Sunday, April 30, 2017

Today I Learned It Was You

Today I Learned It Was You / Edward Riche
Toronto: Anansi, c2016.
224 p.

I really wanted to like this odd little book more than I did. I thought it was a clever premise, funny in parts, and intriguing in some of its ideas. And that beautiful cover! But the voice of the book didn't catch me fully, and so I felt as if I were reading it from a bit of a distance.

The set-up is that a man has decided to live wild in a city park; rumours abound that there is a man transitioning into a deer. Local politicians, animal rights activists, police and various locals all get into the act, with this situation serving as the impetus to changes in many lives.

Like the academic infighting found in many university-set books, this one features lots of infighting within a local city council. Small town politics offers a lot to satirize, and Riche has fun with it. 

He also satirizes a few other areas, like aforesaid animal rights activists as well as social media, and it doesn't always work for me. Sometimes satire just comes across as meanness, especially if it is about a topic you as a reader have a connection with. And somehow, the most eccentric and silly characters always seem to be female.

I also felt that many characters were mostly ciphers, and the ending was inconclusive and felt unfinished. An issue I've had with many "humorous" novels is that my sense of what's funny is so different from an author; this is another of those situations. 

But it's still a lighthearted read with some serious undertones. With Newfoundland as a setting, the idea of wilderness, a man/deer, starving artists, a former hockey star as current mayor, and Tim Horton's all rolled in to the story it certainly has its Canlit cred. It was generally well-received, even making it onto a Canada Reads longlist. 

But it wasn't the book for me; I found it pleasant enough reading, but, well, forgettable in the end. 

Thursday, April 27, 2017

Come Away by Anne Hines

Come Away: Song of Songs / Anne Hines
Toronto: McArthur & Co., c2007.      
219 p.

A surprise read, this is one I didn't even know I had on my shelves -- but I noticed it this week while tidying and rearranging. And for some reason I picked it up and then read it straight through over one sunny afternoon.

I really enjoyed it. Hines, who has also written The Spiral Garden, among other titles, is interested in theology and history. This book is a wonderfully human story of ancient history, interspersed with modern day chapters. Like the previous book I just reviewed, The Last Neanderthal, there is a conversation between the life of the past and those who study that past life in the present.

In the past, Shahiroz is a young Jewish woman living in Babylon, training to be a priestess in the temple. Unfortunately for her, it's bad timing as Cyrus, a Persian king, has just conquered Babylon, and he "frees" (ie: exiles) all the Jewish captives who've now lived there for over 60 years. Shahiroz and her mother, a healer, leave with their families for the long trek back to Jerusalem where their welcome will be rather uncertain.

But the joy and glory in this book is Hines' description of the metropolis of Babylon, and the daily role of the goddess in people's lives. Shahiroz' family worship both Yahweh and Asherah, and in Babylonian practice, the goddess is known as Ishtar or Isis or Inanna, and is an equal consort to the god who dies and is reborn in the yearly cycle of nature. It's when this equality is broken by Cyrus in his drive to establish a patriarchal society that the Jewish population is expelled.

And it's in this journey back to Jerusalem that Shahiroz' father, a priest, decides that the best thing for Jerusalem is to develop a strong nation-state under a powerful theological story -- not surprisingly also an extreme patriarchal vision. 

But The Question that Hines poses in this book -- namely, why the Song of Songs is included in the Bible in between two very sternly patriarchal books -- is not really answered by this development. The story posits that there was a goddess tradition that was suppressed and contained by this new movement for nation-state consistency. But why did this one book, supposedly reflecting that goddess tradition, remain? It's not clear.

In the present day sections, Reggie Niefield, a scholar of the Song of Songs, is obsessed with The Question. And when he hears "the" answer from a grad student (ie: that it was a source document about this goddess tradition,which humanity would hear when we were ready ) he goes off the rails. Wanders downtown, slips into a pretty simple form of homelessness for a few days (a little too easily perhaps), ignores his wife's probable concern -- and when she finds him, they idyll off into some kind of Edenic experience. Hmmm. You can probably tell that the modern day sections are a bit lighter in tone, a bit more flippant. Even if they are bogged down in academic bickering - and resultant sarcastic humour. (The tone of the contemporary parts really seemed familiar, and I finally pinpointed Sue Sorenson's A Large Harmonium as the book that was twigging my memory here; so strange the connections one's brain makes sometimes!)

