Saturday, 19 October 2019

Indian Horse by Richard Wagamese

I have been meaning to read Richard Wagamese's book Indian Horse for some time. Finally I picked it up and read it. I'm glad I did. Its a remarkable tale.

With compassion and insight, author Richard Wagamese traces through his fictional characters the decline of a culture and a cultural way. For Saul, taken forcibly from the land and his family when he’s sent to residential school, salvation comes for a while through his incredible gifts as a hockey player. But in the harsh realities of 1960s Canada, he battles obdurate racism and the spirit-destroying effects of cultural alienation and displacement. Indian Horse unfolds against the bleak loveliness of northern Ontario, all rock, marsh, bog and cedar. Wagamese writes with a spare beauty, penetrating the heart of a remarkable Ojibway man.

The story had me totally involved. I was pulling for Saul Indian Horse all the way through, suffering through his down times and cheering him on during the good. This definitely is not a sport or hockey tale but the life of an Objibway man.

Indian Horse is now a movie which I declined to see until I read the book. There's no way the movie will be able to stand up to the power of the book but I'm sure, if done well, it could capture much of it's essence.

Personally, I feel this should be mandatory reading in all Canadian schools.

Richard Wagamese (1955–2017), an Ojibway from the Wabaseemoong First Nation in northwestern Ontario, was recognized as one of Canada's foremost First Nations authors and storytellers.

His debut novel, Keeper 'n Me, came out in 1994 and won the Alberta Writers Guild's Best Novel Award. In 1991, he became the first Indigenous writer to win a National Newspaper Award for column writing. He twice won the Native American Press Association Award for his journalism and received the George Ryga Award for Social Awareness in Literature for his 2011 memoir One Story, One Song.

In 2012, he was honoured with the Aboriginal Achievement Award for Media and Communications, and in 2013 he received the Canada Council for the Arts Molson Prize. In 2015, he won the Matt Cohen Award, a recognition given out by the Writers' Trust of Canada that honours writers who have dedicated their entire professional lives to the pursuit of writing. In total, he authored fifteen books including Indian Horse (2012), the 2013 People's Choice winner in CBC's Canada Reads competition, and his final book, a collection of Ojibway meditations, Embers (2016), received the Bill Duthie Booksellers' Choice Award.

Sunday, 13 October 2019

Live Theatre - A Streetcar Named Desire

 This afternoon Teena and I saw A Streetcar Named Desire at the Young Centre for the Performing Arts in Toronto's Distillery District.

As Blanche’s fragile world crumbles, she turns to her sister for solace – but her downward spiral brings her face to face with a brutal, unforgiving reality. Tennessee Williams’ timeless masterpiece is a raging portrayal of what it means to be an outsider, in a society where we’re all desperate to belong.

It was interesting for us going in as neither of us had seen the movie. Except for the short piece above, we knew nothing about the plot but for that famous line, "STELLA!", who I originally thought the story would be focused on.

Instead the story is of the interactions of Blanche who comes to live with her sister, Stella, and her husband, Stanley, in a run down part of New Orleans, after losing the family estate. Blanche portrays herself as a fine southern belle, who is superior to the folk living in Stella and Stanley's neighbourhood and as a result is at constant odds and fights with Stanley, son of Polish immigrants. Stella has left the refined part of her life behind but lives a fiery life with her husband and feels protective towards her sister.

It was incredible. The play runs three hours plus the intermission but sure doesn't feel it. I was immediately involved in what was happening before me and trying to figure how it might all end. It's tense, broken in parts by moments of humour and powerful.

The Tennessee Williams play, which won a Pulitzer Prize, had its original opening on Broadway back in 1947 but every minute of it stands up today. Teena and I were discussing the play afterwards and came to the conclusion there were no weak actors in the production, especially in the major parts. Leah Doz as Stella, Amy Rutherford, easily with the most lines in the production, her character, Blanche, being the long winded type, and  Mac Fyfe as Stanley, all could not have been better. The minor roles were all well performed.

The set was well-laid out and imaginative. The music and outside action were all well-done.

I highly recommend this play. Teena and I are looking forward to seeing the 1951 movie of the play which I suspect will have many parts of the stage production toned down.

Saturday, 12 October 2019

Moon of the Crusted Snow by Waubgeshig Rice

I don't know why but dystopian stories have always appealed to me. My wife, Teena, just shakes her head when I tell her what I'm reading, same as she did when I told her the story line behind Moon of the Crusted Snow.

With winter looming, a small northern Anishinaabe community goes dark. Cut off, people become passive and confused. Panic builds as the food supply dwindles. While the band council and a pocket of community members struggle to maintain order, an unexpected visitor arrives, escaping the crumbling society to the south. Soon after, others follow.

Blending action and allegory, Moon of the Crusted Snow upends our expectations. Out of catastrophe comes resilience. And as one society collapses, another is reborn.

