. I was first exposed to Ball’s experimental poetry book Ex Machina, which reads like a choose-your-own adventure that can infinitely reset as the reader makes their choices. Poetry can be challenging to appreciate, but Ball, by using his personal writing philosophy of “writing the wrong way”, allows his work to garner non-traditional appeal. It comes without surprise that Ball’s first prose collection, The Lightning of Possible Storms, follows the same trajectory.

The Lightning of Possible Storms consists of seventeen short stories contained within a larger frame narrative. The frame follows the story of Aleya, a café waitress who discovers a collection of stories left behind by a customer she serves regularly. Seeking to know more about the book and its mysterious author, Aleya begins to read it late one night at home. Aleya is caught off guard when she discovers that the book is dedicated to her with the inscription “For Aleya, who will learn why.” Driven to find an explanation, Aleya ventures into these strange stories and into a world that causes her to question the most basic things about her existence.

The stories contained in The Lightning of Possible Storms range in genre and style. “National Bestseller” centres on a writer who, in typical Canadian fashion, “dreams small” and tries to figure out how to write a national bestseller and make a living. “Judith” has a dystopian/science fiction appeal with “death machines” always correctly predicting how someone will die. The further Aleya and the readers get into the book the more the stories become abstract, existential, and horrific. Within a few short pages “The War with the Dead” depicts a physical war between death and life while at the same time creating a mythology for a completely different world.

At first these stories—which move through realism into science fiction, mythology and existential dread—seem to have no connection at all to each other. In fact, Aleya ponders over this exact idea as she breaks from her reading for a caffeine refuel. However, when I made it to “The Palace of Ice” I was reminded of the deep psychological implications in Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness as Marlow ventures deeper and deeper into the jungle and his conversations with Kurtz. “The Palace of Ice” follows Sara, who increasingly seeks to escape her physical body and exist solely in dreams.

Ball’s strength in The Lightning of Possible Storms is his lack of predictability. Too often I find frame narratives come to logical narrative conclusions. They are strictly grounded in the literary world and bound to follow literary tropes. Ball avoids this by challenging all of the readers’ assumptions and traditional tools for reading by artfully writing about the process of creation. Ball’s “writing the wrong way” creates a work that feels like a room filled with mirrors with one single beam of light bouncing in endless paths throughout the room. Each beam of light is a possibility. The conclusions that can be reached while reading these stories seem to recall the title of the collection, The Lightning of Possible Storms. Possibility is the key to the collection as a whole and, I think, to truly appreciating Ball’s work.

Canadian literature, that ephemeral entity from another dimension, offers so many possibilities and potentialities that we should all do our best to support the writers who are creating these works. Thanks to chance I discovered Jonathan Ball, who is very active online with his podcast, Writing the Wrong Way and his company, Stranger Fiction. Through his involvement in the Canadian writing scene, I’ve been exposed to other Canadian writers including Chadwick Ginther, S. M. Beiko, and G. M. B. Chomichuk. There is so much variety and innovation in contemporary Canadian literature that there is inevitably something out there for everyone. While a small group, Canadian writers tend to stick together and work off each other which is great for readers seeking to discover who is  writing out there right now across the nation.  

Lennoxville Library News

Get ready for Canada Reads 2023!

Our beloved Lennoxville edition of the CBC’s Canada Reads featuring local presenters, lively discussion and debate will be held Wednesday, March 15th at 7pm. More information will be forthcoming on the Library website and Facebook page.

The CBC will announce the 5 books that will be debated on January 25th. Copies of each book will be available at the library shortly after that for you to borrow.

Many books from the Canada Reads long list are already at the Library. It’s a great selection!

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Ahh, Memories….

By Melanie Cutting

As of today, Prince Harry’s memoir, Spare, is out and all the rage; coincidentally I noticed that the last two books I’d read were also memoirs, but these two were by established, prize-winning authors, rather than a disgruntled ex-Royal, who probably needs the money. It is, though, a testament to the enduring appeal of memoirs. Whether they cover a whole life, a significant period in a life, or a snapshot of a particular experience, they are generally pretty fascinating—at worst merely voyeuristic, at best impressive and enlightening.

I’ll begin with Annie Ernaux’s The Years (2008) ,which I read for my book club last month. Chances are you don’t know this author, despite the fact that she is the 2022 recipient of the Nobel Prize for literature. Although written in her mother tongue, French, it is very well translated into English for the Penguin edition of this book. “It has been expertly rendered into English by Alison Strayer, who captures all the shadings of Ernaux’s prose, all its stops and starts, its changes in pace and in tone, its chatterings, its silences.” (The Guardian) And, here is the publisher’s note:  “The Years is a personal narrative of the period 1941 to 2006 told through the lens of memory, impressions past and present—even projections into the future—photos, books, songs, radio, television and decades of advertising, headlines, contrasted with intimate conflicts and writing notes from six decades of diaries.” As you have probably surmised from the above, it is remarkably skilled, but not exactly light reading.  It really does take the concept of memoir well above and beyond the ordinary, and is ultimately worth the time and effort to get through it. But it is challenging, to say the least. Here’s a bit more in this vein, just to drive home the point:

“… it is not a straightforward autobiography; rather it is told in a choral ‘we’, which sometimes shifts into the third person, so the author appears as ‘she’… She shows it is possible to write both personally and collectively, situating her own story within the story of her generation, without ever confusing the two. She reflects on the book she is writing even as she writes it, resolving: ‘There is no ‘I’ in what she views as a sort of impersonal autobiography. There is only ‘one’ and ‘we’, as if now it were her time to tell the story of the time-before.’ (The Guardian)

I could go on, but I won’t. Read it if you dare, but don’t expect the typical “This is my life, warts and all” kind of tell-all life story. As you read, it helps to have an English Lit major somewhere in the vicinity, ready to assist when your comprehension can no longer keep up with the author’s wide array of techniques.