I was far more taken with the historical Babylon and wished to read more about it -- it sounded so beautiful and intriguing. I found that the book read quickly and past and present held together well. Hines' ideas were certainly intriguing to think about, and I could see how this book could lead to some very active discussion among readers. It was a serendipitous discovery and well worth spending the afternoon with.

Wednesday, April 26, 2017

The Last Neanderthal

The Last Neanderthal / Claire Cameron  
Toronto: Doubleday, c2017.
272 p.

If you liked Clan of the Cave Bear but want something that is both way less wordy and which takes a more literary approach to Neanderthal culture, look no further.

Claire Cameron, author of Bear, takes on outdoor life in a different sense in her newest book. Her personal experience with being seriously outdoorsy (seen in her previous books as well) is really useful in giving a strong verisimilitude to her description of nomadic life; she understands what is involved in living on the land far more than an urban dweller like myself would even be able to imagine.

Add to that the research she's done into new theories of Neanderthal culture (with additional references to explore at the end) and you have a lot of life packed into a relatively short novel. At times there may be just a touch too much exposition but it is folded in as naturally as possible.

The story focuses on Girl and her family group: Big Mother, Him, Bent and Runt. They live on their own territory, with other family groups living elsewhere. During the time of the Fish Run, though, they'll journey down to the river where many family groups will assemble. It's during this time that new alliances are made, and this year both Girl and Him are at the age that they will want to look for mating opportunities. But unexpected tragedy forces Girl and Runt out on their own, and when they arrive at the river, it's not what they expected.

Interspersed with this engaging setting is a modern storyline featuring archaeologist Rosamund Gale. She has just discovered a potentially explosive find; a Neanderthal and Homo Sapiens skeleton facing one another in an attitude that suggests they were lovers, or at least had a meaningful relationship of some kind. Her struggle to maintain control of her dig and the funding for it, while growing increasingly cumbersome with advanced pregnancy is a less intense version of Girl's struggle for survival. And their lives mirror each other especially as they both give birth, in a physical experience that has remained the same for aeons. Cameron's explicit focus on sameness rather than difference in this narrative is touching, and I think works beautifully. The final pages of Girl's story, especially, really had an emotional effect on me. 

Rosamund's modern day academic story also reminds me of Susanna Kearsley's archaeologists and academics in many of her past/present stories, particularly The Shadowy Horses, even if there isn't as much focus on romance in this book. The women in both modern stories are determined and preoccupied with how to know the daily lived experience of those they are uncovering, and they have some of the same feel, for me anyhow. 

Although Girl's story is more visceral, I think that the balance between the two works well. This is an intriguing, thought-provoking take on Neanderthal history, incorporating all kinds of new research, and presenting an imagined life grounded in sensory details. 

Sunday, April 23, 2017

Short Thoughts on Short Stories: two recent reads

Like many readers, I sometimes find short stories a hard go. But I try to follow Mavis Gallant's maxim to read one story and take a break before reading the next. This makes them stand out more individually, and means that I can actually finish a whole collection without it becoming a blur. 

Thus I have two collections to share, one which I finished a while ago but have just revisited, and one forthcoming title that I've just finished in an advance reading copy, which should be available in a couple of weeks, by May 9.

A Three Tiered Pastel Dream / Lesley Trites
Montreal: Vehicule Press, c2017.
213 p.

First, here is the forthcoming title, a debut collection put out by Montreal's Vehicule Press. It's by an author from New Brunswick who now lives in Montreal, and both of those aspects appear in her stories. There are 11 stories in this book, many of which deal with the moments in women's lives that change the direction they're headed in: unexpected pregnancies, split second decisions to leave their mundane life, deaths and breakdowns.

Some of the stories are set in the Maritimes, others in generic big cities. They are all well constructed, with complete story arcs and lots of good writing in evidence. Unfortunately to me they also felt very much alike, with the main characters very similar to one another. The narrative voice kind of blends in and I felt a bit like I was reading the same story being told in different ways - as I often find happening in short story collections, especially debuts. 

There are enough moments of interest that I do think a reader who enjoys stories would still like this book, some illuminating commentary on modern life to think about. And this cover is lovely and directly relevant to the title story.

Sweet Life / Linda Biasotto
Regina: Coteau Books, c2014. 
160 p.

Here is another debut collection that is equally focused on the moments that send lives off in new, unexpected directions. And with similar destruction of sweets implied by the covers! 

