Review: The Jade Peony – Wayson Choy

2017: 53
3.5 of 5 stars
Published 1995

This is one Chinese immigrant family’s experience in Vancouver during the late 1930s and into the 1940s during WWII. The three youngest children of the family alternate points of view in the first person aging from about 6 to 10 in their individual sections. The oldest of the three is Jung who is adopted by the family. Liang, the only daughter was born in Canada as was Sekky, the youngest boy. The story chronicles their struggles to juggle the old ways that their parents and elderly Grandmother espouse and the new, modern ways of English Canada.

Fitting in isn’t always easy and each of the three has their challenges. As the only girl, Liang often is made to feel less worthy than the favoured boys, especially by her grandmother. She dreams of following in Shirley Temple’s tap shoes and wants to be a modern girl. Jung is haunted by a traumatic childhood, before he was adopted. He finds boxing is the way to fit in for him and then realizes he’s attracted to entirely the wrong person. Sekky, born in Canada and sickly as a small child, is later entranced by the War and he and his friends play war games all the time but  the realities of the consequences of this war are a bit more profound than anyone expected.

All of the characters are written very well. It’s interesting to read about the immigrant experience, and a little sad, too since at that time, the Chinese were not considered good enough to be in mainstream society, marginalized and isolated. The older generation clings to the traditional “Old China” ways while the new, (mostly) Canadian born generation leans into the modern world. They change their names, they dare to dream to find their place in Canadian culture and society. The grandmother spends most of her attention on the youngest boy, Sekky, who is sickly and they become very close. It’s not surprising then, that amidst all the traditional stories about ghosts and spirits that he’s the one that can see her after she dies.

The racism that the Chinese have for the Japanese is highlighted when the war begins and the neighbours are following the Japanese attacks on their homeland overseas. Sekky’s war games are always about beating the Nazis and the Japanese. He is fervent about his “enemies” until he’s shocked when he discovers that his babysitter’s boyfriend is Japanese. Liang’s section, the first one, is shorter than the others and revolves around her relationship with an older family friend who treats her with respect, something she doesn’t get a lot of from her grandmother who is the driving force behind the family.

I did find that once each of the first two sections was finished, we really didn’t hear much more about those two children, other than in the perifery of Sekky’s world and it felt like things were left hanging. Even Sekky’s section, which I did enjoy, ended in a tragedy and there wasn’t more than that. There is now a sequel about the oldest brother, which I may seek out at some point. This is a debut novel and it wasn’t bad. The writing and the world and their family through the eyes of the children was well thought out and depicted. The book is fairly short and I think it could have used a bit more to tie it all together at times.

 

#20BooksOfSummerChallenge 

Cross Canada Reading Challenge – British Columbia

Bingo Challenge entry (B2 – a province you’d like to visit)

Review: Barney’s Version by Mordecai Richler

2017: 52
4.5 of 5 stars
Published 1997

This is the second book I’ve read by one of Canada’s esteemed authors. Richler has been publishing successful novels since the late 1950s. I previously read The Apprenticeship of Duddy Kravitz and enjoyed it and I chose Barney’s Version for my second Richler. The story is about the life of Barney Panofsky as told by his good self, a man in his late 60s whose health and memory are both precarious and whose freedom is in some doubt. He may or may not have murdered his old friend, Boogie, 30 years ago and though he was deemed innocent by a jury of his peers, the scandal and doubt hangs over him like an Atlantic fog. The body was never found, m’lud, so there was no murder is Barney’s defence. We do find out what happened at the end of the book.

Anyway, he’s writing his autobiography that centers around each of his three wives, one of whom doesn’t even get named. The book is sectioned off by each wife but don’t think that means the story is told in any sort of alignment. It’s all over the place, with anecdotes and his personal history told as it occurs to him in random order as one thing reminds him of the next and you’re not even sure he’s remembering incidents correctly. He also revisits some of the incidents as need be. His life is filled with crises and scrapes, and he’s not portrayed as all that sympathetic a character nor is he portrayed as a scallywag that the reader treats indulgently. He makes bad judgments and choices, he drinks, he curses, he’s obnoxious,  he has more failures than triumphs, and you wonder how his children and friends can stand him at all though most of them do seem to keep him at arms’ length.