The second memoir I read this winter, by comparison, was a total delight. Happy-Go-Lucky, the 2022 series of observations by noted American humourist David Sedaris, had me laughing out loud. Not to say that the author’s life, which he has now covered in this and twelve previous volumes, is a laugh a minute. Hardly. His father was abusive on his good days, and one of David’s four sisters, Tiffany, became addicted to drugs and ultimately committed suicide, but finding the humorous within the very ordinary—and sometimes very tragic—seems to be the author’s super power.

Growing up gay in the American South and subsequently living in New York City, Great Britain, and France, while touring more than six month of the year, has provided Sedaris with endless fodder for his barbed comments. Needless to say, the pandemic has played right into the Sedaris’ hands. “It was a golden era for tattletales, for conspiracy theorists, for the self-righteous. ‘Your mask isn’t completely covering your nose,’ a middle-aged woman informed a much older one in my neighbourhood Target one afternoon. ‘Miss’, she called a second later to the cashier, ‘Miss, her mask isn’t completely covering her nose!’” And, “The terrible shame about the pandemic in the United States is that more than 900,000 people have died to date, and I didn’t get to choose a one of them. How unfair that we lost Terrence McNally, but not the guy on the electric scooter who almost hit me while he was going the wrong way on Seventh Avenue one sweltering afternoon in 2021.” Revisionist history also comes in for a drubbing. “I was fine with all this Black Lives Matter stuff until they went after both Aunt Jemima and Mrs. Butterworth…Now I’m like, hey don’t f**k with my syrup!” What about health in America? “For all our talk about health, and worse still, ‘wellness’ the burning question in most of America is, ‘How can we make this more fattening?’”

In 2019 Sedaris was inducted into the American Academy of Arts and Letters. In addition, he is a recipient of the Thurber Prize for American Humour, the Jonathan Swift Prize for Satire and Humour, and the Terry Southern Prize for Humour. Not a Nobel Prize winner (at least not yet), but a heck of a lot more fun to read.

By the way, my sister Bethanie has just finished her own soon-to-be-published memoir, Diary of an Ambivalent Caregiver, about the time she spent looking after our mother who suffered a series of strokes in 2004-5. Now THAT, as David Sedaris might say, will be a page turner!

Please shade this in

Lennoxville Library News

Kids activities in January and February

Storytimes & craft activities every Saturday morning at 10am. (ages 3 to 7)

Board game nights every 2nd Wednesday. Next meeting: January 25th at 6pm. (ages 8  to 14)

Family Book Club meetings once a month. Next meeting January 26th at 6:30pm in the Salle Amédée-Beaudoin (all ages)

Initiation to Dungeons and Dragons once a month. Spaces available for our February 23rd meeting. (ages 8  to 14)

Small group robotics workshops. Sign up on our website. (ages 8  to 14)

Information about our NEW Magic the Gathering sessions coming soon!

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The Greatest Escape by Neil Churches

Reviewed by Stephen Sheeran

I must confess to an enduring obsession—war stories. Almost any conflict will do – the American Civil War, the Napoleonic Wars, the Hundred Years War – but I have a special interest in World War II, particularly with autobiographies of combatants.  

One caveat: this obsession is not healthy. It likely started in a youthful taste for adventure tales, and it is, at heart, somewhat delusional. It is dominated by the idea of heroic exploits in a black-and-white world where the blocking forces of evil are overcome by luck, chance, audacity, and devotion to some noble cause.

The Second World War holds special appeal because of its sheer vastness. It is, by any standard, the defining event of the 20th century. Its passage, so destructive and so pervasive, has left swirling currents of influences that we still feel. Baby Boomers, the State of Israel, the civil War in former Yugoslavia, frothy-mouthed nationalism, intimations of resurgent Nazism (cf. Putin/Ukraine)—all are material by-products of the Second World War.

As huge chunks of the world seem hell-bent on forgetting the events of the two World Wars and replicating the folly that engendered them, it is salutary to remember the stakes, the costs, and the outcomes that continue to shape our current politics.

Today’s review features the exploits of one Ralph Churches, a young man growing up in South Central Australia (near Adelaide) in the 1920s and 30s. His childhood is distinguished by extremes. He is born into a family of bush farmers who seem perpetually down on their luck, especially with the onset of the great depression, yet he demonstrates a spirit of indomitable inventiveness that allows him to prosper under the direst circumstances.  He finally manages a position at a bank just as WW II breaks out. He then enlists in the Australian armed services just as the British are being evacuated from Dunkirk, and he is posted abroad.

It should be noted that Britain and the Commonwealth forces were unprepared for the outbreak of WWII, and they had not learned much from the incompetencies of WWI. The result was that, in spite of individual acts of bravery, the greatest allied accomplishments in the early going were handing over huge swaths of territory to the axis forces (Germany, Italy, later Japan) along with upwards of a quarter of a million POWs. Invariably the allied forces underestimated the sheer efficiency of German and Japanese warfare.