This collection has 13 stories, broken up into three thematic sections. It works well, as each feels distinct. Again, it's a look at mostly female narrators facing some kind of change - sickness, widowhood, marriage, deaths, and so on. They're all doing things that they normally wouldn't, otherwise, shaken up by these unexpected events. 

Most of the stories have conclusions, or at least don't leave you hanging. And many of them are wryly funny in a quiet way, alongside the pathos and folly of each life described. The writing style is lively, it doesn't fall back on passive voice much; it's also not experimental at all, just focused on telling a story.

I liked this one - its central section focusing on stories of Italy was especially interesting - it felt new to me, something a little different. Most of the stories were well written and had strong characters, and it was really readable, even if there isn't one story that stands out to me above the others. While I'm not raving about it, it was still a solid collection that provided a good read. 

Saturday, April 22, 2017

Poetry & Grief: Selah & Two Tragedies in 429 Breaths

Another two poetry collections that I read this month resonated with one another quite strongly: both deal with the grief of losing a spouse, a parent, a relationship through illness. And while stylistically they are quite different, they hold that space of grief in words.

Selah / Nora Gould   
London: Brick Books, c2016.
58 p.

This reminded me of another recent read, Sharon Butala's memoir of loss, Where I Live Now. Both authors are strong farm women who face the loss of their spouse and the lifestyle they'd expected to last, though in different ways.

Gould's story is one of living with a husband recently diagnosed with frontotemporal dementia. She writes of her repressed reactions to this diagnosis, maintaining a brave front for everyone in the family; she talks about the tiny details, the clues that have been there for a long time; she shares decisions she had to make about how to live and who to tell. It's heart-rending and yet she also celebrates the strength of relationships and the dignity of individual lives no matter what. 

There are some beautiful lines in this book, but also clear and honest narrative. This style of plain speaking allows the emotion at its heart to resonate.

And I also think that this cover is exquisitely suited to this collection. It says so much in an apparently innocent image that echoes the tangles of dementia, in this farm setting.

Two Tragedies in 429 Breaths / Susan Paddon
London: Brick Books, c2014.
131 p.

The impending loss of a mother is interspersed with Chekhov's life and death in this debut collection.

Both Chekhov and Paddon's mother suffer from pulmonary illnesses. When she returns home to help care for her mother, she is also reading Chekhov and this series of poems flickers between the two.

There are poems as letters between Chekhov and his mostly absent wife Olga, and between Chekhov and his sister Masha. The relationships between them turn on both his brilliance and his constant illness, and Paddon is able to capture a Chekhovian flavour very effectively in her poems. 

Meanwhile, she reflects on her mother, their past and the unthinkable future without her. Tiny domestic details stand in for much larger meaning, as with Chekhov's storyline. The collection is divided up into monthly sections - April to September, and After. The conclusion is clear; there are two tragedies happening here, and the end is inescapable. But Paddon takes moments from the months spent together and captures them with precise language, with an attention to detail and a knack for just the right turn of phrase. The poems are never sentimental, though some are of course almost unbearably sad.

I felt the balance between these two threads was finely tuned, and that this whole collection was very striking. I read it slowly, as I had to put it down sometimes to let something sink in, to take a small breather from what was coming. It felt very much engaged with the present moment in each poem, and so much presence came through each one.


And since both of these titles are from Brick Books I'll remind you again that until the end of April, there is a massive sale of pre-2017 titles bought from their website: $10 each. This is a great chance to pick up some of Brick's always excellent publications.

Friday, April 21, 2017

Poetry Month: Thoughts on Two Titles

Before Poetry Month ends, I want to be sure to share some thoughts on a few more collections I've been dipping into over the past few weeks. Some have been brand-new, some a bit older; and some have really spoken to each other thematically. Here are two I've finished most recently.

Auguries / Clea Roberts
London: Brick Books, c2017.
103 p.

This is a newly released title from Brick Books, one of my favourite poetry houses. It's one of the titles from their spring releases, coincidentally all by women. This is Clea Roberts' second collection, after her well-received and award-nominated first book, Here is Where We Disembark. 

I have not read that one, but now that I've been introduced to her work through this new volume, I may have to go back and look for it. Her writing is spare and beautiful; the cover of this book reflects the spaciousness and the sense of "augury" that is revealed in both poems and title.

