Angus MacGrath is an artist and coastal trader from Nova Scotia.
“…sailing the Lauralee fed something deep, made him feel part of the grand sweep’’ – not of history, but of the sun’s first rays breaking over the curve of the earth, the currents below, the wind above, propelling him forward, and letting him know just how small a part of the grand sweep he was, but still – a part of it. Suspended, sustained in the territory beyond the points of the compass. And it was that he wanted to capture on canvas – more than capture, he wanted to let it flow through him and out and back again. God had given him talent, or maybe just the longing, but either way, not enough courage to trust it.”
When his brother-in-law enlists in the Canadian Expeditionary Forces in 1915, everyone hopes the war would be over by Christmas. When those hopes were lost and Ebbin’s letters have stopped coming, Angus, encouraged by the dean of his school (and in spite of the protests from his pacifist father), signs up, and the war begins in turn for Angus.
Interspersed with life back in Nova Scotia and life in France and on the front, this world-war 1 historical novel brings home the immense sacrifices made in order to take a few feet of ground. Angus faces death, destruction and loneliness as he struggles with his dilemma and the mystery of what has happened to Ebbin. He agonizes over his personal choices but sometimes he manages to comfort the dying with words from his theological seminary days.
The author cleverly opens up a picture for the reader of the war at the Front and at the same time, helps us get ‘inside’ a soldier’s innermost thoughts.
“… still, I loved him. Ebbin, that is. Never knew how much until he went missing.” Angus leaned forward and cupped his glass with both hands. “When someone’s gone, gone for good, a piece of yourself goes missing – who you were with that person and maybe who you thought you once might be.”
Focusing mainly on the battle for Vimy Ridge, the author makes the war come to life for the reader as we are caught up in the stories of the men in Angus’ platoon and hope he makes it through. It was interesting to me to read about the battles but what made it jump off the page were the personalities the author created; the brave, the sensitive, the fearful, the complacent.
The author has such a talent for making history real and at the same time, making her characters seem genuine and true-to-life. No trite or commonplace personalities here!
This was a fast read for me and a very impressive (and thought-provoking!) debut novel.
“The war was in him, part of him, but not all of him. Memory would always haunt him, as it haunted George. He knew that. But he knew, too, that the sacrifice could not be honored by memory alone, but in the purest part of self where it was understood it could not be fully known. Now we see through a glass darkly…now I know only in part.”