The City Man

Howard Akler has become one of my favourite authors. I’ve read three of his — I’m told — four books: Splitsville (2018), Men of Action (2015), and now The City Man (2005), accidentally reading in reverse order. All are available from Coach House. The book I haven’t yet read is his first, Toronto: The Unknown City, the title of which is unsurprising given his novels.

I’ve lived in Ottawa, Toronto, and Montreal, and I can’t say that Toronto is my favourite. Yet, Akler’s novels endeared me to Toronto more than living there did. The city is central to both Splitsville and The City Man. In the latter, Union Station features prominently as a profitable haunt for pickpockets in the 1930s. In Akler’s prose, the setting receives more love than it has during the past decade of endless renovations. The action of Splitsville has as its backdrop the events surrounding the stillborn Spadina Expressway, construction of which was halted in 1971 after public outcry. I’m a sucker for local history, and Toronto is a city too busy to often remember its own, so I admire how Akler works it into his writing.

Akler’s prose leaves ample space for the imagination to fill the gaps. The descriptions are terse and sparse, and delivered in brief, evocative turns of phrase where every word pulls its own weight. What’s artful here is that this isn’t a matter of omission, but rather clever use of negative space to let the story breath. On a busier page the reader might be rushing through the crowded sentences searching for the next important piece of information. A page out of Akler’s books instead invites the reader to slow down and chew on each word carefully, mulling over its individual importance and contribution to the whole. This less-is-more approach to his prose means Akler can say more with less, and sometimes speak volumes without stating anything. In the autobiographical Men of Action, he describes his process as carrying around a memo book to “work over original sentences, loosen their knots until each one is limber enough to connect to the next.” When I read this, it made perfect sense. This careful, piecemeal approach to sentence-craft is evident in his works.

I haven’t had much to say about the plot of his novels, because if anyone ever reads this I’d prefer they read the books for themselves. The City Man follows Eli Morenz, the titular reporter for the Toronto Star who is assigned to report on events in the city. In doing so, he stumbles across a cadre of small-time pickpockets working “the whiz” — as the racket is called. I’ll leave it at that, since I don’t want to describe any specific scenes or events that would given them away. What I will say is that the story is not complicated. In many ways it reflects the prose, in that the focus is on small moments instead of big set pieces.

I love this novel. It’s the third debut I’ve read in a row and for my money the strongest. Sadly, Akler recounts in Men of Action that it took him eight years to write The City Man. And it was another thirteen years after that before Splitsville first appeared. So I’ll likely be waiting a while before I hear from Akler again. At least it’ll be worth it.

Reading Log – February 9th, 2021

I intended some time ago to begin a daily log of what I was reading, both to remind myself and to record some thoughts before I moved onto the next thing the following day. Today I took a break from reading for my candidacy paper to re-read material for a publication.

The paper I’m preparing is tentatively titled “The Regress of Nationalism” and is intended for Medjunarodne Studije/International Studies, a bilingual journal that publishes articles in English and Croatian. Back in November I gave a (virtual) talk at the State (In)Stability 2020 conference at Libertas International University called “Multiculturalism and the Regress of Nationalism”, which was an early version of the paper I’m writing. The speakers were invited to submit their papers afterward for a special edition of the associated journal.

Here is what I (re-)read today:

  • Moore, Margaret. “On National Self-Determination.” Nations and Nationalism: A Reader. Ed. Philip Spencer & Howard Wollman. Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 2005. 221-236.

I agree with Moore that nations are best understood according to a subjective definition, but that might be all we agree on. She provides a strong argument for affording political sovereignty to nations, but I think it is misguided. In particular, I think it’s a mistake to identify the “people” who are owed self-government with a particular nation. In short, national identities are shifting, overlapping, and unstable. You can never design political boundaries that perfectly align with national boundaries, so there must be another basis for the state. In the paper I intend to argue the necessity of multicultural accommodation that can permit the multi-national coalition building required to ground a political state.

  • Trudeau, Pierre. “The New Treason of the Intellectuals.” Against the Current. Ed. Gerard Pelletier. Toronto: McCelland & Stewart, 1993. 151-181.

I first read the collection of Pierre Trudeau’s writings, Against the Current, during high-school. The critique of national self-determination he provides in “The New Treason of the Intellectuals” has always stuck with me as powerful. To briefly summarize, if the principle of national self-determination is consistently granted to national groups then each will find another minority nation within itself as soon as it achieves independence. The result is a regress with no stopping point at which a stable state can form. This is at the heart of the paper I’m working on. There is much more of value in this essay by Trudeau as well, particularly his optimistic proposal for what Canada could become.

