The Reader XIV II - Books in Brief


The Front Page Story Of World War II

By Robert Reid
Introduction by Denny Boyd
Douglas and McIntyre, 176 pages, $35.00
Reviewed by Chuck Davis

AUGUST 15, 1945. Can it really be almost 50 years since I sat in a rowboat in the middle of Burrard Inlet fishing with my Dad and heard both shores begin to sound with clanging bells and shrieking factory whistles and car horns? We knew it was coming, but it was still exciting. "The war's over,'' Dad said. And, being nine years old, I pretended to blow a triumphant tune on an invisible trombone. Truth be told, my interest in the war at the time was less intense than Robert Reid's. But he was an older fellow: twelve when the war started, eighteen when it was over. Thanks to his fascination with that war, we have a new book that brings it vividly back.

There are roomfuls of books on the Second World War; Reid's has an immediacy to it: it consists of front-page stories on the war's news, taken from The Province, Vancouver Sun, The News Herald and a scattering of other publications. Reid saved all those newspapers, you see. His The Front Page Story of World War II is establishing a beachhead in Canadian bookstores as you read this, and even readers too young to have been around will find this interesting stuff. (In fact, read together, Reid's brief introductions to each year's events make an excellent capsule history of the entire war.)

BC was a long way from the action, and our one brush with it came in August of 1942 when a Japanese submarine shelled a lighthouse at Estevan Point on Vancouver Island. Only windows were broken, but that attack justified in some minds the decision five months earlier to forcibly remove the province's Japanese people to the interior. Most of the stories here, shown in their original form right from the newspapers' pages, are understandably on a global scale, but an occasional local angle pops in, like the return to Esquimalt of HMCS Uganda, which had been the first Canadian ship in the war to fire a shot at the Japanese.

Most of our visual memories of World War II originated in distant places: Dieppe, Normandy, Leningrad, Sicily, Cassino, Hong Kong, Burma, Hiroshima, but a famous photograph taken Oct. 1, 1940 in New Westminster by Province photographer Claud Detloff wrapped up the Home Front experience in one stunning image: as the BC Regiment marches off to war, a young boy, escaping the outstretched arm of his mother, runs up to grasp his soldier father's reaching hand. Unplanned, dramatic, poignant, the photograph appeared around the world and in Life magazine.

One value of this new book: there's no hindsight in it. You're reading the stories exactly as they appeared at the time, just as those of us who were around at the time did. The famous names and pictures are here: Churchill, Roosevelt, Stalin, King George VI, Hitler, Mussolini, and now and then a Canadian name: Cecil Merritt, Mackenzie King, Crerar. You are, to quote somebody or other, there. Boyd's foreward tells it nicely:

. . . the front page of the Vancouver Sun August 15, 1945, an extra, is a classic of reporting a massive story with restrained brevity.
The headline says simply "PEACE.''
And the first three paragraphs put it all brilliantly:
The Japanese government has accepted the Allied surrender terms.
This is official.
Peace has definitely come to a world at war since 1930.

The war was over. We were older now, my generation, and more able to appreciate the sacrifice in time and life and health that had been made by young men only a year or two older than ourselves. We hadn't been there, but we knew all about it. We'd read about it in the papers.

Chuck Davis is a Vancouverologist now at work on a new edition of The Vancouver Book.

Between Two Cultures A Photographer Among The Inuit

By Maria Tippett
Photographs by Charles Gimpel
Penguin Books Canada Limited, $50.00
Reviewed by Alex Waterhouse-Hayward

The family album, on my mother's side, is my most prized possession. The first photograph, dated 1877, has the name Buenaventura Galvez Puig written in white ink. I stare at the photograph and somehow she is not dead; I know her name. In the early 50s, I discovered the photographs of Mathew Brady, Alexander Gardner and Timothy O'Sullivan. The faces of the long-dead soldiers of the American Civil War made such an impression on me that I knew then I would someday be a photographer.

A young person in the 90s looking at the photographs taken of the Inuit by Charles Gimpel between 1958 and 1968 might have similar thoughts.

French born, Gimpel and his brother Peter had galleries in London and Zurich and pioneered the introduction in Europe of Inuit artifacts as art and not as curios. Although an amateur, Charles Gimpel convinced the Hudson Bay Company to hire him to map, photographically, the Inuit's painful transition into modernity. Not hampered by formal photographic training, Gimpel's photographs avoid the posed "Noble Savage'' look of other photographers or the "Noble Victim'' approach of the American filmmaker and photographer Robert Flaherty. Gimpel's photographs are sparse and simple. His growing intimacy with his, at first unfamiliar, subjects is neatly laid out in chronological order and in most cases they are identified by their names.

During a visit to the Gimpel Fils Gallery in London, Maria Tippett "discovered'' Gimpel's photographs (Gimpel himself had died in 1973) and the project to collect them as a book began. In 1993 Tippett, author of Emily Carr: A Biography, who divides her time between Bowen Island and Cambridge, visited the Inuit communities on Baffin Island. Some of the still-living subjects of Gimpel's photographs were able to identify some of the unknown ones. Tippett relates how in some cases an Inuk would look at the photographs by the edge so as to "read'' a profile. Many were identified through this process. Katauga Saila, from Cape Dorset and a subject of Gimpel's lens, was her interpreter.

While there are many good photographs to single out in Between Two Cultures there is one that shocked me by the paradox of the idea of necessary violence. Inuk, Kov Parr gently (you have to see the photograph to understand this) suffocates a white fox by stepping on its lungs.

