Wednesday, September 28, 2005

Being the second book on Newfoundland that I have read

I just finished The Danger Tree, and I have mixed feelings. I think many would like most of it , but the World War One dimension may not be for everyone. The book is a memoir of a man trying to learn about his mother's side of the family which came from Newfoundland. Early in the book, he described his Ontario relatives as champions of silence, but when speaking using a linear approach to story telling. Newfoundlanders tell stories in a roundabout way, adding new elements along the way and often not finishing the story. The author approached his subject in the same manner. You start off reading about a grandfather's meeting with the future QE2 and suddenly you are reading about clubbing seals or the building of roads in a nasty climate. He pulls it off though as the stories are connected by his grandfather's generation.

His character sketches are moving, particularly that of of one great uncle who died at a young age in France and of his great aunt who served as a nurse and was one of the few he knew personally. Some of the personal losses reminded me of those in Atonement, but these are real, which only makes them more affecting.He laments that when he had the chance to ask these people personally about their past he was more concerned with getting tan or playing games. Once he really wanted to know, they were gone.

My main concern with recommending the book is the heavy emphasis on the First World War. While there isn't too much in the way of combat, there is frequent discussion of how the stress of the war and the next one essentially broke Newfoundland as a nation and led to its confederation with Canada ( which happened in 1949.) This is important to the family history as three of his grandfather's brothers died in the war. In addition, the death of an independent Newfoundland and the joining with Canada are important issues in the book. Still, not everyone likes reading books with exploding bodies and mass death, so it may dissuade some from reading it.

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