Tag Archives: Montreal

How To Read Two Books At The Same Time

nikolski by dickner

Nikolski by Nicolas Dickner may look a little fishy at first, but it’s an excellent book, even for somebody like me who gets confused easily.  In the beginning it felt like I was reading three completely unrelated stories, but eventually it all comes together as the paths of the characters intersect, although they never really connect for long with each other.

Spring 1989. Three young people leave their far-flung birthplaces to follow their own songs of migration. Each ends up in Montreal, each on a voyage of self-discovery, dealing with the mishaps of heartbreak and the twisted branches of their shared family tree.

Filled with humor, charm, and good storytelling, this novel shows the surprising links between cartography, garbage-obsessed archeologists, pirates past and present, a mysterious book with no cover, and a broken compass whose needle obstinately points to the Aleutian village of Nikolski.  (Goodreads)

Nikolski won the Governor General’s Literary Award for French to English Translation.  It certainly doesn’t read like a translation, so that could be a big reason why it won.

I was interrupted in the middle of reading this by the arrival of my new Kindle.  The breaking of the previous Kindle also interrupted a half read book, so I was torn in two trying to decide where my loyalties lay.  Yep, everyone should have such pressing problems and decisions keeping them awake at night.death of bees

So by going back and forth from book to e-reader,  I have also finished The Death of Bees, by Lisa O’Donnell.  Here’s the great first paragraph and delightful hook for this one.

Today is Christmas Eve. Today is my birthday. Today I am fifteen. Today I buried my parents in the backyard. Neither of them were beloved.

I think you can appreciate my dilemma.  The paper white Kindle is great and I couldn’t wait to use it.  It’s smaller and lighter, with easier to see print.  I’m loving the touch screen except for all my dirty finger prints.  I’m also living dangerously by not yet having purchased a protective cover for it, but I didn’t drop the other one for a couple of years, so maybe this one has some time left accident free.  I’ll get one today.

Sorry, back to the bee book – it deserves a few more praises.  It is a dark comedy about two sisters in Glasgow who could write the book on dysfunctional families.  The story touches on homosexuality, child neglect, child abuse, drug use, drug dealing, drinking, smoking, promiscuity, mental illness, cancer, poverty, being orphaned, social services, and of course the problems that come up when your parents are buried in your back yard.

Since it’s written from the point of view of each sister and a kind but nosy neighbor, it felt like reading the secret journals of each one and thus getting an over view of the big picture.  You would imagine that a book starting out like this one could not possibly end well.  But at the same time you wonder how things could possibly get any worse.  It will keep you reading right to the end to find out what becomes of them all.

I don’t recommend reading books in this helter-skelter manner,  but I do recommend both of these titles and both of their authors.  They are two very different styles and stories, both with unexpected twists and turns.  Maybe they won’t be quite so unexpected if you read them one at a time.

Hi Lily Hi Lily Hi Lo

imposter bride Richler

This is what’s written on Goodreads about The Imposter Bride by Nancy Richler

When a young, enigmatic woman arrives in post-war Montreal, it is immediately clear that she is not who she claims to be. Her attempt to live out her life as Lily Azerov shatters as she disappears, leaving a new husband and baby daughter, and a host of unanswered questions. Who is she really and what happened to the young woman whose identity she has stolen? Why has she left and where did she go? It is left to the daughter she abandoned to find the answers to these questions as she searches for the mother she may never find or really know.

It all sounds quite wonderful, I know.  And although nothing very exciting or earth shattering ever happens in it, there were still lots of very interesting bits and I still read the whole thing without falling asleep.  Well, okay, I might have done that but no more than twice.  There’s a lot of sadness in this book, with a kind of joy-less story that drones on and on,  slowly building up our curiosity as to why Lily did what she did.

And then finally the revelation at the end is really no revelation at all and thus rather anti-climactic, with no real punch.  Because even Lily doesn’t seem to have much of a clue.

I hope that last bit was sufficiently vague to avoid being a spoiler.

But here’s the thing – ever since reading about Lily, I have had this stupid Lily song in my head and I can’t seem to get it out.  I think I have been singing the damned thing in my sleep.  So I though it would be a great idea to share it with everyone, and thus spread the misery joy.

You are so very welcome.  I live to please. Sing along if you dare.

Grandma’s Brothers/Letters Home

My Grandma Scott lost all of her younger brothers, (Jake, Herb, Carl, Walter, Iden and Jack), from the youngest to the oldest, one by one.  (My dad made a kind of not so funny joke about it once, that they passed on in order of importance, leaving grandma – the most important of them all – to be the last one standing).  Jake died as a young boy from illness or accident and Herb did not return from the war.   I don’t remember much about the other four,  since they seemed to belong to a generation so far removed from my own.  In amongst my latest ‘treasures’ are two letters from two of these brothers who served in the first world war.


