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Update: Maria Campbell's "Halfbreed"

In March of last year I posted a few words about Maria Campbell's autobiography Halfbreed, one of the many books that inspired me when I was writing Seeking the Center.

Just a couple of weeks ago I read that a researcher has found two pages of Campbell's manuscript that were omitted when it was published in 1973. The pages describe Campbell's rape by a Canadian Mountie when she was fourteen years old (which would have been nearly twenty years earlier). It seems that her publisher decided not to include the passage for fear that the R.C.M.P. (Royal Canadian Mounted Police, aka "Mounties") would try to halt its publication.

At the time Jack McClelland, her publisher, reasoned that, if the incident were included in her story, the Mounties would challenge it, and the onus would be on Campbell to prove it. McClelland knew that the word of an Indigenous woman would mean nothing against the word of an R.C.M.P. officer. Campbell herself had wanted the passage included regardless, and didn't know that the publisher had nixed it until she received the printed copy in the mail. 

Perhaps it is fitting that the pages, and the associated story, should come to light in the #MeToo era. For more information, you can read the CBC story here. Please note that it includes the missing pages that describe the rape.



Agnes, Maria Campbell, and the light inside

Who is Agnes, protagonist of Seeking the Center? Where did she come from? The short answer is, I don't know. 

She's not autobiographical. I have never been as tough, as brave, or as smart-assed as she is. (I only wish I was!)

I've mentioned that she began, partly, as a question about being female in the overwhelmingly male world of ice hockey. And that's certainly true.

Ultimately, though, a lot of things entered into the mix that became Agnes's character. And while I will never uncover all of them, I can say that one major inspiration is the life of Maria Campbell, a Métis woman who persevered through extreme difficulties to become a writer, a teacher, a much-respected elder, and an advocate for Métis and women's rights.

 I found Campbell's  Halfbreed  by chance, browsing the stacks at Powell's Books in Portland, Oregon, and I owe an eternal debt of gratitude to whomever it was that sold their used copy to Powell's! The autobiography is riveting and a must-read for  everyone .

I found Campbell's Halfbreed by chance, browsing the stacks at Powell's Books in Portland, Oregon, and I owe an eternal debt of gratitude to whomever it was that sold their used copy to Powell's! The autobiography is riveting and a must-read for everyone.

Campbell was born in 1940 in Park Valley, SK, a poor Road Allowance community. (Unlike other Aboriginal groups, the Métis were not granted rights to land under treaties with the Canadian government, so many were forced to squat on "road allowances" - Crown lands set aside for future roadways.) At age 33 she wrote Halfbreed, an autobiography documenting her life up until that time. In Halfbreed, Campbell never shies away from the poverty, alcoholism, violence, addiction, racism, and sexism that she faced, but she nevertheless manages to portray some of the beauty of her Métis culture and the love that existed within her family, troubled though it may have been.

While devastating at times, Halfbreed remains a testament to the dignity and spirit that people can possess, nurture, and share in defiance of even the direst circumstances and the most heartless enemies. Campbell has this light within herself, and she also has the ability to find it, and to inspire it, in others. In spite of people who fail her, and circumstances that drag her down, she retains the ability to love and to trust others, and to parlay that love into something that can sustain and nourish.

Agnes doesn't experience the hardship and desperation that Campbell did, but she has the same light inside her. And in Seeking the Center, she learns to find it and use it, for her own good and for the good of others.



Some notes on ‘Chief’ as a (hockey) nickname

In Seeking the Center, there’s a scene where Claude is referred to as “Chief” by an opponent:

Good thing you got ol' Chief there to look out for you, eh MacKenzie?

It's not meant as a compliment, either for MacKenzie, who, it is implied, is not man enough to stand up for himself, or for Claude, whom the opponent tries to belittle by referring to him by the racial stereotype “Chief.”

Hockey nicknames are known for their unimaginative-ness, and while researching Seeking, I quickly learned that “Chief” is, or was at one time, the go-to for First Nations/Native American/Métis players of hockey - and other sports as well. According to Don Marks, author of They Call Me Chief: Warriors on Ice, “almost every Indian who played in the NHL or anywhere else has been called ‘Chief' at one time or another.”

