From the Library: Finding Edward, Quiet Time, and Ducks

Finding Edward by Sheila Murray (Cormorant Books)

Finding Edward is a finalist for the Governor General’s Literary Award for Fiction.

The two main characters in this book are Jamaican-Canadian with a 70 year age difference. Cyril grew up in Jamaica and–having just lost his mother–has recently come to Toronto to attend university. Edward was given up as a young boy by his white mother in 1923 and had to grow up without his parents. Cyril learns about Edward and is intrigued enough to want to learn more about him. His research on Edward is woven into the other areas of his life, so as we learn about Edward’s experience as a Black man in Canada, Cyril learns what it’s like to be one in 2012.

The streetcar rolled on, and he saw all around him and through the windows the variety of eyes and noses and hair. He heard several languages. The faces were fascinating. In Brown’s Town, just about everyone was dark, descended mostly from West Africa. Some few were lighter, brown-skinned as he was. There were two Chinese families, and he could count the whites on the fingers of one hand.

Cyril’s cousins and friends warn him about keeping his head down, especially when he’s out walking by himself at night, which he likes to do. His new friends help him find a job and teach him about the politics and world of social justice activism.

Cyril woke in the cold of his basement. It was three in the morning. He was frightened, not by anything in his present but by the future, which seemed suddenly as bleak and as dark as the ocean floor. He pulled his knees to his chest, pressed his back to the basement wall, so alarmed by what he’d done, coming here to Canada.

Edward’s life takes him from Toronto to Africville, overseas in WWII, across to the logging camps on the west coast and back to Toronto again. He spent some time as a sleeping car porter on the trains while in Halifax – a subject I had just read about in Suzette Mayr’s Giller-winning book Sleeping Car Porter.

Some Sundays, when he’s sitting beside her in the pew at church, he thinks that this God they all seem to love might exist after all. Even if only in Africville.

Woven into the story are many real moments in Canadian Black history: experiences in Edward’s life and learned about by Cyril. I learned a lot from this book without it ever feeling like a history lesson. The stories of Cyril and Edward are beautifully told with tenderness and compassion. Both are gentle souls, but not without pits of anger that surge up in times of injustice.

Quiet Time by Katherine Alexandra Harvey (Nimbus Publishing)

When I saw the cover of Quiet Time, I immediately thought of The Handmaid’s Tale. But the story is very different.

Grace is the daughter of artists who were often neglectful of their children. She and her two siblings were sometimes left to figure things out on their own. As is often the case under these circumstances, Grace looked for attention from others. Or sought the numbing qualities of drugs and alcohol.

The imparted lesson was that quietness was synonymous with goodness. And good was all I ever wanted to be.

I don’t want to die. I just don’t want to be myself anymore.

When Grace meets Jack she’s smitten, and they embark on a relationship fueled by art, sex, and drugs, which eventually takes a dark turn. As Jack’s career takes off, Grace starts to feel insignificant. She needs to fight back for a life that has been buried in self-loathing.

I was on edge, spooked and half-cut, driven by my desperation to find Jack. It was always stronger than any of my other emotions. It was carnal, compulsory, illogical.

I was sure that I was disappearing, fading, each fragment of my body semiopaque. I checked my hand, touching the arm of the chair to make sure I was still made up of solid matter, that it didn’t pass through me.

Quiet Time is a coming-of-age story of resilience with a touch of the supernatural.

Ducks: Two Years in the Oil Sands by Kate Beaton (Drawn & Quarterly)

Despite my reluctance to read graphic novels, I knew I had to read this one. Kate Beaton is a Nova Scotian superstar. Not only has her work been recognized in the New York Times, it has also been made into a children’s TV program.

Ducks is not for children, though. Ducks is about the two years Kate spent in the oil fields of Alberta, back in 2007, trying to pay off her student loan. She knows it won’t be easy – she won’t be able to come home for visits – but she also knows a lot of Atlantic Canadians go out there to work… How bad can it be? She discovered that when women are outnumbered by men 50:1, the culture can be very different. She was constantly stared at, propositioned, and/or overheard men talking about her body. But, the worst part, was that, because of this different culture, she felt the pressure to conform and just “keep quiet and take it”. The experience of this has stuck with her over the years, and is conveyed very clearly and compellingly in her graphic novel. (I should add that Beaton makes it clear that there were also many kind, friendly people there.) Ducks made me think about how someone might behave in a way they never imagined they would because of their circumstances. And, after reading the book, I see how it can easily happen.

Fun Facts: 1) Kate Beaton is especially popular at my house as she is an Argosy alumna – the Mount Allison University school newspaper where my daughter is Co-Editor-in-Chief this year.

2) Ducks has been shortlisted for the Canada Reads debates this year, defended by Mattea Roach – another Nova Scotian who recently had a record-breaking winning streak on Jeopardy.

3) Kate Beaton is married to Morgan Murray who wrote the hilarious Dirty Birds.

What have you been reading from the library lately?


19 thoughts on “From the Library: Finding Edward, Quiet Time, and Ducks

  1. Lisa Hill says:

    *chuckle* In January I have been reading books I bought myself because I wanted them, and *not* reading books from the library .
    But now one of my reserves has come in and I am back on track as a regular user of my library!

    • Naomi says:

      It’s hard balancing library books with owned books! I try to alternate them, but it depends on how many library books I have. (Like I have no control over that… Lol)

  2. Laila@BigReadingLife says:

    I’ve heard a lot of good things about Ducks. I think I’m going to have to give it a try.

    I’m always reading books from the library, ha ha. (So far I’ve read three of my own books this year, though – yay!) Right now I’m reading a mystery from last year called The Verifiers by Jane Pek. I’m really enjoying it!

  3. Anne Smith-Nochasak says:

    I had the same thoughts when I saw the cover of Quiet Time. I have been hoping to look into this one.

    • Naomi says:

      I quite liked it once I got the expectation of what I thought it was going to be like out of my head. I would say it’s a character study more than anything else, so there’s a good chance you’ll like it!

  4. annelogan17 says:

    I really need to read Ducks! Everyone is in love with it, and I was going to go to her event here in Calgary but I stayed home at the last minute b/c it was a blizzard outside. Now I really feel as though I missed out!

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