The one on the left is from Iden, also on the left in the picture above (with Jack and Walter?)  who returned to Canada and his family and lived a long life.  The one on the right is from Herb, who never came home.

Willey Camp, June 2, 1918. 

Dear Sister – Well it is some time since I wrote to you so I will try and give you a bit of our doings here.  You will have to excuse me writing with a lead pencil but there is no pen or ink in this writing room and of course I would never think of buying them.  Often wished I had a fountain pen but that is out of my reach too.  It takes a regular financier to make ends meet from one day till another here.  I spend it all on eats.  We get very fair grub considering where we are, but of course there is nothing like having a few extra cookies or a piece of what they call pie (a lot of crust with a wee bit of jam or something of the sort on it).  The cookies are a lot like the wheat meal cookies that mother often makes only not half so good.  But we are glad to get something to chew at if for nothing more than to pass the time.  Say, I have been chumming with Willie Dobson quite a bit.  But he went to France last night.  He is a fine fellow.  Took quite an active interest in the church work that goes on here.  He also attended the college that they have here where they take up all kinds of work, all kinds of languages, and even agriculture.  I was sorry to see him go, as he was a fine fellow to chum with.  I had a letter from Jack Clazie a few days ago and also from Art Parr.  I guess you will know more about how the war is going than we do, as the English papers are not so full of it as ours are. 

Well, this is Sunday again and you don’t know how much I wish I were going to church with you today.  If the Saints back there only realized the privileges that they have they would not miss many meetings, I’ll tell you.  I know I did not go as I should have, but I now see my mistake.  If only I could have realized it, how much better it would have been.  As it is, I go by myself and study a lesson from both Quarterlies and by the way I never got any new ones, either, but I do the best I can.  I have just attended the Bible Class that they hold in one of the Y.M.C.A.’s.  They sing quite a few of the hymns that are in our hymnal and oh, how it makes me think of home.  Well, how is everything going back there?  I guess Margaret is getting to be quite a little girl now.  Say, do you know I have not had any good mail from back home for about two weeks except a couple of letters from May.  I often looked for the Times but never got it, but I guess that is the luck of a soldier.  Well, I guess that unless something turns up, I shall soon have to go to France.  Very likely in a week or two.  So I hope that you will pray for me.  Tell Father and Mother not to worry.  I know it is hard and that if Pa and I could have understood each other better it would have been better for me.  But whatever you do, don’t forget church above everything and if it is the Lord’s will He can protect me here as well as there.   – Your Brother Herb.

If there was further correspondence from Herb it has since gone missing.  This letter may well have been the last one my grandma got from him.  By the creases and the folds and the faded pencil I can tell it’s been well read.  I wonder what else Herb might have thought to say if he knew his letter would be saved for a hundred years? 

…on the train somewhere, Sunday, July 28, 1918. 

Mr. & Mrs. W.J. Scott, Port Elgin Ont.  I am trying to write this as the train is going – we are still going East – are just running into a small place named St. Clet.  Am not sure where it is but believe it is in Quebec.  It has been very level country for awhile back and some fine places but early this morning it was some poor country that we passed through.  The talk at present is that we are going to sail from Montreal and that we are to get our letters off as soon as possible but no one seems to know for certain where we are going.  The kids come up to the train whenever it stops and take the cards and letters the boys have to mail.  We are being well looked after and are getting as good if not better meals than we did in London.  Had porridge, oatmeal, potatoes and scrambled eggs and bread and butter for breakfast, and coffee.  We had supper before we left London last evening and had another on the train;  then about bed time they came through with a box of oranges and we each got one.  So they are looking after us pretty good.  I am not particularly struck with the country we are going through.  The farms are narrow and long and a lot of the land is rather low.  Some of the crops are heavy and are going down and some are very light.  Say, did you send those papers?  I did not get them but was up to the orderly room to see if they came just before I left.  You ought to see the girls shake hands with us at some of the places we stopped at, and old women too, and the cheering we got.  They just now came through with a basket of Duchess apples, and they are sour and green, but I guess they are good for us.  If I get time I will send more word home before I sail.  I am feeling fine I guess.  This is all for this time, we are crossing some large river, I believe it is the St. Lawrence, very beautiful.  Good bye.  Iden.  P.S.  Just passing MacDonnell College – very fine sights, like O.A.C. at Guelph.

Iden and Herb Leeder, 1918

This is how I remember my “old” great uncles, Grandma’s brothers in the 1950’s.  Jack and Walter on the left, Iden and Carl on the right. (In the middle is her husband, my Grandpa Scott, and lurking in the background, a son-in-law, my Uncle George.)   I was five or six when this picture was taken so to me they were all quite ancient and thus relatively insignificant in my sheltered little life.  It took growing a tad ancient myself to get to know a little bit about them and to appreciate who they were.