Author Archives: chaman

Memoir melds crime with domestic reality

Victoria resident Alicia Priest’s new memoir, A Rock Fell on the Moon: Dad and the Great Yukon Silver Ore Heist (Harbour Publishing, 251 Pages, $32.95) is both exciting and informative. She will be launching the book on Wednesday, Sept. 17 at 7:30 p.m. at the Bard and Banker, 1022 Government Street. Priest recently talked to Lynne Van Luven about the research that went into her move from short-form journalism to the book format.   Most readers will have seen Priest’s frequent byline in publications such as The Globe and Mail, The Georgia Strait and Vancouver Magazine, but she’s risen to the challenge of a book with her usual professionalism.

You have so much experience as a newspaper, radio and magazine reporter — over 25 years — and the gratification that comes with constant publication.  Was it difficult to “settle down” and focus on one topic for a book?  

At first it was, not the topic so much as the organization and stamina. But once I’d completed the first three or four chapters, the book had me by the throat. I was possessed and couldn’t stop writing. The chapters just flowed. But, as always, writing is re-writing. I was grateful for the extended time.

Alicia, I found your memoir really engrossing, and I am glad you were able to tell this family story.  In the process of doing so, how did your emotional connection to or assessment of your father change?

If anything, it confirmed my suspicions that my dad was a deeply troubled man well before the silver heist. He likely was an unhappy boy. What I saw as a child was his affectionate, playful and clever nature, which was part of him too. He suffered as well but the wounds were self-inflicted and made at our expense. I always loved him.

Memoir requires the interplay of both research and memory.  Can you talk a little about how that worked for A Rock Fell on the Moon?

A lot of research went into the book, both delving into historical, forensic and legal archives and research through interviews.  I had more than 900 pages of the official RCMP file to go through, about a third of it redacted. As well, I had more than 300 personal letters to read. And several books and articles. My plan was to do all the research first and then concentrate on weaving my memories in and out with the documented facts. I took creative license in relating certain scenes that I knew about but for which I was not present. For the most part ,that is how the book came together but not completely, do check here and read the whole case. Not surprisingly, there were hiccups, stalls, and last minute discoveries. For instance, well into the writing I learned that the lawyer who represented my father at the 1963 preliminary hearing was living in Vancouver and recollected him and the event clearly. Of course, he had to be interviewed.

I have to confess that as I read your memoir, I found my sympathies shifting between your parents, but in the end, I felt your mother put up with a lot and that your father was one of those dangerous charismatic men whose constitution might not be suited to domesticity.  Is it unduly intrusive to ask how you ended up feeling about the marriage, once you had the book finished?

They never should have married. They were inherently mismatched. But I understand why they did. For my mother, it was a form of rebellion against her Mennonite upbringing and for my father, well, she was a dream come true. And, hell, they were infatuated with each other, which we know is a form of temporary insanity.   My dad put out many red flags  – his brooding, anti-social nature, his antipathy for cities, the fact that not one of his friends or relatives attended their wedding – which my mother ignored. She had a naïve belief that her love would bring out his better qualities and suppress his bad. Many women did during that era. And they did not know each other well – only six months through correspondence and four months in person.

I learned a great deal about Keno Hill, the Yukon Territory and silver mining from your memoir. So few Canadians have the background you have.   Looking back, how do you think your northern childhood shaped you as a person?

My childhood gave me so much: a passion for the natural world, for animals, for reading and writing, for music, for stillness, and the ability to amuse myself without TV, radio or telephone. I was and am never bored.

Recycled Shakespeare is a Riot

Goodnight Desdemona (Good Morning, Juliet)

A play by Ann-Marie MacDonald
Directed by Ron Jenkins

The Belfry

Sept 17 – Oct 20

Reviewed by Leah Callen

Constance Ledbelly, the unrecognized Queen of Academe, is a slave in inky chains at her desk at Queen’s.  While falling for a plagiarizing prof and trying to prove that Othello and Romeo and Juliet were originally comedies, she tips head-first into the recycling box – and into Shakespeareland.  Goodnight Desdemona is a playful, magical adventure in the theatre of the self, pitting real life against the stage

As the audience flowed into their seats, I couldn’t help feeling wowed by the visual detail of the set.  The staging is spectacular, with swordfights that get the blood going to ingenious trips through time and space.  If the Bard ever wandered into an episode of the Twilight Zone, this would be it.  Everything gets turned on its head, from a bloodthirsty Desdemona to a slutty Juliet – bloodlust and physical lust out of control.  The moment Romeo stops a sword with his long-stemmed rose like a Renaissance flower child, you have a feeling this star-crossed hero may take to cross- dressing.  Sexual orientation is up in the air as characters swoon for both sexes in their quest for satisfaction.

