The Almost Meeting

by Henry Kreisel
ISBN: 1896300901

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A Review of: The Almost Meeting and Other Stories
by Clara Thomas

This book represents a welcome renaissance of interest in one of our most accomplished fiction writers, Henry Kreisel. All the works collected here date from the mid-twentieth century on and the collection is enhanced by sensitive editorial commentaries by E.D. Blodgett of the University of Alberta.
Kreisel was a native of Vienna. After the Kreisel family fled the Nazi annexation of Austria, Henry was arrested in England as an enemy alien and dispatched to Canada, where he spent his late teenage years in an internment camp in New Brunswick. He was one of a very few camp inmates to be released under the sponsorship of a Toronto family to attend University. In 1947 he graduated from the University of Toronto with an M.A. in English and a PhD thesis in preparation, and was immediately hired by the University of Alberta. There he found his permanent home and a busy career in both teaching and administration. Writing his fiction, two novels and many short stories, was for him a compelling avocation. He was a constant benefactor to Canadian Literature, both in his literary work and in his teaching, introducing the first Canadian Literature course at the University of Alberta in 1961. As Blodgett ends his tribute, he quotes Kreisel: "You have to cultivate and encourage writers in your own country. You have to know yourself first, then maybe others will know you."
Kreisel worked on a broad canvas; he always retained the awe he felt on first journeying across Canada. In "The Broken Globe", for instance, the narrator is certainly voicing Kreisel's own reaction to the landscape when he writes: "The long journey West was one of the most memorable experiences I have ever had. There were moments of weariness and dullness. But the very monotony was impressive. There was a grandeur about it. It was monotony of a really monumental kind. There were moments when, exhausted by the sheer impact of the landscape, I thought back with longing to the tidy, highly cultivated countries of England and of France ... ." In the same story he is telling the story of his friend, Nick Solchuk's irreparable break with his father. Nick has become an important scientist but to his father he is forever damned because he has believed the teachings of science: "What he do now? he asked sharply. He still tampering with the earth?... What God has made... no man should touch." The story ends with the indomitable father, "still looking at his beloved land, a lonely towering figure framed against the darkening evening sky."
Awe and respect for individuals, awe and respect for the land, these are Kreisel's trademarks. His core themes always retain a kernel of warmth, affection and bemused acceptance of the everlasting human dilemma-in Wordsworth's words the "still, sad music of humanity" in which we all dwell. Over the decades his work has retained its impact and the skill of its composition. It is good to see these stories reissued and with the popularity of short fiction at this present time, they should be guaranteed a well-deserved readership.

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