Jim Neilson, who played in the NHL in the 1960s and 1970s, told Marks,

I’ve been called Chief all my life, everywhere else I go. In hockey, you know that your teammates were calling you Chief in a friendly, natural sort of way. But then you would play guys from other teams and you knew it wasn’t so friendly. Most of it was just during the heat of the battle and they were trying to throw you off your game and you just ignore it.

Stan Jonathan, Mohawk/Tuscarora NHL forward from 1976-1983, said, also to Don Marks,

They called me Little Chief and I didn’t mind that. It was when they called me ‘wahoo’ or ‘F#$%’n little Indian’ that I didn’t like [it]...

Judging from Neilson’s and Jonathan’s comments, the context of the name-calling could influence players' feelings about it. But also, as Jonathan indicates, the term “Chief,” while intended to isolate, belittle, and ridicule a person on the basis of race, might have been different, in some sense, than other slurs.

Year in Nam is Leroy TeCube's memoir of the year he served as a G.I. in Vietnam. (I also wrote about it in an earlier post.) Like Jim Neilson and Stan Jonathan, TeCube, a Jicarilla Apache man, was given the nickname “Chief” by his "teammates," i.e. the soldiers in his platoon.

When I joined the platoon it consisted mostly of white GIs, followed by blacks and Hispanics. I was the only American Indian. Someone asked, ‘What race are you? You look like an Indian.'

TeCube describes how he discussed his tribal affiliation with the guys, until finally one of them says, “In that case we’ll call you ‘Chief.’” TeCube answers him, “In my traditional way the title of chief is earned and shown respect.” He then recalls: 

Most of the guys would call me Chief from then on, although a handful of individuals called me by my real name. Up until that moment throughout my training no one even suggested calling me Chief. I wondered why that was so. Perhaps because as trainees we were used to being treated as animals and were addressed by our last names. Now here in Vietnam everyone had an identity. 

Regardless of how the name was intended, TeCube chooses how he will take it - he re-appropriates it - and throughout his service in Vietnam he works hard to live up to the name “chief” and what it means to him and his traditional beliefs. He writes:

I also thought of my new responsibility from my Jicarilla Apache way...the short translation of Nahn Tahn is leader. A more indepth translation, however, describes it as someone who is also an orator. He tells his people what happened in battle or what is about to happen to them next...being Nahn Tahn was something to be feared. Only the very strong took on the responsibility. One had to set a good example and ensure that the needs of everyone in his group were met before he thought of himself. He must never be corrupted or gain wealth from his position. The main criteria were that he never retreat in battle and he show a lot of courage. He had to be the first one into a conflict, and if need be, he would fight single-handedly with an enemy leader…

Towards the end of his time in Vietnam, TeCube recalls “meeting a fellow soldier who was we talked I realized he was also a leader within his platoon and was also called Chief. This gave me a good feeling, knowing that another individual lived up to the name.”

Finally, TeCube is awarded sergeant’s stripes. He writes: 

That day I felt a great sense of pride and accomplishment. I never expected to be a sergeant when I entered the army. Now I had orders in my hand stating just that. I also knew that I had earned the rank….It took a little time before I got used to being called sergeant or sarge. Some called me Sergeant TeCube. Most of the time I still went by Chief or Sergeant Chief. This had more meaning. According to my traditional beliefs, I had now earned the right to be called Chief.

TeCube - along with all of his platoon-mates - quickly recognizes the futility of the Vietnam War, but, having no choice in the matter, he takes it as an obstacle to overcome, just as he takes the moniker given to him, "Chief," as a personal challenge. And while I didn't know about TeCube and hadn't read his story when I was writing Seeking, I like the way that, without knowing it, the player who calls Claude "Chief" unwittingly points to certain facets of Claude's character and aspirations, facets that don't come to light until later in the story. Claude feels that he has little choice but to play what he thinks of as "this white man's game," and while, like TeCube, he is certainly aware of racism and the obstacles it places in his path, he soldiers on, keeping his identity, self-respect, and dignity intact.