Charles Gimpel had the code name of Circle as a Major in the resistance. When he was arrested by the Gestapo in 1944 and put into Buchenwald, Auschwitz and Flossenburg he was known by the tattoo 185663 on his left arm. But I am sure that in at least one photo album, in Cape Dorset he must live on with another more appropriate name. As Charles Gimpel wrote, "I could perhaps call myself an amateur of the Arctic but the Eskimo seem to be more precise and have christened me ╬Oui Oui Ukjuq' the French bearded seal.''

Captain Corelli's Mandolin

by Louis de Bernières
Secker & Warburg, $26.99
Reviewed by Betsy Gray

Imagine yourself on a Greek island, looking down the hillside at a whitewashed village in the distance. There is a steady clatter of activity at the kaféneio, a woman in black sitting quietly on her terrace, children at play, a goat tied to the trunk of an olive tree and a small bundle of dark fur curled upon a bed of straw. In any ordinary story, this bundle would likely be a kitten, but in Louis de Bernières' tale it is a pet pine marten. This replacement of the ordinary with the unusual spiced with a particularly imaginative sense of humour is only one of many enticing ingredients in Louis de Bernières' fourth and flavourful novel.

It doesn't seem to matter where de Bernières takes us---whether to the South America of his previous novels or to the Greek island of Cephalonia where Captain Corelli's Mandolin takes place---his exemplary sense of comic timing and his seamless sculpting of the English language dominate this exuberantly entertaining read. Set during World War II, with all its ensuing malodorous details, de Bernières uses several narratives to tell us the tale of Captain Corelli's mandolin. Historical background is provided by the village doctor, Iannis, who is attempting to write his own record of the island's past. His strong-willed daughter, Pelagia, sends letters to her prospective husband who is at the front and this correspondence provides us with a portrait of everyday village life. The private letters of a homosexual Italian soldier in Corelli's regiment give us insight into the emotional side of being a soldier in the tangled web of war. De Bernières links these patchwork pieces together into a warm, wonderful literary quilt.

In all of de Bernières' novels, I have admired his remarkable ability to highlight the laws and darker aspects of society using humour as his tool. At the bleakest moments, the reader can be disgusted, mortified or angered by a scene, yet simultaneously mollified by de Bernières' skilful use of humour at just the right moment so that we feel the full emotional impact while also being utterly entertained.

The charming character of Captain Corelli effectively highlights the absolute futility of war, the desperation and the injustices faced by its victims on all sides. De Bernières' portraits of the Captain and his brigade are superb. Anyone familiar with the Italian soldiers portrayed in the film Mediterraneo will have an inkling of what is in store for them with Captain Corelli and his odd regiment.

The mandolin-wielding Corelli is the pivot upon which the story turns. For he is not a Captain who happens to play the mandolin. Rather, he is a man of artistic nature who is shoved into a uniform and a way of life he neither expected or desired. He is a symbol of the lost innocence so prevalent in wartime. His cherished mandolin becomes a symbol of hope for freedom and peace---something to grasp in moments of crisis, the music emanating from it a path leading to a better life. At every appearance of the mandolin in the story, there is a pervading sense of peacefulness amidst the cacophony of wartime realities.

Captain Corelli's Mandolin is a mesmerizing tale that swings the full path of the emotional pendulum and ticks with the precision of a metronome. De Bernières has written a masterful score of a novel that takes us through a historical, comical and melodious literary symphony from the opening notes to the dying strains of the last refrain.

Betsy Gray is a mediterraneophile who can recite the Greek alphabet off by heart.

The Western Canon

The Books and School of the Ages
by Harold Bloom
Harcourt Brace, Toronto, 578 pages, $39.95
Reviewed by Molly Bloom

Harold snores the whole of literary history in one nights sleep life is but a dream merrily merrily merrily how do you know what you know if you dont know the canon well what if you dont Harold and who cares if Shakespeare is at once no one and everyone nothing and everyone nothing and everything Shakespeare is the Western Canon yes Harold Shakespeare the beginning and end world without end word without end amen an elegy beginning and ending and where am I on page 419 that's where and page 424 too ploughed by Blazes Boylan I knew from the start hed get to that worrying all the time about the autoerotic he called it and all those men making headway with their promontories into the waves yes Virginia youre there and Walt Whitman singing finally of myself my own hands carried me there they want to be god oh christ he yells sometimes no wonder yes Virginia there is a god in the waves is it the promontory do we get the point yes Harold we get the point there is no god just the canon and they all want one thing and I did think it was that place of darkness and forgetting but no its to be new to make it where no man went before but there is nothing new and strange in what they say they know and its all anguish and not flowers except when they call you a flower or deflower you and then say theres no God I wouldn't give a snap of my two fingers for all their learning why don't they go and create something atheists or whatever they call themselves go and wash the cobbles off themselves first then they go howling for the priest and they dying I know them well who was the first person in the universe before there was anybody that made it all who ah that they don't know neither do I so there you are they might as well try to stop the sun from rising tomorrow and if the sun doesn't shine on the canon they think they have spent it all on rocky ground where no flowers grow maybe all that creative juice makes mulch and in ten thousand years some tiny shoot shows green head out of the dark but in the end its just a list and 150 who make the list and 25 who are truly original well I say if thats all it is from god to chaos and that's it Harold no no no

Molly Bloom lies in bed and worries about Allan Bloom and Harold Bloom.


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