Ralph Churches is one of these victims. Initially he is stationed in North Africa as a mapmaker, a junior intelligence NCO. He is then posted to Greece as part of an operation to shore up Greek defences in their conflict with Mussolini. Here’s where the incompetencies came into play. Instead of preparing for an inevitable invasion by the Germans, the Allied forces engage in feckless actions against the Italians. The Germans sweep through all opposition and occupy the entirety of Greece in a matter of days.

Retreats and evacuations are botched (NB: one notable chapter bears the title “Rowing to Crete”.) Churches is ultimately swept up with other of his ANZAC countrymen (NBB: Neil Churches  shares his countrymen’s penchant for Acronyms and Initialisms so the reader must be prepared to decipher AIF, SOE, SBS, MI9, RSL, E&Es, and countless others) and hastily transported from one POW center to another. In these settings they experience all the commonplace horrors of POWs—abuse, disease, forced marches, random acts of violence. One of their stops is in a work-camp in Austria, where Churches gets so demoralized that he just walks away. He is punished for his escape attempt with solitary confinement, and then he is put on a work detail picking up the corpses Soviet soldiers who are being systematically exterminated by the Germans.

Finally they find themselves at a fairly comfortable camp in Maribor, Slovenia, where they manage to fashion a sustainable existence working on railroad maintenance. They become rather adept at the art of calculated ineptitude: they manage to work at a pace which guarantees that they all appear to be constantly busy yet accomplish very little.

Curiously, they also establish a very successful black market, bartering their Red Cross supplies. As it turns out, some of their most faithful and lucrative customers are the German guards, for the prisoners manage to corner the market for chocolate, cigarettes, booze and coffee.  Ralph Churches has a knack for languages, organization, and improvisation, which allow him to be a critical middle-man, not only in black-market supplies but also communications with the Slovenian partisans.

Links are formed and the men gradually begin to formulate a large-scale escape plan (cf. title).

Almost as miraculous as the events depicted are the circumstances which gave rise to the biography. The “hero” of the story is, without doubt, Ralph Churches, yet, like many veterans, he was reticent about his accomplishments. Moreover, out of a sense of duty and obligation to the Official Secrets Act, he never felt at ease describing intelligence operations. Fortunately, his son, Neil Churches, although a confirmed “leftie”, managed to procure enough of an account to proceed with a book project, and he was assisted by an able co-writer researcher, Edmund Goldrick.

The Greatest Escape is coming to Lennoxville Library and it is a must-read for WWII buffs.

Lennoxville Library News

Happy New Year on behalf of your neighbourhood Library!

Our long-running English language book club meets every 2nd Wednesday from 12pm to 1pm on Zoom.

The first meeting of the New Year is January 11th. All are welcome.

Find the address on the library website or Facebook page.

Want to be part of the discussion, but weekday afternoons don’t work for you?

We are hoping to start up an evening discussion in 2023.

Send an email to bibliolen@gmail.com to let us know if you might be interested and what days and times would work.

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Top Ten Most Borrowed Books, and a Call for Your Own Best of 2022

By Christian Collins

Two weeks ago in these pages Shanna Bernier presented a roundup of the most popular kids’ books at the Lennoxville Library in 2022.  This week we are sharing 2022’s top 10 most checked out new books for adults.

But a top ten list, by definition, presents only a narrow view of what was being read and loved at the library in a given year. As I compiled it, I couldn’t help but think of all the great and worthy reads that didn’t make the cut, soooo see Lennoxville Library News at the end of this column.

Drum roll please…

#10 Ducks: Two Years in the Oil Sands by Kate Beaton (graphic novel). The single most popular graphic novel this year at the library. If you are a serious reader but dubious about the graphic novel form, this is a good place to start. Kate Beaton left her native Cape Breton to work in Alberta’s oil sands to pay off her student loans. Her engaging narrative of life as a young woman in a harsh and hyper-masculine environment paints a picture that is at once deeply personal and full of insight into the dark underside of the boom years in the Canadian west.

#9 The Myth of Normal: Trauma, Illness and Healing in a Toxic Culture by Gabor Maté (nonfiction). Maté’s new book seems destined to join the ranks of perennial bestsellers like The Body Keeps the Score that we, as a society, are apparently so hungry for. Maté mobilizes decades of experience as a physician on the front lines of addiction treatment, and his own experience as a child survivor of the Holocaust, to highlight the insidious effects of trauma and tease out the societal roots of physical and mental illness.

 #8 The Challenge by Danielle Steel (romance/suspense). Six high school friends in rural Montana. A hike in the mountains gone terribly wrong. A massive search and rescue operation. Events that will ripple through families and communities for years to come. If Gabor Maté and Danielle Steel have anything in common, it’s a keen eye for the ways in which grief and trauma – but also love and kindness – are transmitted and amplified across generations.

#7 Bittersweet: How Sorrow and Longing Make Us Whole by Susan Cain (nonfiction). “How can we transform pain into creativity, transcendence, and love? How should we live knowing that we and everyone we love will die?” Susan Cain, author of Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking, builds her powerful new book around these questions.