Louis Riel Day and Métis nationhood

After reading Seeking the Center a friend of mine became curious about the description Métis that appears on the back cover of the book. She looked it up and asked me about it. "It means mixed race, right?" she asked. "Like mestizo."

Well, no. There's confusion about the designation Métis. On the one hand, yes, the French word métis, with a lower-case m, literally means mixed, often used to describe people of "mixed blood" - i.e., people who are bi- or multi-racial. But Métis, with a capital M, does not.

The Métis, as a people, have their roots in the North American fur trade, going back as far as the 17th century, when European fur traders and Indigenous people began forming alliances, often cemented by, or taking the form of, marriages between fur traders and indigenous women. The children of these marriages often intermarried among themselves, and over generations developed their own language (Michif) and culture. They became a large and influential group in the Canadian and American west, working not only as hunters, fur processors, pemmican manufacturers, and voyageurs, but as guides, translators, traders, merchants, and so on. Today they are recognized by the Canadian government as one of three Aboriginal groups - i.e., cultural groups that existed originally, before Canada itself: First Nations, Inuit, and Métis. The United States has never recognized the Métis as a distinct cultural group, although their northern plains homeland extends across the U.S.-Canada border.

The Métis are also, in the same sense as, say, the Ojibwe or the Cree, a nation, and one whose origin predates the arrival of the Canadian and U.S. governments to their homeland. Their sense of nationhood developed over the course of generations, and was solidified during the 19th century through a series of political/military events including the Battle of Seven Oaks (1816), the trial of Guillaume Sayer (1849), and the Métis resistances at Red River, Manitoba (1870) and in Saskatchewan (1885).

The Métis leader in the latter two confrontations was Louis Riel, a charismatic, spiritually inclined, and enigmatic man who envisioned a Native nation in North America. His forces were crushed both at Red River and at Batoche, Saskatchewan, by the Canadian government, then in its infancy. He himself was captured, tried, and hung for treason by Canadian authorities after the defeat at Batoche in 1885. 

Since 2008, the third Monday in February has been designated Louis Riel Day in the Canadian province of Manitoba. In other parts of Canada, Louis Riel, as well as Métis culture in general, are celebrated on November 16, the anniversary of Riel's execution. 

Here are some titles for further reading - by no means an exclusive list! - in order of publication date: 

  • Strange Empire: A Narrative of the Northwest by Joseph Kinsey Howard (1952)
  • Many Tender Ties: Women in Fur-Trade Society, 1670-1870 by Sylvia Van Kirk (1980)
  • Strangers in Blood: Fur Trade Company Families in Indian Country by Jennifer S. H. Brown (1980)
  • The People Who Own Themselves: Aboriginal Ethnogenesis in a Canadian Family, 1660-1900 by Heather Devine (2004)
  • One of the Family: Metis Culture in Nineteenth-Century Northwestern Saskatchewan by Brenda Macdougall (2010)
  • "Métis": Race, Recognition, and the Struggle for Indigenous Peoplehood by Chris Andersen (2014)



Some sports writing by Jack Kerouac

I haven't had much time for blogging lately, but with the Super Bowl approaching, I thought I'd share a piece of my favorite writing about football - a passage from Jack Kerouac's 1950 novel The Town and the City. What I've quoted below is part of a much longer scene describing a high school game between fierce rivals on a blustery, autumn New England day. 

