Spaces to Fill
Benchmark Press / 23 January 2018

Spaces to Fill: And A Century To Do It by Jack Boan Published by Benchmark Press Review by Keith Foster $25.00 ISBN 978-1-927352-34-2 “When a door opens, walk through it.” This is one of the chapter titles in Jack Boan’s autobiography, Spaces to Fill: And A Century To Do It. It’s also Boan’s personal philosophy. He’s walked through many doors in his 100-year-long life. Boan was born in 1917, a few miles southeast of Briercrest, SK. He ran away from home at age five but returned later that day. He started selling newspapers when he was eleven, boarding the two trains that stopped at Briercrest daily. After tinkering with radios, he worked as a farm labourer, earning fifty cents or sometimes a dollar a day, good money for a fourteen-year-old. Boan relives experiences with his relatives. One day, while enjoying a family reunion near a river, he noticed his brother’s head submerging. Young Boan was able to pull him ashore. When World War II broke out, Boan enlisted in the Royal Canadian Air Force, attaining the rank of sergeant. Airsickness was a major problem for flight crews, so Boan purchased small paper bags from a grocery store for just such…

Cowboy In Me, The
LM Publications / 11 January 2018

The Cowboy in Me by Robin Langford Published by LM Publication Services Ltd. Review by Shelley A. Leedahl $28.00 ISBN 9-780995-819009 “These stories are one hundred percent factual, no yarns or embellishments.” This is an enticing entry into septuagenarian cowboy Robin Langford’s memoir, The Cowboy in Me. The Maple Creek-born author candidly shares his life’s journey between 1947 and 2016, and readers are advised to hang on for a ride that delivers more ups and downs than a bucking bronco. “Cowboy up” is a term that defines what Langford and his hard-working second wife, Penny, often had to do while they tended both cattle and kids on ranches between Williams Lake, BC and the Prince Albert region of SK. The work was physically arduous and eminently dangerous, and the culmination of poor weather, aggressive bears, pack rats, raging bulls, moody cows, temperamental horses, frequent job changes, province-hopping, bad deals, disharmonious neighbours, disagreeable bank managers, and health issues would be enough to make anyone raise the white flag, but the Langfords stuck it out, even when it was often difficult to “put groceries on the table”. In one entertaining anecdote Langford explains that when he and Penny “finally” got married in…

Extended Families: A Memoir of India
Coteau Books / 2 January 2018

Extended Families: A Memoir of India by Ven Begamudré Published by Coteau Books Review by Keith Foster $24.95 ISBN 978-1-55050-927-4 Ven Begamudre’s Extended Families: A Memoir of India is an intriguing book, not only for the story he tells but for the way he weaves that story. Born in India, he came to Canada when he was six. Based on a journal he kept of his first trip back to India in 1977-78 when he was twenty-one, this memoir is both heartwarming and heart-wrenching. Short pieces allow readers a peek into his life, displaying his personality traits, or quirks. He’s quick to anger and slow to forgive, and shows no tolerance for beggars. “I learn to shoo the children off with a backward wave of a hand,” he says. Begamudre incorporates East Indian mysticism into his life story. He also wrestles over the question of whether he’s Indian or Canadian. He feels like an Indian in Canada, but in India he’s referred to as that Canadian boy. He marries a Canadian woman, only the second time anyone in his extended families married a non-Indian. In his fluid prose, a highly observant Begamudre uses precise wording to provide elaborate details, as…