Most stories about apocalyptic times begin after an event, which has already occurred, seriously alters the fate of the world for the worst, with the story being of the characters who have survived. Not in this story.

One day the power goes out in this very northern community. Then cell phones don't work. Supplies from the south don't arrive. Nobody knows what has happened but after awhile the realize their situation will not return to what it was and they need to survive the winter which has already struck.

The book was a 2019 John W. Campbell Memorial Award nominee for Best Science Fiction Novel, an award which has been presented annually since 1973. An interesting story of the breakdown of what was a close community in devastating times. Moon of the Crusted Snow is a book which I thoroughly enjoyed. Easy to picture too with our own winter fast approaching. Ha!

About Waubgeshhig Rice

Waubgeshig Rice is an author and journalist originally from Wasauksing First Nation. His first short story collection, Midnight Sweatlodge, was inspired by his experiences growing up in an Anishinaabe community, and won an Independent Publishers Book Award in 2012.His debut novel, Legacy, followed in 2014. A French translation was published in 2017. His latest novel, Moon of the Crusted Snow, was released in October 2018. 

Waub got his first taste of journalism in 1996 as an exchange student in Germany, writing articles about being an Anishinaabe teen in a foreign country for newspapers back in Canada. He graduated from Ryerson University’s journalism program in 2002. He’s worked in a variety of news media since, reporting for CBC News for the bulk of his career. In 2014, he received the Anishinabek Nation’s Debwewin Citation for excellence in First Nation Storytelling. He currently hosts Up North, CBC Radio’s afternoon show for northern Ontario. 

His proudest roles are as dad to Jiikwis and husband to Sarah. The family splits its time between Sudbury and Wasauksing.

Sunday, 22 September 2019

Rollback by Robert J. Sawyer

This morning I finished reading Rollback by Robert J. Sawyer.

Dr. Sarah Halifax decoded the first-ever radio transmission received from aliens. Thirty-eight years later, a second message is received and Sarah, now 87, may hold the key to deciphering this one, too... if she lives long enough. 

A wealthy industrialist offers to pay for Sarah to have a rollback—a hugely expensive experimental rejuvenation procedure. She accepts on condition that Don, her husband of sixty years, gets a rollback, too. The process works for Don, making him physically twenty-five again. But in a tragic twist, the rollback fails for Sarah, leaving her in her eighties. 

While Don tries to deal with his newfound youth and the suddenly vast age gap between him and his wife, Sarah struggles to do again what she’d done once before: figure out what a signal from the stars contains.

It's an excellent, well thought out story. The story jumps back and forth between the time the first message was received in 2009 and 2048. In 2009 a message was received from Sigma Draconis II, a planet 18.5 light years away. Sarah was the only one who could decode it. A reply was created and sent back to the planet. Then in 2048 a reply to earth's message was received from Draconis II, only it's encrypted. 

As messages take 18.5 years to reach the far away planet and another 18.5 years for the reply to be received, it's determined Sarah's expertise will always be required, so a new technology which will roll back her 87 year old body so it's 25 again is suggested. Sarah, though, will only undergo the prohibitively expensive procedure if they do the same for her husband Don. As it says above, only Don's procedure is successful.

I enjoyed the many moral discussions which take place in the book regarding a variety of topics. The story takes place in Toronto, and it was fun to see the Duke of York still exists in 2048 along with a few other companies and locations. 

It was an interesting, thought provoking story from Robert J. Sawyer.

Robert J. Sawyer is one of Canada's best known and most successful science fiction writers. He is the only Canadian (and one of only 7 writers in the world) to have won all three of the top international awards for science fiction: the 1995 Nebula Award for The Terminal Experiment, the 2003 Hugo Award for Hominids, and the 2006 John W. Campbell Memorial Award for Mindscan. 

Robert Sawyer grew up in Toronto, the son of two university professors. He credits two of his favourite shows from the late 1960s and early 1970s, Search and Star Trek, with teaching him some of the fundamentals of the science-fiction craft. Sawyer was obsessed with outer space from a young 

Sawyer graduated in 1982 from the Radio and Television Arts Program at Ryerson University, where he later worked as an instructor. Sawyer's first published book, Golden Fleece (1989), is an adaptation of short stories that had previously appeared in the science-fiction magazine Amazing Stories. This book won the Aurora Award for the best Canadian science-fiction novel in English. 

A passionate advocate for science fiction, Sawyer teaches creative writing and appears frequently in the media to discuss his genre. He prefers the label "philosophical fiction," and in no way sees himself as a predictor of the future. His mission statement for his writing is "To combine the intimately human with the grandly cosmic."

Monday, 16 September 2019

My First Electric Typewriter

My mother moved a week ago from her farm where she lived for over 35 years. After we moved her, the items which were left were put into an auction. Among the items, my sister found my old electric typewriter.

Electric typewriter!

Yes, an item which obviously shows my age. When I finally could afford my first computer I gave this to my mother who loved writing letters to her MP, MPP, town councillor and the editorial pages of the newspaper. yes, she had quite a few published.