#6 The 6:20 Man: a Thriller by David Baldacci (thriller). Travis Devine has a mundane life working at a middling job in a New York financial firm until a series of events drags him into a web of corruption, murder, financial crimes, and international dark money conspiracies. Baldacci uses the thriller format to do a deep dive into the world of dark money and its insidious effects. 

#5 Beautiful by Danielle Steel (romance/fiction). Veronique Vincent is a global fashion star. Caught in a terrorist attack, she loses not only the two people she loves the most, but also the physical beauty on which she has built her identity and her livelihood. Perhaps Danielle Steel was reading #7 on this list when she wrote this one, because it is all about transforming pain and loss to find new life and new meaning in the ashes of unimaginable tragedy.

#4 Shadows Reel by C. J. Box (mystery/thriller). The 22nd installment of the series featuring Wyoming game warden Joe Pickett. Pickett’s wife, head librarian at the local library, receives an anonymous donation of a high level Nazi’s World War II photo album. Now people connected to the album are being murdered and Pickett has to find out why. A parallel investigation brings in raptor thieves and Antifa thugs for good measure.

#3 The Department of Rare Books and Special Collections by Eva Jurczyk (mystery). What better than the rare book department of a large university library as the setting for a murder mystery? What librarian wouldn’t recommend a book where a mild mannered librarian turns out to be just the right person to uncover a trail of fraud and corruption involving ancient documents and all-too-modern greed?

#2 Sparring Partners by John Grisham (fiction/legal thriller). 5 novellas set in Grisham’s familiar territory of Clanton, Mississippi, several featuring attorney Jake Brigance, hero of A Time to Kill and A Time for Mercy. The legal thriller genre, in Grisham’s skilled hands, becomes a springboard for vivid and eminently readable examinations of human strengths and foibles.

#1 Take Your Breath Away by Linwood Barclay (suspense/thriller). Can it be? For years, Louise Penny has been the author at the top of our most checked-out book lists. But this year another Canadian, Linwood Barclay, has dethroned her. Main character Andy Mason has painfully picked up the pieces of his life 6 years after hitting rock bottom when his wife disappeared and was presumed dead. When she reappears out of the blue, his new life is turned upside down.

These books are all, of course, available at the Bibliothèque Lennoxville Library.

Lennoxville Library News

Let us know about the books you loved in 2022. Send us an email at bibliolen@gmail.com telling us what you read and why you liked it. We will be sharing your suggestions and comments (anonymously, if you prefer) on our Facebook page and in our monthly newsletter in the weeks to come. Listen to the CBC’s “Radio Noon” on January 4th from 12-1 pm to hear more “best reads” from the Library in 2022.

We will be closed Saturday, December 31st.

Normal hours resume on January 3rd, 2023.

We wish you all a very Happy New Year!

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Things ain’t never so bad that they can’t get worse

By Vince Cuddihy

My friend, the late great Ian Tait, was fond of ascribing this maxim to his paternal grandmother. It could certainly be the motto of Eskibahçe, a small town on the south coast of Anatolia between Smyrna (Izmir) and Telmessos (Fethiye). It is the focal point of Louis de Bernières’ sad and lovingly crafted seventh novel Birds Without Wings (2004), which was shortlisted for both the Whitbread Novel Award and the Commonwealth Writers Prize.

De Bernières, best known as the author of Captain Corelli’s Mandolin (1993), has set his story in the last days of the collapse of the Ottoman Empire, at one time a potent military power whose dominion stretched across North Africa, around the Eastern end of the Mediterranean, surrounding the Black Sea into the Balkan Peninsula and south along the edges of the Arabian Peninsula to the Persian Gulf and both shores of the Red Sea. De Bernières concedes early in his narrative that Eskibahçe no longer exists, having been reduced to rubble in a series of earthquakes in the 1950s; what we are reading is what the author imagines the town and its residents to have been like at that time he describes.

 He begins with the birth of a beautiful girl, Philothei, late in the nineteenth century. Even the imam, Abdulhamid Hodja, stops by Philothei’s home to gaze upon this wonder. This is remarkable because her family are Greeks, and therefore Orthodox Christians. But de Bernières wants to illustrate how well the Greek Christian and the Turkish Muslim communities are integrated and how events that occur beyond the limits of this village, and beyond the power of its inhabitants to control, undermine and eventually destroy the harmony between these two different communities.

Even the two languages are integrated. The Muslims speak Turkish, but their Turkish is written in Greek. The Greek alphabet is used and pronounced in Greek, but the sounds only make sense in Turkish. So when a Turk receives a letter in Turkish, he has to ask a Greek to read it aloud for him. The Greek, for his part, does not understand what he is reading, because the collection of letters does not create words that make any sense in Greek. But the Turk who is listening hears Turkish being spoken to him.

Readers who are old enough to remember Courtlandt Van Rooten’s Mots d’Heures: Gousses, Rames – The d’Antin Manuscript (1967) will have a good idea of what these people are up against. Van Rooten transphoneticized English nursery rhymes into French. He included elaborate footnotes to try to make sense of the French poems that resulted, which are mostly nonsense in French.  But what was a gag for Van Rooten was an everyday challenge for the Turkish residents of Anatolia.

The wingless birds referred to in the title are two boys, Nico and Abdul. Abdul’s father, Iskander, is a potter. He makes clay whistles for his sons. When water is put into the whistles, it turns them into bird calls: the crow, or karatavuk, for Abdul; and the oriole, or mehmetçik, for Nico. As the boys become more skilful in their use of these calls, the bird names stick to them.

