by George Kaufman
THE TITLE of Canadian Stories of the Sea (Oxford University Press, 288 pages, $17.95 paper) may beslightly misleading. It conjures up images of Moby Dick and captainscourageous, but what the editor Victor Suthren delivers is a fascinating mini-lessonin Canadian history. The stories of the first European explorers --such as Cartier, Frobisher, and Cook -- sometimes have little to dowith the sea, but provide a valuable resource for history buffs. They relyheavily on the words and impressions of the explorers themselves, and make noeffort to romanticize or gloss over the Europeans` motives for coming here inthe first place or their attitudes towards the Natives they encountered. One ofthe most compelling tales, in fact, takes place on land. Donald Graham`s"The Sisters" is a gritty account of life as a lighthousekeeper thatdetails a litany of scourges, from the predictable loneliness to the harshwinters, and even an invasion of earwigs:
At sunset they pouredout from the shingles and up from the floors, a teeming bronze mass whichcracked and splattered underfoot. Night after sleepless night, the Clarks layin bed, listening to the insects plop from the ceiling and cupboards.
There arc also, ofcourse, many tales set on the sea, which feature dramatic shipwrecks andrescues, dangerous crossings, and sagas of naval warfare. Canadian Stories of the Sea is thoughtfully divided into eight chapters,with three or four accounts in each, so that you don`t have to wade through itall at once. Anyone dipping into this collection will come away much richer inthe narrative history and tore of this country.