by Olga Stein
Newfoundland poet Mary Dalton, in the interview which appears in this issue, describes how her poetry has been shaped not only by the geography and cultural characteristics of her surroundings, but more importantly, by the unique sounds of Newfoundland's voices, the "riches of speech rhythms and idioms".
The Dictionary of Newfoundland English is indispensible to anyone grappling with the day-to-day language of this place, its dialect and colloquialisms, products of history, immigration (the Irish influence), and Newfoundland's position on the outskirts of Canada. But the DNE doesn't merely transcribe for the unacculturated ear; it is a tribute to the beauty and charm of Newfoundland speech. The books of two other Newfoundland authors (writing about Newfoundland) are reviewed here: Donna Morrissey's Downhill Chance, and Dawn Rae Downton's Seldom. Morrissey's novel incorporates the lively parlance of Newfoundland, but it aims, more ambitiously, to convey the aftereffects of historical events¨WWII, the vote for Confederation¨on life in the outports. Downton relies on WWI and the Great Depression as backdrops for retelling this very poignant history of her family, but between the books there's ample common ground. Joel Yanofsky writes of Seldom: "Downton also demonstrates an ear for the rugged lilt of depression-era Newfoundland English and an eye for the unforgiving corners of the landscape. In Seldom...geography is destiny."
Newfoundland isn't unique in its capacity to confer on artists, poets and novelists, that something different. Lynn Coady's Saints of Big Harbour¨a work of literature that emanates from Nova Scotia's Cape Breton¨also resonates, according to reviewer Harold Hoefle, with the distinctiveness of locale and language. While New Brunswick poet, Douglas Lochhead's latest collection, Weathers: Poems New & Selected, reviewed by W. J. Keith, offers "subdued but profound meditations on life, love, and landscape," more quiet reflections on the particularities of place.
A preponderance of Maritime authors and settings in this issue? Yes, but there are plenty of reviews of books about other places and times. Jamie O'Neill's At Swim, Two Boys, takes place around Dublin, Ireland, in 1916. David Davidar's The House of Blue Mangoes, a story about the oscillating fortunes of several generations of an Indian family, is set in the first half of the twentieth century, along Cape Comorin in the south of India. Rohinton Mistry's Family Matters unfolds in Bombay, a city darkened by political corruption and human misery. Marnie Woodrow talks with Eva Tihanyi about her novel, Spelling Mississippi, a story of two women meeting in New Orleans, and Paulette Jiles, in her interview with Linda Morra, describes what moved her to write Enemy Women, a tale of love that perseveres in South Eastern Missouri in the face of dreadful antagonisms during America's Civil War. With Princess Juliana's fantastic land of Liralove, there's even a place that doesn't exist except in the pages of Russel Smith's fable, The Princess and the Whiskheads. If that isn't enough, follow Frances Greenslade on her pilgrimage through Ireland, go Way out West On the Trail of An Errant Ancestor with Michael Shaw Bond. Or stay put, on the advice of poet Tim Lilburn. But whatever you do, read this issue of Books in Canada. Bon Voyage.