They saw the Lawton team across the field in a huddle of great captains, standing in the wind in their dark uniforms, helmeted fantastically, all grotesque, wild, and ominous; they saw the officials in white placing the new yellow football on the kickoff line; they saw the whole mob-swarmed terrific stadium in a gray windswept blaze of vision. Whistles were piping in the air, silence was falling over the multitudes, the game was ready to begin.
And then when Peter saw the ball up in the air, wobbling and windswept, and saw it bouncing down before him, he was mortified with fear. Then he lunged for it, picked it up, snarled and ran straight downfield with all his headlong might, crashing and stamping through a confusion of hard bodies and falling finally on the icy midfield beneath ten others, and the game was on....
Down on the field the teams lined up, the linemen digging in low and glaring at each other, the backs crouching, the quarterback calling out numbers with his whole body jerking behind each shout, the officials waiting expectantly nearby, and all of it windswept on the dark field to which all eyes were fastened excitedly. The lines collided, biffed, scattered, long rangy youths sprawled, someone ran and ducked into a pileup of bodies, and it was no gain...
The crowd suddenly roared as someone ran wide around end, around reaching hands, arching his back and waving one arm, cutting back suddenly on dancing feet, wavering, darting aside, plunging on a few yards and pulling along to a stop under a pile of bodies. The crowd's roar surged away into droning chattering sounds, cowbells and drums rang in the sharp air...
And now suddenly the crowd rose to its feet with one roaring cry of surprise, explosive and vast, as a Galloway player swept wide around the end, leaped into the air, twisted, and shot the ball several yards over dark helmeted heads, as another Galloway player paused, twisted, reached out for the ball, barely grasped it in his fingers, turned and went plummeting downfield along the sidelines. The roaring of the crowd surged and grew thunderous, the Martin mother jumped up on her seat to see, and she saw a figure racing down the sidelines, shaking off tacklers with a squirming motion, plunging through others with a striding determination, tripping, stumbling, staggering on half fallen and half running, straightening out once more, plodding, faking, yet suddenly approaching the goal line in a drunken weary run, staggered aside by another lunging figure, momentarily stopping, then carrying on again, striding to the line falling, with a dark figure smashing into it, now wavering on bent knees, now finally diving over and rolling in the end zone triumphantly.





A momentous race, at home and in 'Nam

A few summers ago, while researching for Seeking the Center, I read a number of books about sport in Native American/First Nations cultures. (If you're a member of Goodreads, you can follow me there and see what's on my bookshelf.) American Indian Sports Heritage by Joseph B. Oxendine, in particular, stresses the centrality of sport to Native life and belief, as does Tom Vennum in his American Indian Lacrosse: Little Brother of War, which I wrote about here

I'm reading Year in Nam, now, Leroy TeCube's memoir of his experiences serving as an infantryman in Vietnam in 1968 and 1969. TeCube is Jicarilla Apache, and in his book he often reflects on the role his heritage played in his actions and ultimate survival. In light of my earlier research, I found the following passage especially interesting. It weaves together TeCube's memory of a traditional tribal relay race with a life-or-death race to cross a bridge under enemy fire in Vietnam.

 Published by University of Nebraska Press, Lincoln and London. Winner of the 1996 North American Indian Prose Award.

Published by University of Nebraska Press, Lincoln and London. Winner of the 1996 North American Indian Prose Award.

As I ran across the narrow bridge I had a flashback to my youth. On September 15 of every year my tribe has a traditional relay race between our two clans. The outcome of the race determines the type of year ahead. Depending on which clan won, there would be more wild game or crops. This race gives my people an idea of how to plan their activities for the year to come.
The relay race is on a racetrack three hundred yards long and about ten yards wide. Head runners are determined at a preliminary race the day before. Before the race starts, elderly men paint the runners in an aspen kiva, conduct prayers for them, and run down the track blessing it. When they finish the race starts with the head runners running at a full sprint down the track. When they reach the end of the track another set of runners runs back. This goes back and forth until a clan gets ahead by a full length of the track. When that happens the clan in the lead wins the race. If the runners from each clan are evenly matched the race could take several hours.
I had participated in the race several times. It could be very deceptive, especially going in an easterly direction. That is because in that direction about three-fourths of the way down is a slight rise that looks like the finish line. If you are not aware of the illusion your energy is expended when you reach this point, and you have to continue on with heavy legs. Elderly men holding aspen branches give you words of encouragement and whip you on the legs with the branches for added strength. It works. You find the burst of energy needed to take you to the finish line
I was now about three-fourths of the way across the narrow bridge. My legs were heavy from carrying my pack. I thought of the elderly men in our traditional race. In an instant, just that thought gave me the encouragement to continue. I ran off the bridge on the other side and took cover next to the trail. After catching my breath I fired toward the wood line. Out of the corner of my right eye I could see the others running the same race. Eventually, we all made it across without a casualty.