I guess I can’t relate to Barney that well but it doesn’t take away from Richler’s talent at bringing the characters off the page. His humour is dark and cutting, his observations on life’s aspects are as jaded as the characters but spot on.  I have to say I found it a bit more difficult to like at first but it soon hit its stride and carried me along for the ride.

There has been a movie made of this starring Paul Giamatti, released in 2010 and it’s quite a good film, particularly because it puts the events of the novel in their proper order! Duddy Kravitz gets name checked and makes a few brief appearances, now a grownup and it appears he’s as successful as he always planned. The Gursky name also gets a mention which probably relates to Richler’s book, Solomon Gursky Was Here.  I think I will come back to Mordecai Richler again.

Not one of my #20BooksOfSummerChallenge because I started it about a month ago but I am going to use this for my Cross Canada Challenge for Quebec.

Review: Ava Comes Home by Lesley Crewe

2017: 50
3.5 of 5 stars
Published 2008

Ava Harris, aka Libby MacKinnon, is an Oscar winning actress who must come home to Glace Bay, Cape Breton (Nova Scotia) when she finds out her mother is dying. She has not been home in the 10 years since she left,  and when she left, it was sudden and secret, leaving behind her childhood sweetheart. Something obviously happened to send her running, something she never told her family or her boyfriend Seamus, and when she returns home, she must face it and the boy she left behind.

This is a fairly routine story in that you pretty much can predict how it’s going to go and that it’ll have a happy ending. The incident that Libby/Ava ran from is revealed a little over half way through but there’s still a twist which I didn’t see coming.

Lesley Crewe gives us good characters and dialogue and it’s set in my home province. I “know” lots of people like these lovely “Capers” (Cape Bretoners). Salt of the earth. I know the references to shops, locations, etc. For me,  because of these things, it’s a very relatable book.

Another book for my Cross Canada Reading Challenge, Nova Scotia and one for #20BooksOfSummer

Review: Gold Fever by Vicki Delany

2017: 49
3 of 5 stars
Published January 2010

Dawson City in the Klondike, 1898, is a bustling town filled with people on a quest for gold. It’s a town of wooden shacks, tents, booze, mud, dance hall girls, prostitutes, people intent on making a fortune one way or another, and the Royal Canadian Mounted Police who always get their man or woman.

Fiona MacGillivray has found Dawson City a good place to retreat to, a place to make some money and raise her son, Angus. She owns the Savoy, a successful dance hall. She is beautiful (and knows it and plays it to her best advantage), a bit haughty, strong, determined, and it sounds like she’s had more than a few scrapes and adventures in her life. She has secrets from her past, lived a rather scurrilous life and we get to hear a little more about it in this book. A face from her past shows up, reminding her of things she’d buried deeply inside.

Her son saves a native woman from suicide, a nosy writer comes to town, the notorious Madam has it in for Fiona and has decided to ruin her.  It all kicks off from there, including a murder or two.

This is the second book in a series about Fiona’s adventures in Dawson City. There’s some romantic overtones around the edges but it’s not about that because Fiona doesn’t seem to want anyone to get too close. She’s not altogether a sympathetic character, being vain about her looks and her clothing, jewelry etc but she does love her son above all else which gives her a redeeming quality. She also seems to have a habit of getting caught up in murders!  The Gold Rush setting is interesting and the plot moves along quickly. It’s an easy read with colourful characters and a murder mystery neatly wrapped up by the final chapter.

Review: Baygirl – Heather Smith

2017:47
3 of 5 stars
Published 2010

Kit Ryan lives in an outport fishing village in Newfoundland. She’s 16 and it’s 1992 and life is difficult when your father is an alcoholic. It’s a life of being on an emotional roller coaster, never knowing what kind of drunk your father is today or how he’s going to react to any given statement or situation. Kit has a lifelong best friend and takes refuge with her grandmother often.

But the cod fishing industry is dying and with a government moratorium, Kit’s father can’t work and the family moves to St. John’s to live with Uncle Iggy who’s unemployed himself, sunk into depression and grief. Kit doesn’t fit in at school and things are no better at home. But there is an older Yorkshireman who lives next door who is always ready with a teapot. She does make a friend at school and there’s even a boy that likes her. The problem is, Kit has to learn to accept her father as he is and find a way to trust.