Philothei is Mehmetçik’s sister. De Bernières uses milestones in the lives of these children to highlight events in the life of the village. He relates in parallel the story of the local landowner Rustem Bey, his wife Tamara, and his mistress Leyla Hanim. A third parallel to the lives of this village and its land baron is a condensed biography of Mustafa Kemal, as he parlays his military and diplomatic career into setting himself up as Kemal Atatürk, the leader of the Turkish republic after the defeat of the Ottoman Empire.

One thing that I learned is that the Ottoman Empire had been at war for three years before the outbreak of WWI, and stayed at war for nine years after the Treaty of Versailles. The Great War and its aftermath had enormous repercussions for the men and boys of the village. Teens who left to fight for two years came home middle aged men six or eight years later.

While the war provides de Bernières with the opportunity to produce some of his finest writing, I don’t suggest that you read about the Battle of Gallipoli on a day when you plan to eat. He is less direct when it comes to the Armenian ethnic cleansing. It was, ostensibly, a military operation. But real soldiers were needed on the Russian front; so “irregulars” –bandits, brigands and other armed groups who owned horses—were recruited to carry out the deportations.

The final tragedy comes when the wars are ended and a Turkification policy is imposed. The Greeks of Eskibahçe and all the other villages of Anatolia are declared to be undesirables and are deported to Greece. Muslims in Greece are shipped off to Turkey. It is in the turmoil that results from this event that Philothei’s panic causes her to put herself in danger. All that is left of this community of neighbours and friends is the memories of the survivors of the violence that wracked the rest of the world.

Birds Without Wings is available at the Bibliothèque Lennoxville Library.

Lennoxville Library News

Merry Christmas and best wishes for a joyful Holiday season from the the staff, administrators, and volunteers of the Lennoxville Library!

Holiday Closings

The Library will be closed on Saturday, December 24th and Saturday, December 31st.

We will be open as normal Tuesday through Friday between Christmas and New Years.

Normal hours resume on January 3rd. Kids activities start up again on January 7th.

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The Most “Checked Out” Kids’ books of 2022!

By Shanna Bernier

At this time of year folks are sharing round-ups and “best-of” lists for the year. My social media is filled with Spotify Wrapped lists, gift guides and lots of top-tens. Well, your local kid-lit reviewer has never been one to shy away from a bandwagon, and I find it fascinating to see which books have been borrowed the most from the local library shelves. My first impression of the list, was that, ironically, I hadn’t borrowed or read any of them! I must not be very trendy. But now, after reading many of them, and reading lots of descriptions and reviews, I expect I will be checking out a number of these soon, and potentially gifting a few to my own kids this Christmas. Enjoy!

#10 The Digger and the Duckling by Joseph Kuefler.

Digger and the other big trucks love to build. But when a lost duckling waddles onto the jobsite, Digger and his friends learn to do more than just scoop and hoist, they learn to become a family. Share this beautiful picture book as a great introduction to taking care of the environment.

#9 The Fabled Stables #3Belly of the Beast by Jonathan Auxier; illustrated by Olga Demidova.

Belly of the Beast  is the third book in a chapter-book adventure series featuring magical animals, perfect for fans of The Princess in Black series. On an island at the top of the world are the Fabled Stables, a one-of-a-kind place for one-of-a-kind creatures. Auggie is their caretaker, and it’s his job to strike out into the Wide World and save creatures from danger. In this book, Auggie is literally swallowed by a creature, and only with the help of his friends, and some magic and kindness will he be able to escape.

#8 Those Kids from Fawn Creek by Erin Entrada Kelly.

The latest book from Newbery Medalist Erin Entrada Kelly is a story of friendship, lies, acceptance, and community, featuring art by Celia Krampien. Every day is the same in Fawn Creek until someone new comes to join the small school and stir things up.

#7 Animal BFFs: Even animals have best friends! by Sophie Corrigan.

The only non-fiction in the top-ten, this beautiful hard-cover book explores friendships between all parts of the animal kingdom. Uncover some unlikely friendships from the world of animals and discover how creatures get through every day with a little help from their friends. This book is full of funny facts about animals and symbiotic relationships for children to explore.

#6 Clementine and the Lion by Zoey Abbott.

This fantastical book tells the tale of Clementine, who is rather relieved when her mother is snatched by dragons and her father is lost at sea in a bottle. Since her parents are ogres of the worst kind, she is overjoyed that she gets to take care of her self, and make her own decisions. This is almost thwarted by a pesky aunt, and a lion! Will she get to be on her own forever? Read and find out!

#5 Hot Dog by Doug Salati.

From a critically acclaimed creator comes this summery picture book featuring an overheated—and overwhelmed—pup who finds his calm with some sea, sand, and fresh air. This picture book has beautiful, descriptive writing to make the reader really feel the setting come to life.

#4 The Bad Seed Goes to the Library by Jory John and Pete Oswald.

The Bad Seed is in a good mood…for once. That’s because there’s a really cool book at the library available for checkout. The Bad Seed reads, and reads, but then he gets bad news: The book must be returned to the library so another seed can enjoy it. Will the Bad Seed return to his old ways and keep the book? Part of the series of books featuring “The Bad Seed,” this comical tale explains the joys and conventions of public libraries.