The physicality of the actors is a blast as they swing from the rafters and balance atop bookcases.  The contrast between cynical, awkward Constance and her melodramatic Shakespearean counterparts is a riot.  Lighting is literally striking in this production, as are the trippy sound effects and music.  In fact, this play milks as much out of the stage as possible with props and surprises.  Though the heroine is endlessly philosophizing with wonderful wordplay, you  never get bored, thanks to the theatrical action.

Daniela Vlaskalic is charismatic as the romantically challenged bookworm Constance Ledbelly, cloistered in her intelligence.  Her nerdy character borders on caricature, but she also has charming quirks, such as her parakeet pen, long johns and open-minded attractions.  Nicola Elbro is a punchy Desdemona who roars her way gloriously through the story.  Most of the actors here multi-act.  Jameson Matthew Parker brandishes a double-edged sword as both the lovesick Romeo and the bitter Iago.  Michael Dufays fumes as Othello, but also delights us as Juliet’s nurse – more Irish than Roman Catholic in this tale.

MacDonald’s parody of Shakespeare is hilarious.  The night I attended, I heard  non-stop laughter through Pippa Mackie’s upside down antics as desperate Juliet.  But some of the story struck me as over-the-top chaos:  as pieces of Constance show up scattered in this parallel world, I just couldn’t wrap my head around Tybalt balancing her appendix on a sword.   It stretches the limits of belief.  Costume-wise, the cross-dressing was a lot of fun, but I wasn’t sure I bought Desdemona’s hot pants.  They left me wondering why.

Still, this a joyful journey that celebrates the magic of theatre, as the mousy yet brilliant heroine struggles to grow a spine and appreciate her own value while giving the boot to the bad guys.  You’ll thank your lucky stars you saw it.


Leah Callen is an MFA student at the University of Victoria.  

Love’s Jazz can be painful

Love, & All That Jazz
By Laurie Lewis
Published by The Porcupine’s Quill

222 pages, $22.95

Reviewed by Jenny Boychuk

 How long are we supposed to wait for the ones we love? What happens when the years you’ve been apart equal how long you were together?  And when that number doubles?


Laurie Lewis’ memoir reminds us that, while we may use time to measure many things, it is not always an accurate way to measure love—if love can even be measured at all.  Lewis published her first book, Little Comrades (also a memoir), at the age of 81. Love, & All That Jazz acts as a sequel. She talks about discovering her love of writing late in life on her website:

“When you’ve lived a long time, as I have, it’s possible that you’ve had not just one life but several.”


            Lewis begins her  new memoir in 1950s New York City. She is in her early twenties and married to Sol, a “smart, honorable, kind” man, with whom she lives a content life; that is, until the day she walks past Gary Lewis, a jazz musician and future photographer for Pepsi-Cola, on the second floor of her apartment building. Neither can ignore the immediate attraction they feel for each other.


            It is summer when Lewis begins to see Gary, who is also married, in secret. They meet at bus stops, go for breakfast, and, eventually, Lewis finds herself in his apartment. A few weeks before Christmas, she leaves a note for Sol and sets off to begin her new life with Gary. Living in a tiny, cold studio apartment in Manhattan with hardly any furniture and little money, they are both happier than they could have imagined. Within the next year, they are married and their daughter Amanda is born.


            But while the first years are happy, things soon begin to turn and Lewis, who is heartbreakingly innocent and naïve, tries to support her husband through his drug addictions, alcoholism and mental illness. He cheats on her. He lies. He abuses. But still, her love sees him through every recovery, every relapse. Even when he stands before her as a stranger, she manages to see the man she fell in love with on the staircase. 