Being Kurdish in a Hostile World
University of Regina Press / 29 November 2017

Being Kurdish in a Hostile World by Ayub Nuri Published by University of Regina Press Review by Michelle Shaw $29.95 ISBN 9780889774940 When Ayub Nuri was a young boy, a piece of shrapnel hit his knee and cut it in half. At the time, he was sitting contentedly between his mother and grandmother threading the family’s tobacco crop. War was an ongoing part of life in Kurdistan. On this occasion, the war was between Iran and Iraq but Kurdistan had been a centre of conflict for many years. Nuri’s mother reacted first, screaming and causing the family to rush to the young boy. Nuri and his grandmother (whose face had been ripped open by the shrapnel) were taken in his uncle’s British-made Land Rover to the military hospital in the Kurdish capital of Halabja. Nuri mentions in an aside that during the war military hospitals were better equipped and had better doctors than civilian ones. It’s this juxtaposition between normal everyday life in a literal warzone that really struck me. Most of what I know about the Kurds and the Iraq conflict has been gleaned through western media. I clearly remember when the first Iraq war was going on (the…

My Soul Still Dances
DriverWorks Ink / 26 October 2017

My Soul Still Dances: Living with Parkinson’s by Sister Adelaide Fortowsky, with Sister Rosetta Reiniger Published by DriverWorks Ink Review by Keith Foster $19.95 ISBN 978-1-927570-38-8 No one can ever know the pain inflicted by Parkinson’s disease – unless they’ve experienced it. Sister Adelaide Fortowsky, an Ursuline Sister, lived with this disease for more than twenty years and wrote about her ordeal in a diary. Published as My Soul Still Dances: Living with Parkinson’s, she records the progress of the disease as she slowly deteriorates. Born Bertha Fortowsky in 1930 on the family farm near Cavell, SK, she was so frail at birth that a midwife, fearing the newborn wouldn’t live, baptized her. She joined the Order of St. Ursuline in 1950, taking the name Sister Adelaide, and made her final vows in 1956. After teaching elementary school in Saskatchewan villages and towns for twenty-nine years, she joined the staff at St. Angela’s Academy, an all-girls high school with live-in students, at Prelate, SK. She taught until 2003, when her Parkinson’s affliction became severe. This is not an easy read. Parkinson’s has no known cause or cure. When “normal” activities were no longer normal, Sister Adelaide felt trapped in her…

Tales of the Modern Nomad
Early Byrd Productions / 7 July 2017

Tales of the Modern Nomad: Monks, Mushrooms & Other Misadventures by John Early Published by Early Byrd Productions Review by Shelley A. Leedahl $26.99 ISBN 978-0-9952666-0-5 Rarely do I read a book that takes the top of my head off (in the best way), but Tales of the Modern Nomad-a candid travelogue and first book by Saskatoon backpacker John Early-did just that. Well-written, entertaining, illuminating, original, cheeky, and real-in that it features both positive and negative experiences-I read chapters of this book aloud to two visiting backpackers in their twenties and thirties, and they were relating and laughing right along. To quote the author’s father: “You couldn’t make this shit up if you tried.” Early’s young, and many of the experiences described in this hefty, full-colour hardcover-with maps, photographs, anecdotes, trivia, poems, art, doodles, and quotes ranging from Eckhart Tolle to Charles Bukowski-may have special appeal for those who possess the desire to surf in Sayulita; zip-line between Laos’ tropical rain forest treehouses; or, as Early recounts in the section titled “Down The Rabbit Hole,” eat “Mystery Mushrooms from an Indonesian Road Stand,” but as one who’s backpacked and been to many of the locales he writes about (ie: Bali,…

Memoirs of a Muhindi

Memoirs of a Muhundi: Fleeing East Africa for the West by Mansoor Ladha Review by Michelle Shaw $25.95 9780889774742 Published by University of Regina Press Memoirs of a Muhindi: Fleeing East Africa for the West is a little book that is packed with richness. It’s a personal story filled with fascinating anecdotes, but it’s also a perspective of historical events that not many people know much about. Mansoor Ladha was born on the island of Zanzibar and grew up in the East African country of Tanzania. A third-generation Asian in a predominantly black African nation, he grew up in a close community of Ismailis (a branch of Shia Muslims and followers of the Aga Khan). At the time Tanzania was under British colonial rule but everything changed with the dawn of independence. Ladha was proudly nationalistic and considered Tanzania his home. But as a young man he was forced to consider otherwise. “The full realization that we were not wanted in Africa came to us, the whole Asian community, in 1972 when Ugandan dictator Idi Amin expelled the country’s eighty thousand Indians, Pakistanis, and Ugandan Asians… This ethnic cleansing soon spread to neighboring Kenya and Tanzania…where many families lost everything.”…