As TeCube describes, the ritual relay race has spiritual and practical dimensions, but also serves as a way to build and inspire courage and determination. It would be interesting to know whether, traditionally, the race was in any way considered to be, like American Indian lacrosse, a "little brother of war," or if it just worked out that way for TeCube in this instance. In any case, it was a treat to, unexpectedly, come across this intriguing recollection.


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Loud buildings

So, here's something interesting.  Today I've been reading an article titled "Acoustics and ritual in the British Neolithic" by Aaron Watson.* His idea is that Neolithic structures were built not only as tombs, or as a type of "calendar" in which, for example, at Newgrange, the structure is aligned so that at the winter solstice the rising sun shines down the passage into the central chamber - but that these structures might also have been deliberately constructed to achieve certain acoustic aims.

I read about sound and ritual back when I was doing research on Scandinavian religion in the Viking age (which is, of course, considerably more recent than the Neolithic). During that time, they used sound - for example chanting or the beating of swords on shields - to create environments conducive to various rituals. And speaking of beating swords on shields, the noise of battle, at least poetically, was also part of its identification as a distinctive environment to which spirits such as the valkyries are drawn and during which supernatural events may take place. 

Now, Viking battles always remind me of hockey (that's just the way my mind works), but where was the connection to Watson's ideas about ritual in Neolithic megastructures? There was nothing obviously hockey-like there. Until I came across this:

Neolithic communities were constructing places within which the propagation of sound was artificially bounded and controlled to a greater extent than had ever been possible before. Schafer has even proposed that most ancient buildings were constructed not so much to enclose space as to enshrine sound.

As soon as I read that, the phrase a loud building popped into my head.

Hockey players and coaches will sometimes describe an "enemy" arena as being especially loud, i.e., the fans are very vocal in support of their team, and they fill every seat. This loudness is, in theory, anyhow, supposed to carry the home team a good distance toward victory. Especially during the playoffs, there can be competitive boasting about whose building is the loudest. It's a big deal.

I'm not sure that the arenas themselves are built to maximize volume, but they are equipped with monumentally loud sound systems and jumbotrons that, at key points in the game, urge fans themselves to get loud!

Am I going way out of my way to link Neolithic structures with hockey arenas? Quite possibly I am. But the role of sound in creating a certain environment, conducive to certain activities, hopeful of summoning the spirits of just reminds me of hockey arenas. I'm sorry, but that's just the way my mind works.

*Watson's article is part of The Archaeology of Shamanism, edited by Neil Price.


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Jack Falla and "A Death in Montreal"

One of my favorite writers on hockey is Jack Falla, a Massachusetts native who covered the NHL for Sports Illustrated in the 1980s and taught sports journalism at Boston University. Sadly, he passed away in 2008 at the all-too-young age of 64, but I almost feel that I've had the the opportunity to know him through his essay collections Home Ice: Reflections on Backyard Rinks and Frozen Ponds and Open Ice: Reflections and Confessions of a Hockey Lifer.

Falla's short essays make the sport personal. They describe the many ways that hockey enriched, inspired and even, in certain ways, created him as a person.

"A Death in Montreal," the first essay in Open Ice, is a good example of this. Here, the death of hockey great Maurice "Rocket" Richard in 2000 unexpectedly connects Falla to a lost part of his childhood, allowing him to grieve, finally, for his mother, who had died forty-five years earlier, when Falla was eleven years old.

It's a beautifully constructed essay that somehow draws together, in twenty-seven simply but elegantly written pages, many seemingly disparate worlds. There's the world of Falla's childhood in 1950s Massachusetts: "I don't know why I wasn't told the truth [about my mother's ovarian cancer]. Maybe I wasn't supposed to know about ovaries." There's Maurice Richard: "more than a seething and driven scoring machine. He was the fleur-de-lis made flesh, a human flag for the simmering resentments of French Canadians." And then there's Falla's maternal grandmother schooling his Boston-bred, hockey-fan father: "It's Mohr-riss Ri-sharr, Nana said. I know. I'm French."