            Her compassion is evident even many years later, as she recounts how those years passed:


“Gary’s periods of serious illness run together in my mind. How hard to write about this, to sort out the memories, to make decisions about how much honesty, where, and when. I see things now so differently.”


            Lewis aptly describes the ‘50s and ‘60s NYC art scene with vibrancy and detail; she takes her readers into a time when Andy Warhol was “a talented and relatively unknown illustrator,” Ginsburg and Kerouac were reading in local bars, and Ray Charles was playing in California clubs.


            “There was Ray with his piano, the musicians grouped at the side rather formally, and the Raelettes in front of the band, the stage only slightly raised. Ray was perspiring and Gary thought he needed something to wipe his brow, so he passed him a silk handkerchief. … The Raelettes swaying, vocal backup, all the love and energy in the room. Gary’s photographs of them were more soulful than the ones for Pepsi-Cola World, certainly. This was his spiritual home.”


            Eventually, strong-willed and independent Lewis steps outside of her relationship and builds a life for herself and Amanda in Ontario. She becomes a single working mother in a time when daycare doesn’t exist, and the space she gives her marriage will last far longer than the seven years she and Gary were together. Lewis questions what it means to build a life, and what happens when you are living a kind of life you didn’t intend to. Are there people we are meant to be with no matter what? And why do we keep coming back to them?


Lewis’ prose is an easy kind of beauty, and the story reads as if she sat down and typed it out within a single afternoon. She is humble, honest and likeable, which makes it difficult not to care about her story and her life. Even the ending lends itself to the book’s humanness and honesty; it is strangely satisfying:  “But I have to get to the end of this book. Have to finish it now, because I’m sick of writing about the past. I’d like to wake up tomorrow and exist in the day that is, whatever it is.”


I think the best books are ones that manage to both end and begin on the last page.


Jenny Boychuk lives, reads and writes in Sorrento, B.C. 



Novel captures culture clashes


By Diana Davidson

Brindle and Glass

280 pages, $19.95

 Reviewed by Candace Fertile

Given the climate, people had huge challenges surviving in the late-nineteenth century in small communities on the Candian prairies. But the struggles with cold, heat, and bugs, to name just a few, are almost minor compared to the problems created by human beings: discrimination based on gender, ethnicity, and class. Diana Davidson does a solid job in her debut novel, Pilgrimage, of recreating both the physical landscape of Lac St. Anne, in the Edmonton, Alberta, area,  and the ideologies that affect its inhabitants’ behaviour from December, 1891 to March, 1893.

Lac St. Anne is a mix of European, Cree, and Métis people, languages, and customs. Power is held by the few Europeans who tend to be dismissive of the aboriginal people while feeling quite free to treat them brutally. Virginié Cardinal points out the variety in her family background:  “ . . . everyone here, except Nohkum [grandmother], is a mix of something: Cree, French, Scottish, Blackfoot, Dene, and Lord knows what else!” Her teenage daughter, Mahkesîs, is one of the three main female characters, and like the other two, Mahkesîs is treated vilely by James Barrett, the Hudson’s Bay store manager.  Barrett also preys on Moira Murphy, a young Irish immigrant in his employ. And his third victim is his own wife Georgina, who is not above abusing those she can.

Mahkesîs, Moira, and Georgina all have secrets having to do with sensuality and desire, and in the case of the two young women, love. In this novel, sexuality is a trap for women, just another thing that hampers their lives even if conception was the result of love. Certainly men are adversely affected, but the focus is on the female characters and their lack of power.

Given the novel’s time and place, readers should not expect a happy ending, and as the novel progresses, the sadness and death mount. Moira loves Gabriel, Mahkesîs’s handsome brother, and he loves her, but will that be enough to save her from the clutches of the Barretts? Mahkesîs seeks solace in a convent and in unconventional love. Georgina devises cruel plans while revealing that her own life was severely damaged when her parents married her off to a man older than her father.

The moments of happiness are meagre for all the characters, and Davidson does not shy away from showing the negative effects of enforced religion and language  — or the huge problems of created by alcohol addiction. When cultures come together, the meeting can be mutually beneficial. It can also be a collision in which the powerful abuse their position, leading to suffering and loss. While Davidson occasionally lapses into the stereotypical, the lessons of this novel are valuable ones.


