Defying Palliser
University of Regina Press / 27 April 2016

Defying Palliser: Stories of Resilience from the Driest Region of the Canadian Prairies by Jim Warren and Harry Diaz Published by University of Regina Press Review by Keith Foster $34.95 ISBN 978-0-88977-294-6 Everyone knows farming is tough. But how about getting just one truckload of grain out of 5,000 acres? That’s what happened to the Downie Lake Hutterian Brethren Colony in 2001. Colony member Sam Hofer recalled touring the field that year. He said the weather was so hot and dry that the crop “seemed to turn brown and dry up as we walked by.” This is just one incident related in Defying Palliser: Stories of Resilience from the Driest Region of the Canadian Prairies. The book could just as well be subtitled stories of resistance, since farmers and ranchers resisted the overwhelming forces of nature in the dry zone known as the Palliser Triangle. Named for 19th century explorer John Palliser, the triangle roughly comprises the southern part of the three prairie provinces. Palliser deemed the area unsuitable for agriculture because of its unfavourable climate. Indeed, this triangle can be as devastating to farmers and their crops as the Bermuda Triangle is to ships and planes. Farmers nevertheless stubbornly…

Queen of Fire
Serimuse Books / 26 April 2016

Queen of Fire: Book One of the Leather Book Tales by Regine Haensel Published by Serimuse Books Review by Allison Kydd $14.95 ISBN 978-1495909511 The first part of a trilogy, Queen of Fire is a fantasy novel suited to a young adult or even juvenile audience. Not that the tale is simple and straightforward. There are actually dozens of people to sort out and an assortment of special, even magical, powers. I am reminded of my sons playing Dungeons and Dragons. They spent so much time designing their characters and their characters’ special gifts, but little on the game itself. Or perhaps that was the game, to imagine the possibilities. In this instance, special gifts may return in later novels. The main action of this novel begins with fifteen-year-old Rowan, who lives with her mother, a healer and herbalist, in an isolated cabin on the edge of a forest. Rowan is a typical teenager, longing to test boundaries and resenting the one she loves the most, as her mother represents rules and limitations. All too soon, the girl really is on her own and must discover wits, powers and endurance and find guidance among strangers. She also discovers something her…

In the Temple of the Rain God
University of Regina Press / 20 April 2016

In the Temple of the Rain God: The Life and Times of ‘Irish’ Charlie Wilson by Garrett Wilson Published by Canadian Plains Research Center Review by Keith Foster $29.95 ISBN 978-0-88977-288-5 Reading In the Temple of the Rain God: The Life and Times of “Irish” Charlie Wilson is like getting two stories in one, or more precisely, a story within a story. The subject of this biography is one that author Garrett Wilson is intimately familiar with –his father. A family history, this book is also a history of Saskatchewan’s first 50 years as seen through the eyes of one man. In weaving a narrative of his father, Garrett quotes heavily from a combination of diary entries, correspondence, and tape-recorded reminiscences that his sister had the foresight to record. As a result, Charlie is able to tell his own story in his own words. Born in Ireland, Charlie immigrated in 1905, the year Saskatchewan became a province, and settled, appropriately, in Limerick, SK. He wore many hats in his lifetime – homesteader, businessman, politician, and debt adjuster. Charlie hobnobbed with prominent politicians of the new province. A genial host, he had all but one of Saskatchewan’s early premiers stay overnight…

Corvus
Thistledown Press / 19 April 2016

Corvus by Harold Johnson Published by Thistledown Press Review by Allison Kydd $19.95; ISBN 978-1-77187-051-1 Corvus is a novel that repays the reader’s persistence. Its setting is eighty years in the future, during a time of uneasy peace after a period of war, caused in turn by ecological disasters that have moved populations north, which causes overcrowding. The wars, therefore, are primarily to protect territory and the technological bubble enjoyed by the wealthy. This futuristic setting may initially discourage some, but ultimate rewards make it worth reading on. The fact the novel is set in La Ronge, Saskatchewan, and involves a First Nations community might also give one pause. Fortunately, it is not overly derivative nor an obvious political agenda thinly disguised as fiction. The theme does remind one of Thomas King’s The Back of a Turtle, which also features the tragic destruction of First Nations communities by corporate greed. As a rule, such corporations are represented by whites/“Europeans” or (in the case of King’s protagonist) by First Nations descendants who have lost touch with their origins. At first, Corvus seems to justify reservations. First the raven appears, a familiar totem for the First Nations psyche, suggesting the book will…