Ross Rifles RPG: The Sapper (Playbook)

I’m a fan of table-top RPGs. A favourite of mine is Apocalypse World, and in the past few years there have been a number of other other games developed that use the Apocalypse World system (called AW hacks, or “Powered by the Apocalypse”). I’ve had the chance to play some of these, like Dungeon World, Tremulus, and Urban Shadows. A couple years ago a new AW hack was announced that combined my interest in table-top RPGs with my love of Canadian history: Ross Rifles. I’ve created an unofficial, bonus playbook for Ross Rifles.

Ross Rifles is designed to capture the Canadian experience during the First World War, and the sourcebook is a clear labour of love replete with historical detail. The authors worked to capture the dreary, appalling conditions of life in the trenches. The game also does an admirable job of incorporating the psychological toll of warfare through its Stress system. There are detailed accounts of WWI era Canadian firearms, modules based on four major battles Canadians participated in, and details on life in the German trenches so that game -runners can flesh out the enemy. There is everything you need to set your story in WWI.

In most AW hacks, character creation utilizes “playbooks” which the player fills in with the details and abilities that their character has. These are similar to “character sheets” in other games. Ross Rifles comes with seven playbooks, which are each an archetype that a player’s soldier can embody. For instance, The Creative playbook represents an artist who tries to use their artistic skills to inspire their comrades. After choosing a playbook, players make further choices to individualize their character with the playbook giving them a range of related abilities to choose from. There is a long tradition in AW hacks of folks making unofficial playbooks to give players more options and create possibilities for the game. In keeping with this tradition, I created The Sapper playbook for Ross Rifles.

The term “sapper” refers to combat engineers. To this day in the Canadian Forces, trained Privates in the combat engineer trade hold the rank of Sapper. You’ll probably notice that the Sapper playbook also includes abilities and equipment related to signalers. During the First World War, Canadian signalers were part of the Engineering Corps. Only later would signalers became a fully separate trade within the Canadian military. Consequently, I took the opportunity to design The Sapper playbook to have features of both the engineer and signaler trades, so that players can choose to create a character that fits into either trade.

A further option included in The Sapper playbook is to play as a Despatch Rider. Despatch Riders were messengers who rode either motorcycles or horses to deliver their messages. They were rare, but existed throughout the military, not just the Engineering Corps. The rationale for including them in this playbook is that most Canadian despatch riders were signalers, and since all signalers were sappers, most of the despatch riders were sappers.

The inclusion of these three trades should indicate that there are multiple ways to play a character using this playbook. The more engineer-oriented moves are intended to enable preparation instead of being immediately useful in the thick of battle. A character might gather materials and use Constructive Contribution in advance of the upcoming trench raid to build a bridge that bypasses a significant obstacle in the section’s path. Or maybe they’ll take Tunnelling, and try to strategically place mines under the enemy’s position.

The signaler-oriented options also centre on supportive actions but with an appropriate focus on communication. Linesman is meant to facilitate coordination with the player’s NPC allies within the narrative; if they maintain the lines they may be able to call another section or artillery for assistance. Wireless Set keeps the game’s momentum moving by permitting the player to send out a message or try to overhear the enemy — always with the potential cost of being overheard themselves or hearing something wrong. Despatch Rider is the most straightforward move on the playbook: you get a horse or a motorcycle.

My only worry in designing the playbook is that a Player Character could accumulate too many useful abilities in a long campaign. I’ve written the playbook so that a player only gets one of these abilities at the start of a game, and while they can acquire more through advancements, Ross Rifles is a game that is better suited to one-shots or short campaigns. I think it’s safe to assume that most campaigns won’t last long enough for this to become an issue, and in the cases where they do the character might end up being killed anyway. The only part that bothers me is that it’s improbable that a real soldier would have gotten both engineer and signaler skills instead of staying in their lane. In the end, this is just a game, and who knows, maybe if a sapper lived long enough they’d learn different things!

I made this playbook for use in my own game, but I hope other people enjoy it. If I get feedback from my own or other games perhaps I’ll make some adjustments. Regardless, I encourage people to play Ross Rifles and support the developers by buying the game. The legacy of the First World War is likely to be increasingly contested in the coming decades, but whatever people come to think of it a great many Canadians sacrificed their lives for their country. Ross Rifles is a loving tribute to their experiences and I’m really grateful to those who brought the game to life. Ross Rifles can be bought from Dundas West Games.