In the end, Falla's subtle prose links his belated tears of mourning on a Vermont interstate to Nana's exploding bottles of root beer some forty years earlier, illuminating the layered and entwined webs of meaning that our minds create out of elements widely scattered in time, place and context.



When Girls Became Lions

I grew up female, a teenager in the late '70s and '80s. Now my daughter is as old as I was then. I'm always telling her how different things are for her than they were for me. I know it must get tiresome, maybe even burdensome, for her to hear, but I think it's important.

It's actually not that easy to wrap your head around. The deep, pervasive sexism that kept parents and teachers from encouraging girls to play sports seems so incredibly stupid in retrospect, that it's hard even for me, who lived through it, to believe. But that is the way it was.

When I was my daughter's age, there was a nominal acceptance of the fact that, theoretically, girls had the right to equal opportunities in sports. But the fact is, girls playing sports was not, at that time, a thing. Almost no girls played anything--not in my community and socio-economic category, anyhow. And no one seemed to think it was a problem. I loved watching Tatum O'Neal in the original Bad News Bears (1976)--if you haven't seen it, you should; it's a highly entertaining portrayal of how things were back in those Dark Ages--but it certainly did not precipitate a rush to get girls into Little League.

 I resisted reading this novel, by Valerie J. Gin and Jo Kadlecek, because it had an "agenda." But it was interesting and far exceeded  my expectations. A good read and one that tells an important story.

I resisted reading this novel, by Valerie J. Gin and Jo Kadlecek, because it had an "agenda." But it was interesting and far exceeded  my expectations. A good read and one that tells an important story.

When Girls Became Lions (2015) tells part of the story of how we got from there to here. Set in 1983-4, in a small Ohio town, the novel is a fictionalized account of what happens when, more than a decade after the passage of Title IX, a public high school is threatened with the withdrawal of athletic funding unless it forms a girls soccer team--something its athletic director has resisted for years. It's also the story of how, a generation later, the new coach of the girls soccer team uncovers that original team's story--one that had been purposely suppressed because, well, who cares? They're girls.

Aside from being a compelling read, When Girls Became Lions documents an important piece of women's history, the history of our struggle to get our fair share of our communities' financial and, equally important, its emotional resources.

Every once in a while it's necessary to stop and reflect on what ties us together, as female human beings, across generations. And in my case, to be grateful to those women and men who stepped up so that my daughter can enjoy opportunities that I couldn't.



What does your sport mean to you?

While writing Seeking the Center, I tried to investigate the different meanings that hockey can have for different people. If you're interested in this topic too, I recommend that you read American Indian Lacrosse: Little Brother of War, by ethnomusicologist Thomas Vennum, Jr. 

Most everyone knows that lacrosse originated among various Native American tribes. In American Indian Lacrosse, Vennum explores the significance of the game within these cultures, past and present. Lacrosse, for them, is not just a game to play; rather, it's tied to many other aspects of life. Deeply rooted in the story of creation itself, it can function as a sort of prayer for health or fine weather, a way to train for combat, a mode of resistance against colonialist powers, or a way for young people to express pride in their tribal identities.

That's not an exhaustive list, nor does it do justice to the wealth of narrative, artistic, medicinal, social, spiritual, and other lacrosse-related traditions that Vennum describes, but you get the idea. This is a fascinating account with a wealth of illustrations and well-told stories. And as a bonus, reading it just might give you a new perspective on your favorite sport and your relationship to it.

 My dog-eared, post-it-adorned copy of the 1994 classic, in which historical vignettes and contemporary conversations illuminate the contexts for the Native game.

My dog-eared, post-it-adorned copy of the 1994 classic, in which historical vignettes and contemporary conversations illuminate the contexts for the Native game.