Candace Fertile lived for many years in Edmonton and now teaches English at Camosun College

Montreal band ignites Rifflandia audience

By Nadia Grutter

“Finally, someone saying something worthwhile,” said the guy encroaching on my umbrella space.

Stars’ co-lead singer Torquil Campbell had just thanked the audience for “helping create culture” when the band took the main stage during Victoria’s Rifflandia Music Festival’s final hours. Playing Rifflandia was a first for the Montreal-based indie band, but they worked the crowd like veterans.

“This is perfect!” yelled Campbell when a sudden downpour invoked frantic backpack searches for plastic ponchos. He stood at the edge of the stage, raised his arms and commanded the park with one of the band’s newer releases, “The North.”

“It’s so cold in this country…”

All eyes turned back on Amy Millan, Evan Cranley, Chris Seligman, Pat McGee and, of course, Campbell. Someone even shushed me.

Despite the melancholic nature of Stars’ music, lead singers Millan and Campbell warmed up the crowd with energy comparable only to the distant lightning. This is the fourth time I have seen Stars live, and the fourth time I have been charmed by the pair’s hilarious onstage antics. During the sexually suggestive chorus of “We Don’t Want Your Body,” Campbell chased Millan around the stage, mischievously wiggling the microphone wire behind him like a tail. The two sang to each other with such authenticity that it felt like watching a real conversation.

The band’s love for sharing the stage translated to the audience, whose dismay at the weather quickly turned into shared excitement (and shared umbrellas). When Campbell held out the microphone during the 2004 hit “Your Ex-Lover is Dead,” the crowd sang back the lyrics cohesively.  Everyone smiled at the pride with which Campbell brandished his melodica and swooned over Millan’s short dress. And people can blame the rain all they want, but tears were definitely shed.

After a short set of songs back from the Set Yourself on Fire days to their 2012 album The North, Torquil made one request before their last song.

“Dance! There is nothing else to do but dance.”

At this, most people in the audience threw up their hands and did just that. Campbell disappeared from the stage, reappearing moments later with a handful of children who danced the hardest of all of us. He and Millan twirled around the kids, igniting their last moments onstage with the wonder and freedom good music should stir in us.

I left the show with wrecked Converse and an insatiable urge to hug everyone I passed. It’s rare to see such a down-to-earth show from a successful band and leave having experienced the music, not just watched it. Stars’ first performance at Rifflandia confirmed the significance of simplicity and truth—not just in music but in everyday life.


University of Victoria student Nadia Grutter listens to music and writes when she’s out of classes

Memoir captures residential-school trauma

Bev Sellars was separated from her family twice in her young life: in the fall of 1960, when she was five, she was sent to be treated for tuberculosis at the Coqualeetza hospital in Sardis, near Vancouver; three weeks after she was released from hospital, she was required by Canadian law to attend St. Joseph’s Mission school, south of Williams Lake.  Run by the Oblates of Mary Immaculate, her experience at the  school is now part of the terrible history that marked First Nations families for the past 50 years.  Bev Sellars was at St. Joseph’s from September 1962 until June 1967. Her memoir, They Called Me Number One: Secrets and Survival at Indian Residential School has just been released by Talon Books, a Vancouver publisher.  Recently, Chief Sellars spoke to a standing-room-only crowd of elders, students and professors at First People’s House on the University of Victoria Campus.  “I was 38 before I went to university,” she told her audience.   Afterwards, she answered Lynne Van Luven’s questions in an e-mail interview.


“Like a computer that cannot run at full potential if it has viruses, Aboriginal people need to eradicate the destructive viruses so we can run at our full capacity, ” you say towards the end of your book.   What would be the first “viruses” you would like to see eradicated today?

The fact that many Aboriginal people have been led to believe that they are inferior.  That is the biggest virus that needs to be eradicated.  If you don’t feel equal with others, how in the world can you fulfill your potential?   If all people are treated as equals despite cultural differences that need to be respected, then that will be a good start.

What would you say is the biggest hurdle Aboriginal youth face today?