As the publisher's copy says about this book:

"Written during a period in which Roberts both became a parent and lost a parent, the poems in Auguries lend themselves to prayer, surrender, celebration, reconciliation, meditation, and auspice."

It's true that there is both life burgeoning and ending in these poems, both in relation to her family and to the wider world as well. Poems set during the stillness of winter, in spring which uncovers "the dull carcass / of the neighbour's cat/ emerging from the melting/ snowbank" alongside the new shoots and growth, over long summers. Though the poems are mostly brief, both in actual length and subject, there is a feeling of expansive attention throughout. The natural world is made present, in perfect balance with the small and domestic moments between parents and children. 

I enjoyed the way that domestic, textile references were sprinkled into Roberts' descriptions of both nature and abstract notions: 

They made it through / to spring that way, with duty / stitched onto them like a / button  (from "Getting Wood"

setting your stories / out for the last time, /  reupholstering those that / would allow you to lie / more peacefully  (from "Storytelling")

there was no path at all, / just the forest's worry of branches, / knitted together and waiting.  (from "A Small Legacy")

This was a lovely and quiet collection that draws out evocative imagery with simple, clear effect. It's one I'll revisit. 

Lake of Two Mountains / Arleen Paré  
London: Brick Books, c2014.
83 p.

Another Brick Books volume, this one is a bit older and an award-winner (2014 Governor General's Award). I read it way back then... and I have just reread it, enjoying just as much this time. 

I think it is just as much about a place as Auguries is; about the way a family inhabits its place, through both memories and movement into the future. In this volume, Paré examines her family's history with the Lake of Two Mountains - the summers they spent there as children, the fraught ideas of ownership (especially in "Whose Lake?"), the history of the land itself. 

She describes the physical landscape with as much detail and care as she does her family stories, and adds in stories of the Trappist monastery across the lake. There is a jumble of historical fact, a naturalist's eye, emotionally drawn moments, and awareness of the future. There are poems about the Oka Crisis of 1990 and related issues of human presence on the land. This book is like a busy painting that at first glance looks clear and serene, but as you get closer you see more and more detail in it. 

And it's also full of beautiful language, with metaphors from the natural world colouring the family's descriptions. The lake is breathing, alive. This is another collection that presents sharp, memorable images to the reader, revealed like innocuous dull stones that shine once they're gathered wet from the shore. 

If you'd like, you can find more reviews of this title and a recording of Paré reading from this book, over at the publisher's website. 

And, just until the end of April, Brick Books is having a big sale of all pre-2017 titles -- you can order them for only $10 each. What a steal! I recommend checking it out; I've found some real gems at Brick Books. 

Saturday, April 15, 2017

A Game of Hide and Seek

A Game of Hide and Seek / Elizabeth Taylor
London: Virago, 2008, c1951.  
306 p.

It was Simon's 1951 Club that finally got me reading this book, which has been on the TBR for longer than I can remember. For some reason, I'd got the feel of Elizabeth Bowen's House in Paris mixed up with my impressions of this novel by Elizabeth Taylor (oh, those many Elizabeths) and so had been a little resistant to picking it up. Fortunately I had this lovely Virago classics edition to read this week.

The book does have the same sense of a doomed love affair though; it opens with young Harriet & Vesey, who've known each other since childhood but are now in late adolescence and suddenly aware of one another. Harriet falls hard but they are both awkward and inarticulate, and can't express their new feelings at all. The book is coloured by their inability to be open, by the habit of both of stifling all expression. He leaves; they are separated for the next fifteen or twenty years. 

Harriet eventually shows some spine and gets a job in a dress shop. This is where some of the funniest bits come in, elements which may play into a comparison with Barbara Pym. Taylor describes each of the "ladies" that Harriet works with so amusingly, their situation quite funny (until much later when we learn the fates of a few of them). Harriet herself seems to expand in this milieu, but then she becomes involved with Charles, a lawyer twice her age, and marries as a good girl should. Jump cut -- part two -- Harriet is now in middle age, with a 15 yr old daughter (though she must in reality be only in her mid-30s, hardly into decrepitude). In any case, Vesey returns.

And they start a mild affair. I can only say mild because they are both as uncertain and awkward as ever. Vesey is a poor object of affection, but Harriet carries that torch. It's at the end, an uncertain and endlessly interpretable end, that he seems to show a spark of unselfish redemption in his character. 