It’s a short novel and doesn’t go very deep into the issues behind the issues other than a brief look into her father’s background near the end. Kit’s got a lot of anger as you might expect and it’s clear that in some ways it holds her back. She spends a lot of energy pushing back against things she has no way of controlling or changing. By the time she begins to reconcile her feelings, it might be too late. There could have been a bit more depth to the story and relationships between Kit and her parents but there’s enough there to tell the story.

The next door neighbour is a bit of a stereotype with plenty of Yorkshire slang and “ee by gum”.  The nice boy dates the school bitch and sees the light pretty quickly. Having Kit around seems to lift Uncle Iggy up and give him a reason to clean himself up and find reasons to want to live his life again. A return to her home village 6 months after leaving finds all her friends changed completely, even her best friend which felt a bit extreme to me. Now she doesn’t fit in at her old home or her new one.

Overall, an ok story but it could have been better. I may not be the generation this book is intended for but that shouldn’t matter. Or maybe it does. I make this sound more negative than I should, I think. I did like it, but I would have liked a bit more of it.

Two Summer Reading Challenges

On Goodreads, my CanadianContent group has monthly reading challenges. July’s is to read across Canada, that is, to read books set in each province or by an author from each province. That’s 13 books by Canadian authors, and since that’s a lot for one month, they’ve decided to extend it from June 1 to end of July. I have most of the ones I want to read picked out. Also, June’s challenge is to read some books by Indigenous authors. There’s a couple that I have so I’ll do that, with one of them working for the Cross Canada challenge and which will fit the ongoing 2017 Bingo reading challenge. Still with me?

On 746Books, Cathy has a summer reading challenge, too, and hers runs from June 1 to the end of August. She’s planning to read 20 books though if you join the challenge, you can aim for 10 or 15. Her list of choices has some interesting looking books. I may see if I can get hold of a few of them through the library. Here is a page with links to other people that are participating.

I think I will join this challenge since my Cross Canada one will knock off 13 which is a good start. That challenge ends July 31, and I generally average 7 or 8 books a month.

The Cross Canada books are: (I haven’t found one to fit for Alberta but I will do. )

British Columbia:
Book: The Jade Peony by Wayson Choy
3.5 stars, Finished June 19
Have I Visited BC?: Yes, and visiting again this year

Alberta
Book: Don’t know but there’s a good list of authors from Alberta here to investigate.
Have I Visited Alberta?: No

Saskatchewan
Book: Alone in the Classroom by Elizabeth Hay
Have I Visited?: No

Manitoba:
Book: Ravenscraig by Sandi Krawchenko Altner
Have I Visited Saskatchewan?: No

Ontario
Book: Indian Horse by Richard Wagamese (or something by Margaret Atwood)
Rating:
Have I Visited Ontario?: Yes

Quebec
Book: Barney’s Version – Mordecai Richler
Rating: 4.5 of 5 stars  Finished June 14
Have I Visited Quebec?: Yes

New Brunswick
Book: Incidents in the life of Marcus Paul or Crimes Against My Brother by David Adams Richards
Have I Visited New Brunswick?: Yes

Nova Scotia
Book: Ava Comes Home by Lesley Crewe – Finished  June 11
Have I Visited?: Live here

Prince Edward Island
Book: Tide Road by Valery Compton
Have I Visited PEI?: Yes

Newfoundland & Labrador
Book: Baygirl by Heather Smith  – Finished May 27
Have I Visited?: Yes

Nunavut
Book: Rankin Inlet by Mara Feeney
Have I Visited?: No

Northwest Territories
Book: Late Nights on Air by Elizabeth Hay
Have I Visited?: No

Yukon
Book: Gold Fever by Vicki Delany – Finished June 9
Have I Visited the Yukon?: No

I’m still not sure what else to fill up the 20 for the 20 Books of Summer.

Court of Lions by Jane Johnson
Gone Astray – Michelle Davies
The Way Back to FlorenceThe Way Back to Florence – Glenn Haybittle
Some others waiting to be read in my Kobo account are:
The Conjoined by Jen Sookfong Lee
At Risk by Alice Hoffman
Poles Apart by Terry Fallis
Quicksand by Steve Toltz
Barkskins by Annie Proulx

I think that’s a good start and I’ll likely add a few more at random to make the 20.