Acquisition of the basic skills to compete in the world today.   This includes knowing who they are as Aboriginal people.  Not too many Aboriginal youth make it to the university level and many do not even finish high school.   Also, many of the ones who do make it to university feel an obligation to use their education to help fight for their human rights as Aboriginal people.   It would be nice if my grandchildren could study a discipline that they enjoy and not one with that obligation over their head.   Someone said if you are born Aboriginal, you are born into the political world.    But we are fighting for the rights that our ancestors lived and died for, the younger generation will take up the fight if need be.   That is sad that this is the way it has to be still, in 2013.

You and your peers suffered in so many ways in the residential schools, in your case, in St. Joseph’s Mission at Williams Lake.  As a white reader, I felt angry on your behalf when I read your book.  How have you managed and learned from your own anger over the years?

Before I met my husband Bill, I didn’t manage my anger.  I would either blow up at someone or I would get so angry I would just shut down — and that was not productive.  Bill showed me that talking about things and dealing with the issue was more productive.   I am still angry about the way Aboriginal people are still treated, but now I don’t just seethe and do nothing about it.  I have found my voice and make my views known.

I have heard many First Nations leaders say that “education” is the key to Aboriginal success.  If you agree, can you explain how you define that term, and how it should be achieved?

It is entirely inadequate to suggest that education is simply a matter of trying to achieve non-Aboriginal graduation rates for Aboriginal children. True reconciliation in education would mean Aboriginal people having the opportunity to define citizenship and determine how education will develop Aboriginal citizens to fulfill their nation’s goals. As with the rest of Canada, education for Aboriginal people would be about identity, citizenship, nationhood and taking their rightful place in the world. Not until this ideological foundation is in place will Aboriginal people be able to go on and meaningfully define education, its goals, and its standards of success well as equivalent graduation rates for their children and adult learners. There has to be a shift in thinking about Aboriginal people and by Aboriginal people.

Yours is the first full-length memoir to be published out of the Williams Lake community.  What would you say to others who have similar stories to tell?  

I would encourage them to write their stories even if they are not going to publish them.   I would hope that they at least would share [stories] with their younger relatives who need to know the history.  Maybe some will write it and burn it and that’s okay too.  I found that writing my story and connecting the dots between my childhood and my adult life gave me such an insight into the dysfunctional behavior I needed to change.    Mine is just one story of many that need to be told, and I hope my book encourages other to tell their stories as well.

Coteau novels offer fresh prairie perspectives


By Anne Lazurko

256 pages, $19.95


By Kim McCullough

248 pages, $19.95

Both published by Coteau Books and reviewed by Diana Davidson

Two debut novels from Western Canadian writers challenge us to think differently about the West – both past and present.

Anne Lazurko’s novel Dollybird focuses on the small town of Ibsen, Saskatchewan, in 1906.  Her protagonist Moira is a young unmarried pregnant woman journeying from Newfoundland to find anonymity and escape scandal.  Moira is a headstrong woman determined to make a life for herself and her infant-to-be – even if it means becoming a Dollybird, a phrase that describes both a housekeeper and a whore, for a hapless man trying to make his fortune in wheat.  In the opening chapter, while on the “grain train” from Halifax, Moira notices a young man travelling alone with his toddler son and empathizes with his plight.

Lazurko writes from both Moira and the young widowed father’s points-of-view in alternating chapters.  This structure allows her to explore tension between Moira’s inherited Scottish pragmatism and Dillan’s Irish-inflected Nova Scotian Catholicism.  There is a certain irony that both come from the East coast to landlocked Saskatchewan.  A scene where Dillan labours at digging a well proves to be a turning point in their unconventional relationship.

An early scene of a medicine show in Moosejaw shows us Moira’s inherited interest in her father’s profession as a doctor.  Subsequent scenes in which Moira witnesses and/or practices healing will interest readers of historical medical fiction.  Lazurko’s novel also tells us about prostitution, women’s (lack of) rights, and difficulties of pregnancy and childbirth.  These themes make Dollybird a newer settlement narrative.

            The novel’s strength lies in its glimpses into not only the hardship but also the tight sense of community that marked pioneering men and women.  While Ibsen is a real place name in Saskatchewan, the name also calls to mind Ibsen’s Nora trapped in her dollhouse.  Lazurko’s title speaks to the confining roles women were permitted to have as the West was  “settled” and to the difficulties women faced when they, like Moira, tried to resist them.