This novel reflected the culture of suburban British life in the 50s effectively -- its strictures and norms, the stifling expectations, the strange modern habits like adults drinking excessively at local dances nearly weekly, the gossip. It's a sad and pinched kind of story, but the writing itself is very fine. Taylor can capture a character in a gesture, in a phrase, whether a main character or an incidental one. She is darker than Pym but with the same eye for social interaction. I found it started slowly, throwing the reader into the midst of things and thus feeling a bit muddled at the start, but by the time I was partway through I was completely involved. 

Aside from Harriet and Vesey, the story moves into the present/future with Betsy, her daughter, and a Dutch girl, Elke, who lives with Harriet's family and observes, though understanding little. There is quite a lot to observe in this novel, and the compression of time between Harriet's suffragette mother's youth and her own modern daughter's teen years is startling. Definitely a social novel worth the effort, with many quotable bits. I'll leave you with one about the vagaries of time:
If we do not alter with the times, the times yet alter us. We may stand perfectly still, but our surroundings shift round and we are not in the same relationship to them for long; just as a chameleon, matching perfectly the greenness of a leaf, should know that the leaf will one day fade. 

See more 1951 books and reviews at Simon's 1951 Roundup Post

Friday, April 14, 2017

North End Love Songs

North End Love Songs / Katherena Vermette
Winnipeg: J. Gordon Shillingford, c2012. 
108 p.

This poetry month, I must share some poetry. Here is a book I picked up after reading Vermette's The Break, to hear more from her, even if this was written first.

It's a collection looking at  life in North End Winnipeg, the same setting as her novel. Again, she is excellent at evoking a setting, a sense of place with just a few words, a few images. Here we have young girls walking down the middle of the road in summer, with slushes in hand; and I was instantly transported back to my own early teen years. She focuses on the relationships between young women, and on describing various girls using bird metaphors in one section, which I found especially appealing.

Her poems are short, and sparely written -- her style is simple but carries a lot within in. It's an honest voice, and realistic. The simplicity of the voice allows for the emotional connection to the story that's unfolding. In the second and third sections of the book, she delves into the life of her missing brother, just another young man who didn't make it home, and no law enforcement seemed very concerned about it at all. Small details of their relationship, like his heavy metal music playing all throughout the house, or asking to borrow his sweater the last time she saw him, add resonance to his absence.

The depth of character and straight talk about the political realities faced by the Indigenous community in Winnipeg is straightforward but reveals unexpected moments, like a spotlight aiming at a frozen moment - the same effect she created in her novel, though with (obviously) more narrative continuity there. I think this is an easy read in the sense of its structure, but with currents of content that will catch at a reader's emotions and perceptions.

She finishes with a powerful set of "verses in many voices", a poem called "I Am A North End Girl". It's a chorus of women's stories and voices which don't hold back. The effect is to hear lives being lived, without judgement being passed. This book is another important read that I'd recommend to all Canadians in this year of reconciliation -- it's a voice of understanding and experience that is much needed. North End Love Songs won the Governor General's Literary Award for poetry in 2013, and I hope more readers will discover her now through the attention on her new novel.

Tuesday, April 11, 2017

Tangles: a Story about Alzheimer's, my Mother and Me

Tangles: a Story about Alzheimer's, my Mother and Me / Sarah Leavitt
Peterborough, ON: Broadview Press, c2010.
132 p.

When the author's lively, clever mother starting showing signs of forgetfulness, her family thought it was probably just stress or overwork or something like that; sadly, it was the beginnings of a diagnosis of early onset Alzheimer's.

This fearful situation is honestly and lovingly described in Sarah Leavitt's words and pictures. The art is very basic -- line drawings, sketches -- but it captures the charming silliness and connection of this family. Somehow the very simple drawing allows for the story to emerge more strongly. 

Sarah lives far away from her family's home, so is only there part of the time, while her father and sister are more full on caretakers. This means that she sees the changes more startlingly when she does get home. Her mother Midge was an active educator, involved in curriculum design and innovations, and cared deeply about social issues. She changes dramatically, as anyone familiar with the effects of Alzheimer's will recognize -- not only memory but personality changes are she becomes fearful and distrustful. The change is clearly shown, with sorrow and love, and yes, some rage as well. 