St. Ursula’s Convent

St. Ursula’s Convent was the first novel published in Canada which was also written by an author born in Canada. Though this fact alone entitles the novel to a place in the annals of Canadian literature, there are several other remarkable facts about the work, not the least of which being that it was written when the author was only seventeen. Published first in Kingston in 1824, St. Ursula’s Convent had been written ten years earlier when the author was a teenager living in Nova Scotia. That the author of Canada’s first home-grown novel was a young woman informs the novel in interesting ways.

St. Ursula’s Convent passes the Bechdel test by its second chapter. A refreshing surprise given my complaints about the lack of female characters in the last novel I read — however understandable that is in a eight-decade-old novel about the Spanish Civil War. In fact, the novel centres mainly on two female protagonists. The foremost character, Adelaide, is the daughter of a Quebec seigneur who attends a convent in Quebec City as part of her education. There she meets the titular Nun of Canada, Mother St. Catherine, whose story occupies much of the first half of the book. Many of the other characters of any importance are also women, with the story being told from their perspective.

It’s difficult to summarize the plot of St. Ursula’s Convent, as the novel covers significant ground in only 200 pages. The introduction to my edition notes that some early reviewers describes the pace as “manic”, and I think that’s a fair characterization. To give you some idea of the general plot: Adelaide attends a convent in Quebec City, where she meets the virtuous Mother St. Catherine, who shares with Adelaide her own disheartening life story. Adelaide also becomes close friends with Charlotte, the daughter of a British officer living in Quebec, and is invited to travel with them to England. During her travels to Europe, Adelaide discovers some secrets about her own past, and that of Mother St. Catherine.

The novel includes piracy, kidnapping, shipwrecks, and effusive praise of the Canadian countryside. Children are revealed to have been swapped at birth, people given up for dead make a surprise appearance, and as a consequence I understand why early readers were critical of the novel’s sometimes melodramatic plot. I can’t say I didn’t enjoy it though. The final quarter of the novel drags since by that time the central mysteries and drama have already been revealed and solved, and the denouement stretches longer than is necessary. The prose is mostly “tell” and not “show”, which generally hurts the novel. However, there are places where this works to the advantage of the story. At least two lengthy stretches of the novel consist of characters retelling their own pasts, and here the tell-don’t-show prose effectively captures the feeling of someone relating an anecdote to an audience. I’ll admit I’m more forgiving since I know the author was a teenager at the time — I couldn’t have written this well at seventeen. Perhaps I owe Ted Allen an apology for saying This Time A Better Earth “has the hallmarks of an early career work”, however.

Julia Catherine Beckwith Hart would go onto write two other novels, Tonnewonte, and Edith, or The Doom. I will definitely locate, read, and discuss these other two novels here at some point, although to my knowledge Tonnewonte has never received a reissue after it’s initial publication in 1825. There are probably scanned digital versions I can find online, but I might be thwarted in my efforts to find a physical copy to read. The case of Edith, or The Doom is even more unfortunate. Some selections from the novel were published in New Brunswick newspapers in 1848-9, but the finished novel was never published. There does exist a scholarly edition of Edith, in the form of an MA thesis completed by Jennifer Slauenwhite (née Jeffries) in 1991. At the moment that’s the most accessible version I can recommend. I’ve spoken with Ms. Slauenwhite, who stated that she might have the chance to revisit her edition of Edith in a few years, and hopefully find a publisher. I hope she gets the chance — I think Julia Catherine Beckwith Hart deserves more critical and scholarly attention that considers more than just St. Ursula’s Convent.

Perhaps because of its place in the history of Canadian literature, St. Ursula’s Convent has had better luck when it comes to remaining in print. My edition comes from the Centre for Editing Early Canadian Texts (CEECT), a sadly defunct project based out of Carleton University. Initially published by Carleton University Press, McGill-Queen’s took over distributing the books reissued by the CEECT when Carleton University Press closed up shop in 1999. Twelve books were reissued through the CEECT series, between 1985 and 2012. Of these I have St. Ursula’s Convent and their version of John Richardson’s Wacousta. On the basis of these two editions I highly recommend the CEECT versions of any book.