Kim McCullough’s Clearwater tells the story of two young people at the end of the 20th century who are struggling to make sense of their fractured worlds.  Claire and Jeff meet when Claire’s family moves into the other side of Jeff’s family’s duplex in Clearwater Lake, Northern Manitoba.  McCullough juxtaposes the teenagers’ relationship against the harsh North, the violence inherent in Jeff’s home life, and the violence that comes to define Claire’s.  Jeff and Clair’s desire for one another is real and complicated and drives the narrative.

Place is important in Clearwater.  In her descriptions of landscape, and how it mirrors the characters’ interior lives, there are moments in McCullough’s book that remind me of Lawrence’s “The Loons.”  Take, for example, the second clause of the opening line: “the sky is in ink-dark canvas held in place at its bottom edge by the pointed tops of even blacker spruce trees.”  Later, when Claire returns to Regina, the urban prairie is a place where “snow gathers on the ground in puffy drifts, then shifts into whirling wraiths across the sidewalk.”

McCullough chooses a tricky structure for the novel: she moves back and forth between third person and first person for both Jeff and Claire’s perspectives.  It works.  The point-of-view volleys to create both intimacy and distance between the reader and the story.

McCullough knows her teenagers: the novel’s narrative voice is never condescending towards them (even when it is omniscient) and her characters’ dialogue and actions consistently read as authentic.  She also deals, adeptly, with the difficult legacy of colonialism and racism against First Nations and Métis peoples in Jeff’s identity and in his mother Rita’s history at residential school.  McCullough’s novel weaves issues of domestic violence, sexual assault, substance abuse/addiction, and suicide into the story of Jeff and Claire’s relationship with honesty and care.  And she transitions them into believable, flawed, and compelling adult characters in the second half of the novel.

Never preachy, Clearwater deals with a complex postcolonial, Northern setting and people making their lives in ways that will appeal to both YA and literary fiction readers.  It is a layered book. And even though McCullough’s story is difficult, and often dark, it ends with a promise of renewal and, maybe even, redemption at the water.

Check Coteau Books ( and the authors’ websites ( and for more events.


Diana Davidson’s debut novel Pilgrimage is out this fall with Brindle & Glass.  She has been long- listed for CBC Writes and won a Writers Guild of Alberta award.  Davidson blogs at

First novel explores Down syndrome

Edmonton author Theresa Shea was born in Maryland and raised in several places in the United States. In 1977, she moved to Canada. She has published poetry, fiction, essays reviews and articles in a number of magazines and journals. Earlier this summer, Edmonton journalist Elizabeth Withey initiated a Question and Answer exchange with Shea about her first novel, The Unfinished Child (Brindle & Glass, $19.95). Here is an edited version of their conversation.

What motivated you to write this book?
I got pregnant with my first child when I was 34. I was going to be 35 when the baby was born. I didn’t understand that 35 is the marker for the medical community to put a big red risk stamp on your file, and doctors are legally bound to give you the genetic-counselling talk. I was so unprepared for that. After I gave blood, there was a message from the doctor’s office to call but it was closed. I spent the weekend convinced there was something wrong with our baby. I had a one-in-268 chance, instead of the normal. I remember being outraged: you have wrecked my pregnancy. I felt like I’d been robbed.

What did you learn from that?
What I realized is that doctors have to look for what’s wrong; that’s part of what they do. I decided to get a midwife; they tend to look for what’s right. I didn’t see doctors for [the births of] my other kids. My husband and I, we’re moral cowards. We decided, we didn’t want to have to make a decision. This is a very different decision from abortion. My children were all wanted; we planned to have these kids. This is the first time in human reproduction we have choices about the children we’re having. It’s worth a larger discussion, and we’re not really having it. Is it better to know in advance? Are we hardwired to know these things? I think we rise to the occasion when we have to; I’m not so sure we do it so well in advance. I worry about human compassion. Compassion is a muscle that needs to be exercised. If you eliminate those contact moments when you see people who are less advantaged, then compassion becomes weak. What are the ramifications of a less compassionate society?