These Are Our Legends
University of Regina Press / 13 April 2016

These Are Our Legends Narrated by Lillooet Elders, Transcribed and Translated by Jan van Eijk, Illustrated by Marie Abraham Published by University of Regina Press Review by Shelley A. Leedahl $24.95 ISBN 9-780889-773967 University of Regina Press is to be commended for its series, First Nations Language Readers, which allows a broad spectrum of readers to enjoy the wisdom, humour, word play, and moral lessons inherent in traditional oral stories and legends. Now the press has added These Are Our Legends to the series, and thus preserves seven short Lillooet legends, originally narrated by four Lillooet (Salish) elders from British Columbia’s interior and painstakingly transcribed and translated by Jan van Eijk, a Linguistics professor at Regina’s First Nations University who’s dedicated forty years to studying the Lillooet language. The volume offers an interesting juxtaposition. The academically-inclined will appreciate van Eijk’s depth of research, evident in his opening “On the Language of the Lillooet,” in which he discusses phonology, morphology, and syntax, and in the extensive Lillooet-English glossary that follows the bilingual stories. His methodology re: collecting the stories – or sptakwlh, which translates as “ancient story forever” – via tape recorder between 1972 – 1979 is also included. These particular stories initially appeared together…

Laying the Children’s Ghosts to Rest
Hagios Press / 12 April 2016

Laying the Children’s Ghosts to Rest: Canada’s Home Children in the West by Sean Arthur Joyce Published by Hagios Press Review by Keith Foster $18.95 ISBN 978-1-926710-27-3 Even the best intentions can be paving stones to hell. In most cases, well-intentioned people like Thomas Barnardo thought they were helping homeless British children by sending them across the “golden bridge” to new homes in Canada. Their lives, however, were anything but golden. In Laying the Children’s Ghosts to Rest, Sean Arthur Joyce serves up some startling statistics. From the 1860s to 1967, “some 130,000 children were scooped up from the mean streets” of Britain “to be used as slave labour.” About 100,000 of them ended up in Canada, mostly on farms. Joyce, himself a grandson of a home child, points out that today there could be as many as four million descendants of these children – about one in eight Canadians! Conditions for homeless children in Britain were barely tolerable. In the East End of London, four out of five infants would die before their fifth year. Barnardo and Annie Macpherson started “ragged schools” – so named because the children were literally in rags – that provided them with at least…

A Round for Fifty Years
Coteau Books / 6 April 2016

A Round for Fifty Years: A History of Regina’s Globe Theatre by Gerald Hill Published by Coteau Books Review by Shelley A. Leedahl $34.95 ISBN 9-781550-506389 In his Foreword, commissioned writer Gerald Hill claims “no objectivity for [his version of the theatre’s history], no nose for the dirt (if any exists, other than bat or pigeon dung), no investigative-reporter zeal,” and affirms that what follows is his rendering of the story. To that I say: Hurray! Hill’s got a SK-sized mountain of excellent publications (mostly poetry) behind him, and the longtime professor at Regina’s Luther College also has personal ties to the Globe. I can’t name a more suitable writer to pen a close-up retrospective that celebrates the folks – on both sides of the Globe’s curtain – who’ve made Saskatchewan’s first professional theatre company such a long-standing success. This book’s a classy package. The cover’s appropriately dramatic: a front-lit photo of the historic Globe theatre building contrasted against the night sky and skyscrapers. The generously-spaced text assures easy reading; the book’s saturated with photographs (mostly from performances); and it’s smartly organized into three Acts, with a comprehensive Appendices that includes selected show posters. Its presentation is coffee table-ish; you’d…

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