The 1991 CEECT reissue of St. Ursula’s Convent is the most recent to my knowledge, and remains in print through McGill-Queen’s. There were two earlier reissues, one through the “Maritimes Literature Reprint Series” based out of Mount Alison University in 1978, and one through The Cherry Tress Press in 1981. The most commonly available version of St. Ursula’s Convent appears to be the CEECT one, although I have seen a few copies of The Cherry Tree edition online. Naturally, the CEECT edition comes highly recommended.

This Time A Better Earth

In 2020, I read some Earle Birney, Mordecai Richler, and a few offerings from smaller Canadian presses like Coach House. The last book I read this year was Ted Allan’s 1939 novel, This Time A Better Earth.

This Time a Better Earth, by Ted Allan: A Critical Edition: Allan, Ted,  Vautour, Bart: 9780776621630: Books - Amazon.ca

The University of Ottawa Press publishes an excellent Canadian literature series, and my copy of Ted Allan’s novel is their 2015 reissue. I had previously read their reissue of Irene Baird’s Waste Heritage, and earlier in 2020 I read their fantastic collection of Earle Birney’s early Trotskyist writings, edited by Bruce Nesbitt. The epithet “critical edition” is more than applicable to the uOttawa Press editions, which contain scholarly introductions that highlights each work’s literary and historical importance.

This Time A Better Earth is a novel about the Spanish Civil War. Allan’s book is based on his own time serving in the International Brigade during the war, specifically the Abraham Lincoln Brigade which housed most of the American and Canadian volunteers. The novel follows a Canadian volunteer, Bob Curtis, who goes to Spain to serve in the International Brigades and support the Republican forces against the Spanish fascists. After being wounded during an aerial bombardment while travelling to the front, Bob is tasked with writing and sending English radio broadcasts to North America and sent to Madrid. In Madrid he cultivates a romance with a German photojournalist named Lisa Kammerer.

The only work about the Spanish Civil War I’d read previously was George Orwell’s autobiographical Homage to Catalonia. The two books make for an interesting contrast given that Orwell served in the Partido Obrero de Unificación Marxista (POUM) faction of the Republican forces rather than with the International Brigades. The POUM had a broadly Trotskyist membership that opposed the Stalinist communism adopted by much of the Popular Front that led the Spanish Republic forces. There was significant infighting between the POUM and the Popular Front in the Spanish Civil War, despite their being on the same side of the conflict, culminating in the May Days clashes in Catalonia.

From Orwell’s perspective the POUM was antagonized and suppressed by the Stalinists eventually being declared illegal. Ted Allan, however, adopts the perspective of the Popular Front government:

A week later came the news that the POUM had attempted to overthrow the Popular Front government in Barcelona. With it came the news of an intensified fascist drive in Asturian and Basque provinces. The communiques were brief and to the point. After three days of street fighting, the Popular Front government had restored order. The leaders of POUM were arrested.

This Time A Better Earth, 137

At best the description of the May Days street fighting is an over-simplification. Though in fairness to Allan, this is surely how the Popular Front government in Barcelona would have told their members in Madrid the events occurred. POUM is only mentioned in passing in This Time A Better Earth, since the action of the novel focuses on the International Brigades near Madrid. Several characters express exasperation at the Republican infighting, though in Allan’s novel the fault lies squarely with POUM.

Related to the brief mentions of the POUM in Allan’s novel, the problems of unification and divisions within the Republican forces recur in the story. Early on Comandante Kuller addresses the amassed volunteers of the International Brigades heading to the front to tell them that there are no politics or party divisions in the Brigades, they are simply unified by opposing fascism in Spain. Kuller’s speech is less a statement of fact than a instruction not to allow sectarian divisions to undermine the cause. Although most of the international volunteers are socialists or collectivists of some stripe, there are some interesting outliers. Late in the novel appears Captain Brown, a self-described Tory Imperialist from Britain who joined the International Brigades to promote Britain’s imperial interests in Spain. The novel does not have much explicit to say about the fault lines in the Republican forces yet it does effectively capture the perspective members of the International Brigade had towards the divisions.

As the critical introduction helpful explains, the character of Lisa Kammerer the protagonists’ love interest is based on real life female photojournalist Gerda Taro, who died during the Spanish Civil War. Taro was a compelling figure to fictionalize in the novel, although Lisa Kammerer’s personality and vocation are more interesting than her romance with protagonist Bob Curtis. The romance is the weakest aspect of the novel. The constant objectification of Lisa Kammerer the “pretty blonde” by the other characters, while maybe true to life, is also grating. The real Gerda Taro was a skilled artist and daring war photographer. While there are glimpses of that in her fictionalized counterpart, the more intriguing questions surrounding her motivations and vocation are sidelined for the stilted romance.