Now this typewriter was the next evolution in electronic typewriters. On the bottom row is not only a delete letter key, but a key which would take out an entire line!. For a writer at the time this was an incredible feature.

Whenever I used to buy electronic devices, I always taped the bill to the back or bottom for the warranty. Here is the bill for this one.

You can see I purchased it in 1989 from Simpsons, a huge department store chain which since went out of business. It was expensive at $269.99. Yes, I saved up and paid cash.

It was cool to find this blast from my past. On it I attempted to write a novel titled When Oak Trees Fall. It was really bad but I learned a lot about story development and most importantly, keeping track of characters.

Writing on a computer or laptop is heaven compared to the old electric days. Always needed paper on hand, had to set it in the roller properly, needed to have an extra ink ribbon available.

Of course, the electric was a step up from this, which was my first typewriter. (I had to do a Google search to find a picture)

Okay, enough of spending time in the past. Time to get writing. Oh, I love my laptop!

Friday, 30 August 2019

Cuba Beyond the Beach: Stories of Life in Havana by Karen Dubinsky

Today I finished  Cuba Beyond the Beach by Canadian Author Karen Dubinski.

Havana is Cuba’s soul: a mix of Third World, First World, and Other World. After over a decade of visits as a teacher, researcher, and friend, Karen Dubinsky looks past political slogans and tourist postcards to the streets, neighbourhoods, and personalities of a complicated and contradictory city. Her affectionate, humorous vignettes illustrate how Havana’s residents—old Communist ladies, their sceptical offspring, musicians, underground vendors, entrepreneurial landlords, and poverty-stricken professors—go about their daily lives.

As Cuba undergoes dramatic change, there is much to appreciate, and learn from, in the unlikely world Cubans have collectively built for themselves.

This is a very interesting book. It was published in 2016 and spoke of how President Obama and Raul Castro have worked on establishing relations between the two countries. Dubinsky speaks of the optimism and fears the people have in regards to the effects of trade and tourism on the country and themselves. Now it's a moot point as since the book was published, President Trump reversed the groundwork laid by the Obama administration.

Dubinski's work is about the everyday people, their commerce, their underground economy and the effects of the collapse of the Soviet Union on Cuba, a period known in the country as the "Special Period." The collapse meant the supply of goods to Cuba stopped and with the US embargo on the country, the people went hungry.

The author has lived, on and off, in Cuba for over ten years and says, "I bring to this book the things I love and the things I hate about Havana, in the hopes that by sharing my perspective on a complicated place, visitors might, as I have, come away a little bit changed and a lot less certain."

I though one story near the end of the book describes the shape of the economy by an incident the author had coming into the country. "I had to convince a customs agent that a student was bringing in a large box of paperclips as a donation to the university rather than intending to sell them on the street." Wow. Paperclips.

Cuba Beyond the Beach is a fascinating look at the inside of the country, the people and not it's politics.

Karen Dubinsky teaches in the departments of Global Development Studies and History. She has published and edited books on a wide variety of topics, including the history of gender and sexuality in Canada (Improper Advances: Rape and Heterosexual Conflict in Ontario, 1880-1929 and The Second Greatest Disappointment: Honeymooners, Heterosexuality and the Tourist Industry at Niagara Falls;the global 1960s (New World Coming: The Sixties and the Shaping of Global Consciousness;adoption and child migration in Canada, Cuba and Guatemala (Babies Without Borders: Adoption and Migration Across the Americas); the politics of music in Cuba (My Havana: The Musical City of Carlos Varela). 

She has co-edited two recent anthologies about Canada and the world (Within and Without the Nation: Transnational Canadian History and Canada and the Third World: Overlapping Histories). Her most recent book is Cuba Beyond the Beach: Stories of Life in Havana. 

She is currently working on two projects: a study of Canadian Cuban relations in the people-to-people realm, as well as a project on the iconography of children in global social and political movements. 

 She is a recipient of two teaching awards: the Queen's University Award for Excellence in Graduate Supervision and the Queen’s Award for International Educational Innovation.

Thursday, 29 August 2019

Sudbury Street, 1967 and Today

The other day, Teena discovered a couple of pictures from 1967 of our neighbourhood. They were posted on Facebook from Vintage Toronto.

The photo at the top of the page shows Sudbury Street looking south east from Dovercourt Road - Courtesy of Toronto Public Library & the Toronto Star Archives - 1967. Underneath is what it looks like today.

Below is a photo from the same year, likely the same day of Sudbury Street looking west from the corner of Dovercourt Road. Photo by Don Ritchie. - Copyright © Toronto Public Library. Again the photo under it is how it looks today.

All these high rises were built in the past few years. Another two are being constructed on the left side of the sidewalk in the second photo down. When they were being sold, I wonder if this, a sign posted on the new construction site, was put in the sales literature or declared when buyers signed the papers.