#3 No nibbling! written by Beth Ferry and illustrated by A. N. Kang.

Enjoy this wonderful story set in a garden plot, about Derwood the goat and Tabitha the Bunny’s pesky relationship, which blossoms into a beautiful friendship. The book is full of puns and vegetable-themed word-play which will delight readers of all ages.

#2 Lizzy and the Cloud by the Fan Brothers.

Lizzy is looking to adopt a cloud. She isn’t looking for a big one or a fancy one, just one that’s right for her. Then she finds Milo. Soon, she’s taking Milo out on walks with her family, watering Milo right on schedule, and seeing Milo grow and grow. But what happens when her pet cloud gets too big for Lizzy to handle? Find out when you read this beautiful and whimsical picture book.

#1 The Year We Learned to Fly by Jacqueline Woodson; illustrated by Rafael López.

This is a beautiful picture book about a brother and sister, who, on a dreary day, heed their grandmother’s advice: “Use those beautiful and brilliant minds of yours. Lift your arms, close your eyes, take a deep breath, and believe in a thing. Somebody, somewhere, at some point was just as bored as you are now.” In exploring their imaginations and lifting their spirits, the children learn about their ancestors overcoming adversity, despite struggles and challenges, by creating a beautiful magical space in which to fly with their minds.

These books are all available at the Bibliothèque Lennoxville Library.


Lennoxville Library News

Looking for last minute Christmas presents? Affordable local art and cards by the Lennoxville Art Group are still available for purchase at the library.

Our last storytime of the year will be held this Saturday at 10am (December 17th). Activities will start again January 7th.

The Library will be closed on Saturday, December 24th and Saturday, December 31st.

We will be open as normal Tuesday through Friday between Christmas and New Years’.

We wish you all a lovely Holiday season!

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Deadly Sweets?!

Review by Spencer Nadeau

Book lovers are all guilty of having far too many books in their collections, with the lofty aspiration that they will read them all at some point in the future. I certainly live this stereotype. There are books I’ve held on to for years for strange reasons. The book’s artwork, an inlay in the cover, the author’s biography, or an odd title—these are just some of the reasons why I hold on to a particular book without knowing much (or anything) about it. Today’s review marks my attempt to shrink the growing number of ‘hold-on-to-it-I’ll-get-to-it-eventually’ books in my library. I got into collecting old books when I was in my early teens, and when I came across a faded brown book titled Chocolate, I had to have it. Having left it for over ten years on my bookshelf designated for strange and quirky books, I finally decided to blow the dust off and open the cover. I was pleasantly surprised at what I found.

Alexander Tarasov-Rodionov’s Chocolate, first published in 1922, is set during the Russian Revolution. It relates the story of Aleksei Ivanovich (Lyosha) Zudin, the local Cheka chief. The Cheka, the first iteration of the Soviet secret police, are constantly on the lookout for White Guard sympathizers, counterrevolutionaries, and any other dissidents that threaten the communist agenda. This is how Zudin first encounters Yelena Valentinovna Valts, a former ballerina who is arrested with eight others suspected of sympathizing with the White Guard (whose members held both anti-Bolshevik and anti-Soviet ideologies). Zudin, after thoroughly questioning Valts, finds that she does not seem to be guilty of a crime. He further agrees to help her re-establish herself and offers her a job in the Cheka office.

Although Zudin has a good position within the Cheka, life is difficult for his wife, Lisa, and his two children. Lisa begs him to use his position to receive more rations, something that he fervently refuses to do. This seems to set a pattern for the story; Zudin increasingly finds himself caught between loyalty to Bolshevik ideals and the pragmatics of human needs and interactions. In trying to help and protect those close to him he runs afoul of the party apparatus. Zudin’s life  dramatically changes because of a gift of chocolate and stockings from Valts to Lisa. This gift is used against Zudin by other Cheka agents, who begin to investigate him as a potential spy. He is accused of accepting bribes, among other things, and is arrested. He is brought to a holding facility and questioned by Shustry, a vile investigator from Moscow. Zudin is further told that his fate will be determined by a Party examining committee.

In his cell, awaiting his fate, Zudin reflects on his life, his decisions, the decisions of his wife, and the broader implications that his situation could have for his children. Even so, he dreams a highly politicized dream that firmly situates his beliefs in the communist ideology and almost calms his mind as he awaits judgement.

Not unlike Zudin’s dream, Chocolate is a highly politicized thrill ride of a novel. Given its ideological nature, this story may seem divisive to some, but regardless of the reader’s personal beliefs it is a gripping story of politics, spies, deception, false accusations, and sacrifice. Tarasov-Rodionov’s writing is crisp but not rigid, and even beautiful at times. Like contemporary political thrillers, Chocolate features storytelling that grabs the reader and does not let go. Through the plight of Zudin, Tarasov-Rodionov generates a level of tension that rivals that of Franz Kafka’s The Trial. This tension compels the reader to see the world through Zudin’s eyes and feel his anger, confusion, and sorrow as he attempts to piece together how his life has gotten to this point. Chocolate offers a compelling story of a man trying to make ends meet while also holding fervent political convictions. The story seems at times to fixate on communist ideology, but Tarasov-Rodionov’s strength in character development allows for contemporary readers to look past ideology and focus on universally felt human experiences and emotions.    

