SET in an African country that may or may not be Gabon, with alternate sections taking us back to earlier days in Toronto, Barry Callaghan's The Way the Angel Spreads Her Wings (Lester & Orpen Dennys, 296 pages, $22.95 cloth) describes the search of Adam Waters, a photographer employed by a magazine called "one of the best in the world," for Gabrielle, his childhood sweetheart, who fled from him to work in a leper colony. (For some reason leprosy vies with incest as material for first novels this year). After horrific involvement in sporadic warfare along the way he finds her, but by now we know what has motivated her withdrawal and are prepared for the fact that she will not consent to. go back with him. I won't divulge this key though it is easily discovered, or at least suspected" as we read.
The writing is sensuous, the tropical setting clearly and brilliantly established, though I have to admit that I found the flashing back from present to past distracting, not to say irritating. Though I realize that a writer has every right to keep his secrets for as long as he chooses, as a reader I always somewhat resent being told just as much as a writer wishes to tell me, not an instant before it suits him to do so. Still, the abundance ,of detail and the excitement of events along the way make this a readable book (and I was amused by the glimpses of Catholic life in Toronto, which was apparently not precisely what we tend to believe it was).
All long journeys have their dull stretches and unfortunately the 10 characters who travel by bus from Bruges to Katmandu in Craig Grant's The Last India Overland (Coteau, 443 pages, $7.95 paper), though they include a punk?rocker near?psychopath, are not the most stimulating of travel companions, concerned as they are much of the time with obtaining hamburgers, hash, and American TV programs rather than learning, and divulging, very much about the foreign countries they traverse. "
The book is chiefly the memoir of Mick, a "psychic" who converses with Dave, the spirit of his stillborn twin, who provides him with information about the other travellers and sometimes takes over his body completely. Interspersed with Mick's story are the diary entries of Kelly, with whom Mick has an onand?off affair, jottings in the group's day book by other travellers, and the notes about history and geography that the driver?guide uses to enlighten his passengers (eminently skippable these last).
That said, I have to acknowledge that as time and miles went by, I began to find this long account of this long journey and the glimpses into the thoughts and psyches of these admittedly rather empty people very real, very solid, even at times engaging. Far too prolonged, however. Like the characters who survived the journey ? one is killed, one lost along the way, seemingly forever, and Mick, the centre of interest and principal narrator, dies after he completes his memoir ? I found myself anxious to catch the first flight home.
Jack Thiessen's Faux Pas (Mosaic, 154 pages, $12.95 paper) is the heavily satirical and, I presume, considerably fictionalized account of real events (almost entirely unremembered by me): the attempt of one Axel Sacher to establish a forestry mega project in northern Manitoba (here called Minipaba) during the 1970s, and its thwarting by Rene Fontane, the premier of the time, leader of a party known not very imaginatively as the New Socialists.
Told to the narrator of the story by someone called variously "the Muse?Master" and "the host of the Muses" and passed along to us in sentences that often become hopelessly gnarled, the book is primarily a polemic in favour of creativity and improvisation as against bureaucracy and European as against Canadian values. It abounds in the snide and somewhat childish anti?Canadian comments I thought had long since gone out of date. "If they ever found a Canadian Kissinger, Castro, Kennedy, or Willy Brandt,"goes one such comment, "they would deport him as an undesirable alien."
If you happen to share the author's conviction that only Europeans can cut through red tape, or improvise, or be in the least creative, or if your recollection of the real events is more precise than my own, you might enjoy this rambling account of government chicanery and Canadian lack of vision. I found it almost impossible to follow or make very much sense of.
After the rather unfunny anti?Canadianism of Faux Pas, The Horseman of Shandro Crossing (Tree Frog Press, 252 pages, $19.95 cloth) by Yuri Kupchenko is all light and brightness. The story of John Kunapola, a Ukrainian cavalryman who homesteaded north of Edmonton in 1910 and became not only a fairly rapid personal success as a fanner and horse?breeder but also a leader of his people, it provides much useful and lively information about the European background of the Ukrainians ? they were the first horsemen in Europe, we are told, and taught the Mongols and Persians to ride and about their celebrations, feastings, and dances as well as their hatred of Russia and everything and everyone Russian.
The tone is upbeat, every incident ends fortunately, all hostility shrivels before even the smallest hint of human goodwill. This is a loving book, written by one who is himself the grandson and namesake of a Ukrainian pioneer, and though I sometimes wondered if there was ever a darker side and was troubled at times by the choppiness of the narration, I found it pleasant reading, an appropriate first volume in what the publisher announces as its Pioneer Series.