Sarah's partner Donimo comes home with her as well, and that relationship is examined here too. They both care for Midge, in one particularly difficult scene, Sarah worries that because she is a lesbian people might think that her physical care she provides for her mother is not 'right' somehow. It's sad that this was a valid worry for her amongst all the others they were facing.

The emotional effect of this story is powerful, and makes it well worth reading for the narrative alone. Leavitt gives a sense of the results of a diagnosis like this on a whole family, not only the one suffering from Alzheimer's. It's hard to read, and terrifying, and very sad. But it's also beautiful. 

Saturday, April 08, 2017

Birds Art Life

Birds Art Life: a Year of Observation / Kyo Maclear  
Toronto: Doubleday, c2017.
272 p.

Kyo Maclear was feeling disconnected, overwhelmed. Anxious about her own career and purpose, her stress is compounded by her father's terminal illness. As a writer, she was looking for something to engage with, something that would give her a sense of purpose, a project. She found it when she discovered a local musician who was equally a dedicated urban birder. She decided to follow him around for a year and see what she could learn. 

And this small book consisting of her thoughts and meditations around this project was the result. It's a memoir of the "one year in a life" sort, so many of which exist now. But this is not an eager, do as much as you can in a year and become a better person kind of book. It's dreamy, it's circular and fragmentary. Maclear learns to really see birds; by which, she really learns to see the small particularities of the world, to identify and name what exists around her, grounding herself in a place - even if it's an urban place in which she hadn't expected to find so much natural life.

She also finds that the habit of birding brings a state of mind that might be called meditative, or mindful. The birders she encounters think nothing of sitting perfectly still for hours, in order to spot one particular bird or get just the right photo. The expanses of time in which they sit, visibly doing 'nothing', amaze her; it's so different from the habit of guilt about not being continually productive that she has been suffering from. This slowing of the pace of life is soothing, allowing her to rest, to reflect, and to write again. 

Of course, as she slows and learns to observe birds, her observations in other parts of life grow sharper as well. She relays stories about her family - her husband, sons and father - and remembers her early life. All this in brief and poetic 'chapters', really more like sections rather than neatly tied up chapters, more like the pace of thought. Perhaps it's better thought of as an extended essay. 

I've read some of Maclear's adult fiction (ie: The Letter Opener) as well as being a big fan of her children's books, and this book is something different again. It has the hallmarks of dreaminess and introspection that I've enjoyed in her other work, though; I found it just as satisfying as her novels. 


Further Reading

Readers of Helen Macdonald's H is for Hawk may find some similarities in the theme of fathers, birds, and finding solace in the small things of the natural world. Mary Oliver's recent collection of essays, Upstream, similarly hints that the solution to life's expectations and anxieties lies in observing the natural world.

Thursday, April 06, 2017

Where I Live Now

Where I Live Now / Sharon Butala
Toronto: Simon & Schuster, c2017.
192 p.

This newly released book was a beautiful and bittersweet read. Butala is a writer known for her descriptive powers, as she has published many books about the small area of Southern Saskatchewan that she relocated to from the city, decades ago when she met her husband Peter. Many of her books lyrically describe the landscape of the very large Butala ranch and its environs, and talk about the particular codes of this isolated rural community. This one does the same, but in a more overtly elegaic manner. 

The story starts with Butala having to leave the land that has become a part of her over 30 years. This is because, unexpectedly, her husband becomes terminally ill, and there is no way for her to stay on alone. The chapters in which she discusses her husband's illness are emotionally fraught, and when she describes the final moments they had together, I was overcome and had to put the book down for a couple of days. 

But I had to go back to it. Her writing ranges from the history of the land (ancient to current) to examinations of her marriage to thoughts about her place in this rural community, and in the new community she finds herself making in Calgary, of all places. As usual, the writing is measured, thoughtful, and philosophical, while being utterly grounded in the physical world. She can describe the beauty of sunsets, fields, skies, and history itself, while retaining a sense of humour about herself and her enthusiasms - like the time she thought she'd discovered a large dinosaur bone (tip: it wasn't).

She gives the reader a candid account of her journey through grief and loss, and does so in a way which comforts through her understanding of the larger sweep of existence. Looking back and speaking of the life and the person she's lost bring vibrancy to them once again. 

Her story also provides a sense of how the loss of both a spouse and a way of life untether a person, how it takes time to find a place for oneself again.

I found this book both beautiful and heart-breaking. Butala is, as always, honest and heartfelt in her writing, and it is very powerful here.