Evidently, this book was quite polarizing, being on the one hand reprinted five times in the USSR and on the other targeted by the Nazis in their extensive book burnings in 1933. Chocolate is only available to English readers thanks to Charles Malamuth’s 1932 English translation and a 1971 publication of Russian prose by M.I.T.

My goal here is try to pull Tarasov-Rodionov out of obscurity and present him in a contemporary light. Regardless of politics, his writing should be saved and enjoyed. I still have an extensive collection of unread books, but at least now I am familiar with Alexander Tarasov-Rodionov. This just goes to show that there are plenty of unread treasures out there waiting to be discovered.

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The Forgotten Daughter

by Melanie Cutting

While casting about for a book to review a few days ago, I happened to glance up at my bookshelf. There, in plain sight, was this book, which someone (sorry, can’t actually remember who it was) had given me some time ago. Aha, I thought, this is one I’ve been meaning to read for a while now!

Reading and reviewing this 2020 sequel to The Home for Unwanted Girls turned out to be an excellent decision, touching as it does on several well-known aspects of life and recent history in Quebec. Authored by Joanna Goodman, The Forgotten Daughter opens in 1982 Quebec. It begins with an introduction to 12-year-old Véronique Fortin at her home in the Eastern Townships, on the eve of her father Léo’s release from a lengthy prison term in the Cowansville Penitentiary, for the 1970 murder of Quebec politician Pierre Laporte.

Fast forward to 1992, and the wild, beautiful Véronique has now established herself as an accomplished smuggler, along with her cousin Pierre and uncle Camil. The business of purchasing cigarettes on the local Indian reserve and ferrying them over to the U.S. by Véro and her cousin Pierre, has proven to be a lucrative way to make a few black market dollars. Meanwhile, politics in Quebec have led to another referendum on sovereignty, 20 years after the October Crisis that resulted in Léo’s incarceration, but the bitterness and anger of those who were hoping for separation from Canada is still very much alive. And the movement is gaining strength…

Bilingual reporter James (J.G.) Phénix enters the picture as a love interest for Véro, despite being 9 years her senior, and as committed to Canadian political unity as she is to Quebec sovereignty. Naturally, they are drawn to one another. Their mutual attraction rises above their serious political and lifestyle differences and, against all odds, they establish a solid relationship, although one based largely on half-truths and outright lies.

The third major player in this story is 44-year-old Elodie de St. Sulpice, James’ older sister who had spent ten years of her early life in a Catholic mental hospital, one that had been converted from an orphanage at the bequest of the Duplessis regime. Yes, Elodie is a member of the group known as the Duplessis Orphans. Of course, she feels as strongly about payback for the injustice she and the other orphans suffered at the hands of the clergy and the Duplessis regime as Véro feels toward “The English” she (and many others) blame for holding back French-speaking Quebecois. As noted on the inside cover, “The Forgotten Daughter is a moving portrait of true love, familial bonds and persistence in the face of injustice. As each character is pushed to their moral brink they discover exactly which lines they’ll cross, and just how far they’ll go for what they believe in.”

A flashback chapter about halfway through the book takes a detailed look at the dramatic events of October 1970, and particularly the actual kidnapping and ultimate murder of Pierre Laporte. Although Léo Fortin is a fictional character, the other members of the FLQ involved are referred to by their actual first names, despite the puzzling caveat at the beginning of the book, stating that “Names, characters, places and incidents are products of the author’s imaginations or are used fictitiously and are not to be construed as real.”

Clearly, the author has managed to touch many of the bases familiar to Quebec residents, and she does so in a way that firmly holds the readers’ interest. People, events, locations: nearly every page struck a chord about life in this province, which, for me, made the story even more compelling. 

A note about the look and feel of this book: although it runs just over a hefty 400 pages, the larger-than-normal print size, the sturdy paper quality, and the rough cut edges make the actual reading of The Forgotten Daughter a tactile treat. 

I recommend this book both for the solid quality of the writing, as well as the intrinsic interest of the major themes (Quebec political and cultural duality, and the heartbreaking saga of the Duplessis Orphans) for Quebecers.

Joanna Goodman is the author of The Home for Unwanted Girls, The Finishing School, Harmony, and You Made Me Love You. Originally from Montreal, she now lives with her family in Toronto.

The Forgotten Daughter is available at the Bibliothèque Lennoxville Library.

Lennoxville Library News

Join us tomorrow (Dec. 3rd) for a used book sale & holiday activities for kids from 11 am to 4 pm in the Salle Amédée Beaudoin (10 Samuel-Gratham) during Lennoxville’s “Merry Christmas at Square Queen” event.

Story Times every hour; facepainting 11-12 noon and 1-2 pm; drop-in craft activities throughout the day; games and “challenges” for older kids; All activities are free!

Hundreds of good quality used books for only 1 or 2 dollars each.

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Lessons: A Tale in Search of Meaning

By Stephen Sheeran

Lessons, the latest novel by the highly acclaimed English writer Ian McEwan, comes with much fanfare. If one believes the blurbulous excesses, never before in the history of human endeavor has there been produced such a moving and masterful, realistic and insightful, sensitive and psychological, tour-de-forsical piece of work. It is, according to one pundit, “THE FINEST HUMANIST NOVEL OF ITS AGE!!!!”

