While not quite up to the level of his best-selling THE BOOK OF NEGROES, his debut novel, SOME GREAT THING is a perfect metaphor for the future of Lawrence Hill's writing. Just as Lawrence Hill was born to produce superb and important literature, Mahatma Grafton's father knew, from the very date of his birth, that he was destined for "some great thing"! Just as, when writing as a reporter, Lawrence Hill knew that he was destined to squeeze something more from his life, Mahatma Grafton, a young black man, also understood that he must at all costs avoid the cynicism and sleaze of tabloid "journalism" and find a way to write with integrity and self-esteem about those things he felt were most important to himself and to his potential Canadian readers.
One review I read termed SOME GREAT THING a "crackling good yarn". I think it's more a thinking man's noir comedy, a wonderful story of Canadian values and issues set in the context of biting satire peopled by a list of exceptionally colourful characters - a sleazy tabloid reporter who is willing to do whatever it takes to get the story (facts, of course, are beside the point!); a visiting black journalist from the Cameroons whose utter inability to understand Canadian culture and the dynamics of western male-female interpersonal relationships is both touching and absolutely hilarious; and a black judge who has worked hard to rise above humble beginnings as a railroad porter but demonstrates exceptionally bad judgment in his professional life and ultimately retires unhappy and unfulfilled. Of course, what self-respecting Canadian story would be complete without touching on the French language issue, in this case, through the eyes of an intriguing French language rights activist.
Winnipeg, Manitoba is the unlikely setting for SOME GREAT THING, a story that is so many different things - a compelling story of personal professional growth for a young black man struggling with himself and his abilities in the field of journalism; an essay on multiple aspects of Canadian culture but, most obviously, the issue of French language rights outside of the province of Quebec; and some fascinating history about black Canadians and their relegation to subservient, low paid jobs such as railway porters. Last but hardly least, SOME GREAT THING explores some pieces of the ever shifting relationship between Canada and its nearest and most friendly(?) ally, that behemoth directly to our south, the US of A!
SOME GREAT THING is great reading under any circumstances. But it would be especially interesting for those foreign readers who would like to learn a little more about what makes Canadians tick! Definitely recommended.