Don’t let my complaints about the romance subplot sour your impression of the novel, however. This Time A Better Earth is strongest in its depiction of the Civil War itself. Allan’s early portrayal of aerial bombardment employs a clipped, staccato prose that effectively communicates the chaos and dread. Bob is continually shaken by the destruction he witnesses, and unnerved by how his comrades come to accept it so quickly once stationed at the front. Though clearly aligned with the Republican cause, the novel does not avoid depicting their disorganization and frailty. This Time A Better Earth has the hallmarks of an early career work, but for a debut novel penned in Allan’s mid-twenties it impresses.

Next I plan on looking at another novel of historical interest, this time reprinted by the sadly defunct Centre for Editing Early Canadian Texts (CEECT). More on that soon.

A Gentleman of Pleasure

This blog was originally intended to recount my thoughts on non-fiction I was reading, as the majority of things I read do tend to be non-fiction. However, I embarked on this right before I introduced a steady stream of fiction to supplement my diet. I’ll probably change the name of the blog sooner or later but for at least the next two reviews it’s appropriate.

Late last year I happened to win a free copy of The Dusty Bookcase from a contest held on Brian Busby’s blog of the same name, on which the book is based. Both the blog and book consist of reviews of forgotten pieces of Canadiana, including both lost treasures and the justifiably forgotten. I originally chanced across Busby’s blog while researching Bilingual Today, French Tomorrow, one of a half-dozen screeds published in the late seventies and eighties by BMG Press, that I had found at used book sales in Ottawa. Busby had wrote an entry on the book, which was among the only explanations online of what exactly it was. That entry, and a follow-up on the author’s sequel Enough! both made it into the book of The Dusty Bookcase. Having read my copy through three times already, I’ll revisit it some-time in the future, but in the meantime it comes highly recommended.

dusty2bbookcase

I have intended to read Busby’s earlier books for a while, and after recently reading I Do Remember the Fall motivated my choice of today’s subject. In discussing that book I made much of how well John Glassco’s quotation on the back cover captured the essence of the novel. As it happens, Busby’s had written a biography of John Glassco, titled A Gentleman of Pleasure. As a biography, the subject matter of the book is obvious, since it beings with Glassco’s birth and concludes with his death. Born to the wealthy daughter of a Montreal magnate, and a father who would become bursar at McGill University, John was an early achiever. Despite his early academic promise, his parents held him back from university at age thirteen and instead sent him to a miserable boarding school existence. Eventually Glassco would reach McGill at fifteen and meet other rising literary figures in Montreal, including F.R. Scott, A.J.M. Smith, and Graeme Taylor. Taylor, four years his senior, would become a life partner of Glassco’s and constant companion for the next several decades.

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Glassco and Taylor’s relationship is one the most tragic aspects of the biography. Glassco would travel with Taylor to Paris when he was seventeen, settling in the Monteparnasse district alongside many artists and literary giants. The two engaged in various menage a trois with a succession of partners, but nevertheless remained together as the different third partners came and went. One of these triangles, involving a woman from Western Canada, put stress on their partnership, and Taylor returned to Canada. Glassco and the girl soon separated anyway, and he returned to Canada after he contracted tuberculosis. After Glassco’s recovery he and Taylor moved to a farm in Quebec’s Eastern Townships. By this time Taylor career as an author was basically behind him; his nominal success as a novelist was over. Though Glassco had always looked to Taylor for literary mentorship, he began to see Taylor as holding him back as a writer. The tragedy of their relationship comes to a head when Taylor is diagnosed with berger’s disease and swiftly deteriorates. Upon the death of Taylor one gets the sense Glassco not only mourned him, but also felt Taylor’s death freed him from a presence which had been increasingly holding him back.

In many ways the subsequent years proved him right in this regard. The bulk of Glassco’s literary output came only after Taylor’s death. There are other worthy details of Glassco’s life, such as his subsequent marriage to a Russian emigrant who gradually lost her mind and came to believe herself the reincarnation of Nefertiti, or his ongoing struggle to find a publisher who would publish his erotica. However, it is worth drawing attention to the main contribution of Busby’s biography in particular. A Gentleman of Pleasure impresses by attempting to parse the truth from John Glassco’s lies, and tracing the presence of the man through the works of the many literary figures he encountered throughout his life. Not only did Glassco’s early years with Taylor in Paris’ Monteparnasse inspire Glassco’s own critically acclaimed Memoirs of Monteparnasse, but Glassco and Taylor make small appearances in a half-dozen books by other authors who lived in Monteparnasse around the same time. Busby tracks down many of these references, including the allusions that change their names, and compares the stories to each other and the sparse known facts.