Hmmmmmm.

Granted, Lessons is not without its appeal. The story is a realistic account of the travails of boomer Roland Baines whose life, troubled as it is, spans 1948 to the present. Roland’s early years are marked by upheaval. His father, a British officer, is posted to Libya, and amidst the turmoil of the Suez crisis Roland is sent back to England to a boarding school. There, in his adolescent and teenage years he is sexually exploited by a female piano teacher ten years his senior.

The experience (though he is for the most part a willing if not enthusiastic victim) leaves permanent effects as he grows up incapable of settling upon a career path and unable to sustain lasting relationships with women. A series of decidedly half-baked jobs (as tennis pro, lounge pianist, greeting-card writer, hack journalist, poet) provide the means for a series of violently passionate relationships, which all seem to collapse under the weight of their own intensity. When he finally does manage a commitment, his German-born wife Alissa stays with him for a few months then leaves him with a child, consigning him to solitary parenthood as she contrives a meteoric writing career on the continent.

McEwan deliberately backdrops all the significant episodes in Roland’s life with critical historical events. For example, his illicit affair with his piano teacher climaxes at the height of the Cuban Missile Crisis. The Berlin Wall, the Falklands War and the Thatcher years, the Chernobyl reactor disaster, then Brexit and Covid lockdowns—all become frameworks for the particular dramas that constitute Roland’s life. And, important to note, as these dramas unfold Roland engages in relentless self-analysis, hesitations, and vacillations, his shilly-shallying outdone only by his willy-nillying.

What results is a kind of psycho-biographical historical novel—think Forrest Gump À la recherche du temps perdu. To McEwan’s great credit (and I’m guessing this is why he makes the big bucks) he weaves a very rich web out of these diverse strands. In service of the larger “lessons” theme he shows the connectedness of the internal and the external—the psychological and the social. In his own butterfly-effect ruminations Roland muses upon the fact that his father’s illicit love affair with his mother led to his foreign posting in Libya, which led to Roland’s enrollment in a private school; his father’s love of music gave rise to the piano lessons which brought about the affair with…and so on.

The faithless and apparently self-serving Alissa also serves as a focal point for a complex of psycho-social causes and effects. Her English mother, a fledgling journalist in the late 40s, was sent to Germany to research the White Rose movement—an anti-Nazi protest organization in 1930s-40s Germany. All agog with romantic idealism she fell in love with one of the White-Rosers and gave herself up to a life of service and motherhood—a second-best life that put her personal ambitions and career on the back-burner. In fact, it is the idea that she is re-living her mother’s disappointing life that prompts Alissa to abandon Roland & fils and relentlessly pursue her writing career.

Lessons has many other strong points. The chronology is innovative; current events are juxtaposed with traumatic reminiscences. The details of Roland’s victimhood emerge piecemeal, as if the story comprises a course of psychotherapy where events—parts of a puzzle—are slowly slotted together.

This is also the most realistic of McEwan’s novels, with an almost compulsive obsession with detail. The interactions between the characters are sharply rendered, and home interiors are claustrophobically evident—his piano teacher’s forbidding but irresistible upstairs rooms, his decaying house where he is left to mourn his wife’s absence, a friend’s home whose increasing opulence provides a measure of the Thatcherite economic booms.

This realism is perhaps a double-edged sword of Damocles (a rare thing, bien sur!). In another century Oscar Wilde opined: “The nineteenth century dislike of Realism is the rage of Caliban seeing his own face in a glass. The nineteenth century dislike of Romanticism is the rage of Caliban not seeing his own face in a glass.”  These pronouncements, essentially verdicts rendered upon the limits of narcissistic materialism, apply to McEwan’s tale.  Throughout Lessons we see characters pursuing romanticized and idealized notions of personal and political, economic and social gain, but when these pursuits are realized, the resulting vision is empty. It is as if the great Western experiment of individualistic materialism has reached a dead end. In an interview McEwan expresses disdain for “the spiritual”, clearly aligning himself with an empirical, scientific, secular world view. But then, when one contemplates the totality of Lessons, the mirror it holds up to western bourgeois culture presents a stark portrait indeed, one clouded with a dismal sense of futility. Roland himself puzzles over the odd twists of history: “By what logic or motivation or helpless surrender did we all…transport ourselves within a generation from the thrill of optimism at Berlin’s falling wall to the storming of the American Capitol?”

Given the critical effusions, it is worthwhile to compare McEwan with Alexander Solzhenitsyn, who, in works such as Cancer Ward and In the First Circle, portrayed real oppression and suffering and the life-and-death struggle for freedom. In these themes he discerned an ennobling force that somehow elevated human nature. McEwan does write admirably: the characters are deftly drawn, the detail marvellously rendered, with judicious mixes of pathos and bathos, Eros and Thanatos. But the culminating vision is of a fretful, self-absorbed bourgeoisie slouching off to Bethlehem to replicate ad nauseam.

Still, Lessons, well worth the read, is available at the Lennoxville Library.

Please put the News in a shaded box.)

Lennoxville Library News

Save the date!

“Merry Christmas at Square Queen”.

Saturday, December 3rd from 10am-4pm

The library will host a book sale, and offer holiday stories, craft activities, face painting, and games for kids at our mini “Espace Biblio”in the Salle Communautaire Amédée-Beaudoin.

See you there!

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