To endeavour to speak about Canadian identity is to enter upon a highly contested and vertiginous playground. Whereas in the last issue of Books in Canada, its transcultural aspect insistently disclosed itself, what emerges here is just how plagued and captivated, if not downright obsessed, we are by the way in which Canadian identity, nationhood, and culture have been articulated, redefined, placed under the sign of the interrogative.
Meteorological catastrophes, theatrical milestones, passings-of-the-political-baton, first flights and aviation autos-da-fé... The winter of 1998/99 is devoted to memory, to recollecting the events that have impressed themselves on our consciousness of ourselves as a nation and of the place we occupy on the international stage. January 1999 marked the first anniversary of the devastating Ice Storm, and along with a review of Mark Abley's bestseller is Steven Heighton's reflection on how one community lived through what has been nominated "the Storm of the Century". November 1998 was the twentieth anniversary of the opening of Billy Bishop Goes to War in Vancouver. Theatre critic and actor Jerry Wasserman looks at the current remounting of the play that put Canadian theatre on the world map, and discusses the transformations that the intervening two decades and reappraisal of war have entailed with writer, director, and piano player, John Gray.
European colonialism has had quite the strong hand in forming the Canadian cultural landscape, to say the least. The painful aftermath of the imposition of white colonization on Native life is addressed by Heather Hodgson in conversation with Tomson Highway, as they deliberate over the deletion of a traditional way of being, the silencing of a mode of storytelling, the loss of a tongue, and Highway's recent narrative negotiations between languages and cultural forms. The re-edition of master con man Grey Owl's tales raises a complementary nexus of issues around the dynamics of the Brit's appropriation of Native identity, and the filtering of Native themes through a Victorian narrative voice.
In the arena of identity politics, H.D. Forbes examines three books on or by Pierre Elliot Trudeau, the leader of our country who, upon being elected Prime Minister thirty years ago, arguably and effectively started to transform Canadian identity by making Canada multicultural within a bilingual frame. Sam Ajzenstat reviews Will Kymlicka's study of multicultural policies and ethnocultural relations. Norman Ravvin takes a look at Wayne Johnston's fictional biography of Joe Smallwood, which is also "a meditation on the lost possibility of nationhood" for Newfoundland as it enters Confederation. Cynthia Sugars discusses W.H. New's investigation of identity borders as he seeks out the manner in which the 49th parallel informs and limits our sense of being a distinct community. And Paul Keen takes to task Geoff Pevere's book on how the promotional genius of the Roots' team succeeded in creating a clothing empire out of Canadian folkloric culture, and a culture in fashion.
This issue also features three recent major literary award winners: Alice Munro's Giller prizewinning novel and Stephanie Bolster's Governor General award-winning book of poetry are highlighted, and the 1998 winner of the Nobel Prize for Literature, José Saramago, is profiled.
Finally, we introduce a new section, Books on Kids, to accompany the reviews of children's books.
Nature in Ireland: A Scientific and Cultural History (reviewed September 1998) is published by McGill-Queen's Press in North America, and not by Lilliput Press. It is available in cloth ($75, ISBN 0-7735-1817-8) and paperback ($34.95, ISBN 0-7735-1817-7).
The names of rob mclennan and kath macLean were conflated on the cover of the October 1998 issue. Our apologies to the poets for this surprised conjoining of their identity markers.