Beyond a Boundary: The classic book on cricket by C.L.R. James

Beyond a Boundary (1963) is C.L.R. James's classic memoir and exegesis of cricket in the colonial West Indies. James (1901-1989), a native of Trinidad who spent many of his adult years in Britain, was involved with cricket as a player, critic and commentator. He was also an historian, novelist, cultural and political critic, and activist. In Beyond a Boundary he describes how irrevocably enmeshed the sport was in his own development, as well as in the political, social and racial struggles of his time. 

  Beyond a Boundary  was published in Britain in 1963 and in the US in 1983. My copy is from 1993, published by Duke University Press.

Beyond a Boundary was published in Britain in 1963 and in the US in 1983. My copy is from 1993, published by Duke University Press.

I wish I was knowledgeable enough to discuss how this has all played out in the fifty-plus years since Beyond a Boundary was published. I'm not, but I want to offer to you this statement by James explaining the premise of this book. It speaks to the roles sport can play in defining a society and the points of struggle, of contest, and of contradiction within it. 

I haven’t the slightest doubt that the clash of race, caste and class did not retard but stimulated West Indian cricket. I am equally certain that in those years social and political passions, denied normal outlets, expressed themselves so fiercely in cricket (and other games) precisely because they were games. Here began my personal calvary. The British tradition soaked deep into me was that when you entered the sporting arena you left behind you the sordid compromises of everyday existence. Yet for us to do that we would have had to divest ourselves of our skins. From the moment I had to decide which club I would join the contrast between the ideal and the real fascinated me and tore at my insides. Nor could the local population see it otherwise. The class and racial rivalries were too intense. They could be fought out without violence or much lost except pride and honour. Thus the cricket field was a stage on which selected individuals played representative roles which were charged with social significance. I propose now to place on record some of the characters and as much as I can reproduce (I remember everything) of the social conflict. I have been warned that some of these characters are unknown and therefore unlikely to interest non-West Indian readers. I cannot think so.

He was right in that. Beyond a Boundary certainly held my interest, even though its "players" were not only unknown to me (as is cricket, largely, I'm afraid!) but also long departed from the planet. The circumstances James describes are fascinating and, though intricate, they resonate widely. I learned a lot from this book.


Book Review: Killing Frank McGee by Don Reddick

Frank McGee was a Canadian hockey star during the early years of the 20th century, and, according to the cover copy of this book, “the only legitimate Hall of Fame athlete of any sport to be killed in action fighting for his country.” Killing Frank McGee is a fictionalized account of McGee's near-miraculous prowess as a hockey star (he was blind in one eye and only 5' 6" yet scored prolifically), and his considerably less extraordinary death in the trenches of France during World War I.

Interestingly, Reddick chooses to tell McGee’s story not through the athlete’s own thoughts or words, but rather through those of the novel's two narrators, Alf Smith and Billy Kinnear. The result is an unusual sort of character sketch in which the context and surroundings are clearly pictured, but the man at the center remains a bit of a mystery.

Those surroundings, though, are dense and vividly described. On the home front, we’re treated to a startling close-up of Smith, an Ottawa Hockey Club coach and player-coach whose disdain for the privileged classes (including the McGee family of which his teammate Frank is a member) is matched only by his single-minded determination to win the Stanley Cup. Through Smith’s opinionated musings, the era’s economic, social and class terrain, as well as the hockey culture of the time, come to life.

If Alf Smith shows us the Canada that created Frank McGee, Billy Kinnear, a young, sensitive, working-class man from rural New Brunswick, brings us the war that kills him. Through Kinnear, Reddick renders not only the blood, mud, stench and deafening thunder of trench warfare, but also the humanity of the soldiers who cling not so much to life, which they cannot hope to grasp, as to spirit.

Up to the moment of his death and beyond, McGee remains that mystery, that blank slate upon which we, or Kinnear, or any of his other fans and followers may draw what they will. An unusual way to portray your protagonist, perhaps, but isn't it rather in keeping with the way the rest of us "mere mortals" tend to view our star athletes and war heroes?