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Story of a Nation: Defining Moments in our History [Hardcover]

Margaret Atwood , Timothy Findley , Alberto Manguel , Michelle Berry , Michael Turner

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Book Description

Sept. 11 2001
Inspired by history, Story of a Nation is a beautifully illustrated collection of original stories from some of Canada's most celebrated and best-loved authors. Twelve of the country's finest writers, including Margaret Atwood, Roch Carrier, Timothy Findley, Antonine Maillet, Alberto Manguel and Michael Turner, when presented with the question, What are the great events in Canadian history? responded by travelling into the past to discover the moments, both familiar and unexpected, that shaped our nation.

Drawing on their skills as master storytellers, the contributors to this collection offer wonderfully imaginative accounts of what it's like to make history. Margaret Atwood casts her eye back to 1759 and brilliantly captures the journal entries of a frightened French woman, trapped in Québec City as the English forces attack. In "The First of July," David Macfarlane's youthful narrator loses himself in the papers of an elderly neighbour, and through the records of her past, experiences the heartbreaking, stunting loss of war. In Thomas King's hilarious story, "Where the Borg Are," a young boy named Milton Friendlybear offers a Star Trekkian reinterpretation of the Indian Act, linking its significance to the fate of the universe. And revisiting an occasion of huge national pride, Michelle Berry tells the story of a four-year-old girl caught up in the excitement of the 1972 Summit Series, hopeful that the passion of hockey will hold her crumbling family together.

Each of these magical stories is further brought to life by an accompanying visual narrative. Vividly illustrating the joy, sorrow, anger and passion of more than two centuries of our history, here are fifty unforgettable images: the Belgian Queen, a seductive reminder that the Klondike of Roch Carrier's story was anything but a purely masculine domain; Kurt Meyer, the SS officer who represented evil in the childhood of John Ralston Saul and of many other children whose fathers landed on Juno beach in June 1944; and Viola Desmond at the Hi-Hat Club, whose glamour and elegance contrasted starkly with the small-minded racism so powerfully chronicled by Dionne Brand.

With a preface by Rudyard Griffiths, executive director of The Dominion Institute, and introduced by distinguished historian Christopher Moore, Story of a Nation is a moving celebration of Canada's extraordinary history and our exceptional writers.

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History informs, but rarely touches. Its language is that of actualities--of numbers and places and names--not of the heart. Story of a Nation is an attempt to make historical facts more real through the use of fiction, with 12 pieces, some by heavy-hitters like Margaret Atwood and Timothy Findley, and some by young mavericks like Hal Niedzviecki and Michael Turner. Four of the most compelling stories reduce--or elevate--a period of history to a love story. Roch Carrier’s "Gold and Sawdust," a tale set during the Klondike gold rush of two brothers and the woman both love, ends in horribly ironic tragedy. David McFarlane's "The First of July" shares with its protagonist the revelation of history being, in the end, about real people: a series of love letters proves that the old, scary woman down the road was once a young Newfoundland woman in love with a soldier who met a brutal end in the First World War. American expat Michelle Berry's attempts to come to terms with her adopted country's national obsession results in "Henderson Has Scored for Canada!", a story in which she folds the historic Canada/Russia hockey games of 1972 into a tense domestic drama. Dionne Brand's "One Down" reveals how a single act of racism, in this instance in New Glasgow, Nova Scotia, in 1946, can come between two people. "Jack is not with you now, he is not in that photograph at the Hi-Hat Club on Columbus Avenue in Boston," writes Brand, who has pieced together the story of Viola Desmond and her battle with the racist Roseland Theatre using photographs and newspaper accounts. "Good as he was, a distance opened up between you that Friday in November 1946 when the Dodge broke down. Not right away, but little by little."

There are other fine tales in Story of a Nation that don’t touch on love at all—Niedzviecki's "Very Nice, Very Nice" combines two of the author's obsessions, filmmaker Arthur Lipsett and Toronto commune Rochdale. And Thomas King's "Where the Borg Are" tells of a young Native boy's attempts to understand government aboriginal policy in terms of Star Trek. Not all of the stories are as successful as these are, but more often than not this beautifully designed, heavily illustrated book finds the perfect pitch between the cold facts of history and the yearnings of the human heart. --Shawn Conner


“The highly selective snapshots are sharply focused, the writing as careful and classy as the longer fiction for which most of the authors are celebrated. Certainly the short-story form is alive and well in this polished collection.” -- Victoria Times-Colonist

Story of a Nation gives the ‘Canadian history is boring’ chorus a nice kick in the butt.” -- Chatelaine

“The writing is without exception excellent. . . . This is such a good idea.” -- The Globe and Mail

From the Trade Paperback edition.

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