What was that the Down syndrome community’s reaction to your book?
Really, really positive. I don’t have a child with Down syndrome . . . I’m humbled about how it’s been received. It’s a hard read. The Down syndrome population has been hugely reduced in size because of technology. So if you bring a child into the world knowing already that its number has been reduced, that’s a painful thing. Most parents are going to love that child, but the greater fear is that the culture doesn’t. People in the Down syndrome community want their stories to be told.

Have you had any negative feedback?
Many readers are mad at me for a decision that one of the character makes. People are very upset. I think that’s wonderful. That tells me something. I think the human ability to love and care is vast. Vast. The function of art is finding moments that make us want to become a better person, that make us think: I’m a shallow person, I need to be better. We deprive ourselves of those moments when we can become better people. This isn’t only about Down syndrome. It’s about any condition, any abnormality.

What was your goal with The Unfinished Child?
What I wanted to do [was] create likeable characters and put them in difficult situations. The book loosely gives the history of automatic institutionalization, then this nice integration period and now, the phase of termination. The storyline juxtaposes the different choices and the emotional fallout, no matter what decision you make. I remember someone once said, “What’s better: to be stabbed or shot?” It hurts, no matter what. Ultimately, with the book I wanted to start a conversation. Life is risky; bringing children into the world is risky. Technology . . . allows us to have more say, to have more control. Is this positive? Is this negative? It concerns me. Are we engineering children in the right way?”
This isn’t a “have a baby at any costs” book. My book is about love, the power of love. People can read my book and know they’re not alone. If I’d had a baby with Down syndrome, I know I’d have loved that baby. If I have an agenda at all, it’s to infuse a more human element into the prenatal testing arena. When you move from the general (people) to the specific (a character), then the full ramifications of people’s decisions become more poignant. . . . I still cry when I read from [the book]. I think, oh for God’s sake, I know how it ends! The doctors weren’t evil people, the parents weren’t evil people. It’s just so moving.”

Oral history documents Indian women’s struggle

Disinherited Generations:
Our Struggle to Reclaim Treaty Rights for First Nations Women and their Descendants
By Nellie Carlson & Kathleen Steinhauer
As told to Linda Goyette
Published by the University of Alberta Press
174 pages, $24.95

Reviewed by Joy Fisher

In her foreword, activist Maria Campbell calls this a “small and modest” book about “kitchen work” – revolutionary work by women that, in the end, always gets finished.

Through the recollections of two of the leaders of the Indian Rights for Indian Women movement, this book recounts the quarter-century struggle to regain treaty rights for First Nations women who “married out”— that is, married non-status First Nations or non-aboriginal men, thereby losing status as treaty Indians for themselves and their children.

Nellie Carlson and Kathleen Steinhauer grew up as friends in the prairies, both Cree women eligible for rights under Treaty Six. Signed in 1876 by their ancestors and representatives of the Crown, Treaty Six promised one square mile of land for each family of five in a permanent reserve, hunting and fishing rights, education benefits, health benefits and annual treaty payments. Beginning in 1951, only band members registered under the Indian Act had the legal right to live on-reserve, share in band resources, own or inherit property, vote for band council and chief and be buried on the reserve.

Under Section 12(1)(b), any First Nations woman who married a non-status Indian, a Metis man or a non-aboriginal man would lose her Indian status regardless of her ancestry. This often forced exile from a home community for First Nations women. Nellie Carlson lost her treaty rights when this section came into effect because her husband, Elmer Carlson, was Metis.

Kathleen Steinhauer lost her treaty rights when she married Gilbert Anderson, whose band had lost treaty rights under yet another provision of the Indian Act. When Anderson asked Steinhauer whether she was willing to give up her treaty rights to marry him, she replied: “Never mind. I’ll get them back.” Eventually, she did— and so did some 170,000 others who had lost their rights under Section 12(1)(b).

The struggle of these women to reclaim their rights for themselves and their children, and the network of First Nations women who worked with them in the Indian Rights for Indian Women movement, took decades and met with resistance not only from the government, but from some First Nations men, who referred to them as “squaw libbers,” and even from some women who had married status Indians, thereby retaining their rights, or, in some cases, gaining rights they were not previously entitled to.
Telling the story also took a long time. The conversations of the women with journalist Linda Goyette, then an Alberta resident, began in the fall of 2000 and ended in the summer of 2011. Nellie Carlson was 85 years old by the time the book was completed, and Kathleen Steinhauer was 80 when she died in 2012, shortly before its publication.