This is an impressive scholastic achievement, and necessary, given that Glassco delighted in pulling a fast one on people. As Busby explains, it is well known today that Memoirs of Monteparnasse contain significant embellishments and some outright falsehoods all built around a the kernel of Glassco’s real experiences. What Busby has managed is to write as good a biography as is possible about someone who was continually throwing up smoke-screens and misdirection. The biography was also a pleasant introduction to Glassco the author, situating his works within the context of influence drawn from both his personal experiences and literary surroundings. Best of all, it interested me in John Glassco’s body of work, which is no mean feat given I have barely any familiarity with poetry or erotica.

Perhaps I’ll start with Memoirs of Monteparnasse. Regardless, Glassco himself could only have been pleased to have as good a biography on himself made as A Gentle of Pleasure.

Little Comrades

Laurie Lewis began life in the Depression as the daughter of an important member of the Communist Part of Canada. Her father quickly became General Secretary of the Party’s Alberta wing, although he was a miserable alcoholic at home, and eventually lost his position in Alberta due to his addiction. The book is full of interesting anecdotes chronicling Laurie’s life from childhood to coming of age, and her inside perspective on the socialist circles she describes throughout is deeply humane.

Beginning in the depths of the depression and ending in McCarthy’s America, censorship of socialists recurs throughout the memoir. The Communist Party was banned for a time in the Canada of Laurie’s youth, and the anecdote which best reflects the memoir’s title involves Laurie and her brother being questioned by RCMP officers about their parents while children. The issue gains thematic importance by the memoir’s end, where Laurie refuses to betray her mother to the American authorities when questioned. The left-wing personalities populating the memoir are distinctly normal, and the scrutiny they face for their political beliefs would be ridiculous were it not so destructive to their lives.

Lewis is not afraid to present the Communist Party of Canada, or other circles she passed through, as they were, however. She notes explicitly that despite its emancipatory project and rhetoric, women in the Party were still expected to remain within their traditional roles. The division of labour within the household was not up for discussion, and never occurred to the men.

In the chapter “Lumpen” Lewis describes how her father instructed her to stay away from another group of children in the neighbourhood whose family he called lumpen. In Marxist thought, the Lumpenproletariet are members of the working class unlikely to achieve class consciousness. My own introduction to this term was through Huey Newman of the Black Panthers, who used it to describe the exclusion of black Americans from the white working-class proletariat. Lewis presents the terminology without explanation, presumably how her father presented it to her. This absence of elaboration lends an authenticity to the stories and a refreshing willingness to let them stand on their own and allow the reader to draw out their own meaning.

jews

The only image of this book on the internet, evidently

Strangely, most of my previous knowledge of the Communist Party of Canada comes from Erna Paris’ book Jews: An Account of their experience in Canada. Paris’ book is peculiar because, aside from the opening third about Montreal, it focuses on dropped threads in Canada’s Jewish community, like western farming communities and involvement with left-wing politics. Many Canadian Jews were attracted the Communist Party because of the supposedly positive Soviet policy towards Jews, but were barred from most high profile positions. After Khrushchev revealed the Stalinist purges of Russian Jews in 1956, there was an exodus of Jews from the Canadian Party.

I did not expect this oddly specific knowledge to be relevant to Lewis’ memoir, but was pleasantly surprised. After moving from Alberta to British Columbia, Lewis eventually ended up in Toronto. The socialist members of the Toronto’s Jewish community described in Paris’ book make a cameo appearance in the form of many of the friends of Laurie and her mother. The presence of New York’s Jewish community is also felt in the final stretch of the book, although I know virtually nothing about that community.

While I’ve focused on the passages of Lewis’ memoir which most spoke to me, my summation does not do justice to this touching work. I aspire to have a memory so strong when I’m an octogenarian!

Little Comrades is available from The Porcupine’s Quill, a lovely independent Canadian publisher, as is Laurie Lewis’ sequel memoir Love, and all that jazz, which I look forward to reading soon.

Next time: more from Canada’s margins…