Glad I Dropped In
Benchmark Press / 18 January 2017

Glad I Dropped In: A hodge-podge of memories and family lore by June Mitchell Published by Benchmark Press Review by Keith Foster $20.00 ISBN 978-1-927352-27-4 Anyone looking for the pure pleasure of getting lost in a good book need look no further than June Mitchell’s Glad I Dropped In: A hodge-podge of memories and family lore, a memoir sure to evoke both laughter and tears. June, or Junie as she refers to herself in the early portion of the book, tells her life story as she recalls it. In those earlier sections where she has no recollection, she narrates as an outside observer, based on what she heard from others. June inherits her socialist leanings from her parents. Her mother, Marjorie Cooper, becomes the third female Member of the Saskatchewan Legislature, serving four terms for the Co-operative Commonwealth Federation. June’s father, Edward Cooper, is a high school teacher and fellow member of the CCF. June also develops her social activism from her Aunt Luella. When she witnesses a man dragging a woman down the street, Luella calls police, who ignore her. She then adds that her father has just left the house with a hammer; the police respond immediately. June…

Otto & Daria
University of Regina Press / 14 December 2016

Otto & Daria: A Wartime Journey Through No Man’s Land by Eric Koch Published by University of Regina Press Review by Keith Foster $25.95 ISBN 978-0-88977-443-8 When Otto Koch, a German Jew, suffers an appendicitis attack, he’s rushed to a hospital in the Third Reich reserved for non-Jews. As the anaesthesia starts to take effect, the last words he hears are his surgeon greeting his staff with “Heil Hitler.” In his memoir, entitled Otto & Daria: A Wartime Journey Through No Man’s Land, Koch vividly re-creates his life in Germany during Hitler’s rise to power in the 1930s. He brilliantly captures the tension in the air as the Nazis insidiously gain control. His parents protect him from the encroaching danger and at first he leads an idyllic life, isolated from the terror that is to come. Otto continues his life chronicle, studying at the University of Cambridge in England, when he meets the mysterious Daria Hambourg, a woman at first shy but more than adept at expressing herself through her writing. She’s from a distinguished English family, but with a distinctively bohemian bent. She’s also a Socialist with no qualms about expressing her views. Otto and Daria begin corresponding by…

More Prairie Doctor
High Hill House Publishers / 31 March 2016

More Prairie Doctor by Lewis Draper Published by High Hill House Publishers Review by Shelley A. Leedahl $23.75 ISBN 978-0-9809669-3-0 Lewis Draper, a medical doctor and one-time NDP MLA for Assiniboia-Gravelbourg, enjoys telling stories about his colourful life, and he does not mince words when he picks up the pen. One patient he refers to in his self-published book, More Prairie Doctor, puts it succinctly: “‘You have a reputation for speaking your mind, Doc, and telling folks how many beans make five.’” It’s true: the man is not meek. In this new title, which follows Draper’s three previously-published books, he anecdotally shares thoughts and experiences on a wide range of subjects, including his blatant disillusion with the NDP government that closed fifty-one rural Saskatchewan hospitals; pilot training; pet tales (including raccoons); his globetrotting eldest daughter’s adventures; the purchase of a Rolls Royce, carpets, a hotel in Moose Jaw; his involvement in civic and provincial politics; abortion; and, perhaps most importantly, he introduces us to several of the prairie people he came to know and help both medically and otherwise during his twenty years as a dedicated GP living and practicing in Gravelbourg. One learns much about the author in his…