This is not an easy book to read for many reasons. Documented history is not as much fun as, say, historical fiction. Furthermore, it can be painful to focus on injustice, even when justice triumphs in the end. In addition, the repetitive nature of spoken history can be tedious as the subjects return to the same event or story again and again. But uncovering hidden history —and isn’t women’s history always hidden? — can also be like unearthing buried treasure. This book is a gem.

Joy Fisher graduated from the UVic writing program in June 2013.

Hostage memoir raises ethical questions

A House in the Sky
By Amanda Lindhout and Sara Corbett
Published by Scribner
373 pages, $29.99

Reviewed by Lynne Van Luven

Curiosity: it drives humans to new delights and sometimes to near death.

Freelance journalist Amanda Lindhout grew up in Sylvan Lake, Alberta, but she always imagined a destiny larger than her small-town beginnings. In childhood, her gateway to the world was her collection of second-hand National Geographic magazines.
Early in her co-written memoir she describes the aftermath of a violent altercation between her mother and her mother’s boyfriend:
“My mind swept from beneath the bed sheets, up the stairs, and far away, out over the silky deserts and foaming seawaters . . . through forests full of green-eyed night creatures and temples high on hills. I was picturing orchids, urchins, manatees, chimps. I saw Saudi girls on a swing set and cells bubbling under a microscope, each one its own waiting miracle. I saw pandas, lemurs, loons. I saw Sistine angels and Masai warriors. My world, I was pretty certain, was elsewhere.”

And she makes it so. Lindhout is everything a freelancer should be: resourceful, determined, apparently fearless. She leaves Sylvan Lake at 19 and moves to Calgary, where she immediately begins working in bars and restaurants in order to save up for travel. Men disappoint her, but she achieves her life of travel: she backpacks through Latin America, Laos, Bangladesh, India, Sudan, Syria and Pakistan. By the time she gets to Afghanistan and Iraq, she’s a fledgling television reporter. And she has a column in the Red Deer Advocate, which pays her a paltry $35 for each story she files. An amazing start for a self-taught writer, anyone would say.

But then in August 2008, Lindhout goes to Somalia, titillated because it is billed as “the most dangerous place on earth” at the time. On her fourth day there she – and her travelling companion, former Aussie boyfriend and photographer Nigel – are kidnapped.
The bulk of the memoir covers how Lindhout survives her 460 days as a hostage, held for ransom by a rag-tag group of Muslim fundamentalist agitators who blunder into kidnapping the Canadian and the Australian when they really meant to kidnap the other two journalists staying at the Hotel Shamo in Mogadishu – an American and a Frenchman working for – incredible irony here – National Geographic.“I’d like to say that I hesitated before heading into Somalia,” Lindhout writes, “but I didn’t. . . . Surely, I thought, I’d find stories worth telling. Surely, there was merit in trying to tell them. I knew that bad stuff happened. I wasn’t totally naïve. I’d seen plenty of guns and misery by then. But for the most part, I’d always been off to one side, enjoying the good, the harm skipping past me as if I weren’t there at all.”

A House in the Sky takes readers right into the series of sordid rooms, the boredom, the brutality and the sexual assaults that Lindhout lives through. Because she is a woman, she is treated far more harshly than Nigel is, and there are many tensions between the pair. The book raises number of moral questions about putting oneself in harm’s way while fuelled by good intentions. It’s a book every freelance writer and every intrepid traveller should read. Lindhout and Nigel are freed eventually after their respective families come up with a $600,000 ransom. As a result of her ordeal, Lindhout founded the non-profit Global Enrichment Foundation ( to support aid and education in Kenya and Somalia.
Readers of A House in the Sky may be either inspired or infuriated by Lindhout. Is she an opportunistic voyeur or an idealistic voyager? I can’t quite decide, but the memoir is so well written, that it carries you along, even as you are arguing with yourself about Lindhout’s ethics and sense of responsibility.

Lynne Van Luven once wanted to be a foreign correspondent.