The Boy – a review (2)

Betty Jane Hegerat’s latest novel, Odd One Out, will be published by Oolichan Books in early May. In anticipation of that publication, here is part of an interview posted by Carin Makuz on her blog, Matilda Magtree, talking with Betty Jane about her most recent book, The Boy.

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The Boy
by Betty Jane Hegerat

Purchase copies here

(at) eleven with betty jane hegerat: the boy

I was introduced to Betty Jane Hegerat’s work through a mutual friend, Susan Toy, who I met through a Humber writing program some years ago. A small group of us have kept in touch and Susan regularly fills us in on what’s new and brilliant, book-wise, in the western half of the country. Over the years I’ve come to value her judgment. Hegerat’s The Boy was no exception to her exceptional taste.

The story, based on real events—the murder of a family in 1959 rural Alberta—is told in three interconnected parts: i) fiction (Louise’s story; she’s stepmother to Danny, a difficult and troublesome boy), ii) creative non-fiction (this is Daisy’s story, the real-life mother of five, whose stepson, Bobby Cook, ‘the boy’ of the title, was convicted of murdering his family and became the last person to have been hanged in Alberta, though there remains much doubt about his guilt…), and iii) a memoir of the author’s journey through the research and writing of the book, during which time she develops a relationship with the fictional character, Louise, who makes regular appearances throughout, prompting Hegerat to storylines and directions she’s reluctant to pursue. The reader is privy to all these ‘conversations’.

It sounds complicated. It isn’t. At least not for the reader. As a piece of writing, it’s quite a feat; Hegerat’s use of structure alone is inspirational. (I challenge anyone to suggest a better way of telling this story.) The three perspectives (as well as comments by fictional Louise—this is such a mad and wonderful component!) eventually merge and, seen as a whole, we realize that it’s not just about the boy, but about everyone else, about the way we judge, the roles we play, the things we protect and why. The subject is disturbing, yes, not the least for its setting in the most ordinary of lives, but at the end of the day, the story is less about murder and more about compassion, small-mindedness, fear, what it is to be a woman, a mother, a friend, a neighbour. We all have an influence on each other’s lives and no matter our circumstances, we really aren’t that different— which, if you think about it, is both comforting and frightening.

The (At) Eleven series was begun as a way of chatting about books written by people whose paths have crossed mine in some small way or other. And because I feel that any discussion of words and stories goes best with a little something to eat—and because it’s hard to share a meal online—I make a suggestion at the end of the Q&A as to what meal the book has inspired. (In case anyone would like to do a little book club food pairing.)

“Eating is our earliest metaphor, preceding our consciousness of gender difference, race, nationality, and language. We eat before we talk.” ~Margaret Atwood from The Can Lit Food Book

(For the rest of this interview, please go to Matilda Magtree.)

Carin Makuz

Betty Jane Hegerat has been previously featured on Reading Recommendations here and here. Carin Makuz, while never having been directly promoted as an author on Reading Recommendations, is a great pal of this site. Carin maintains two blogs: Matilda Magtree and The Litter I See Project, which has featured the work of a number of RR-promoted authors (including Betty Jane Hegerat!) and was promoted on the blog in Nov. 2015.

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No More Mulberries – a review

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No More Mulberries
by Mary Smith

Purchase copies here
(Currently available on an Amazon Kindle Countdown Deal)

*The author provided Colleen Chesebro with a copy of the book in exchange for an honest review which follows*

It all begins in Scotland –

While in college studying midwifery in her native Scotland, Margaret meets the dashing and mysterious Jawad, an Afghan engineering student. There is an immediate connection between the two and Margaret follows her heart falling head over heels in love with Jawad. They visit Afghanistan together and Margaret fearing she will lose Jawad to his homeland, proposes to him knowing the cultural roadblocks that lay ahead for the two of them. Jawad’s parents do not approve of the marriage. They finally agree that if the two can be separated for one year and still feel the same about each other they will give their permission for the couple to marry.

Meanwhile, back in Scotland, Margaret changes her name to Miriam and converts to Islam. For Miriam, this is a decision that immerses her into the Muslim culture of her future husband. After a year, Miriam and Jawad are reunited and married. Eventually, Jawad and Miriam have a son together named, Farid. Life is challenging for Miriam as she struggles to learn the language and customs of her new homeland but her love for Jawad is unwavering.

And ends far from home…

When Miriam’s father becomes ill, she takes Farid and heads back to Scotland so her father can meet his grandson. Upon her return, traveling through Pakistan on her way back to Afghanistan, Jawad’s brother informs her that Jawad has been killed. Miriam knows none of the details of Jawad’s death. All she knows is that the love of her life and her son’s father is gone. Broken by the news, Miriam knows she can’t go back to the home that Jawad and she shared as a single woman with a child. Cultural norms won’t allow it.

It is during this time in Pakistan that Miriam meets Iqbal, a doctor who is in need of a wife in order to go back to his home in Afghanistan. Culturally, it is imperative that men of Iqbal’s age be married, especially since he is a doctor/paramedic. The two enter into an arranged marriage of sorts, although they share a deep love for Afghanistan and its people. Miriam longs to stay in Afghanistan to raise Farid in his native land and marrying Iqbal seems to be the logical way to stay in the county.

What transpires is a love story steeped in the cultural differences of strict Islamic traditions, customs, and beliefs which lead Miriam and Iqbal on a mission of self-discovery to find themselves and their own true love and happiness.

Recommendation:

I was excited to read this book because I have a close friend serving overseas in Afghanistan. Culturally, I knew nothing of the country or the traditions. I only had a fundamental knowledge of Islam so I knew this was going to be a book like no other I had ever read. My assumptions were correct and I was immediately immersed into Miriam’s world. I cried with her, laughed with her, and at times tasted the grit of blowing sand feeling as if I was walking in her footsteps.

As I began reading this novel, I realized that I had to set aside my own belief system and embrace those of the people of Afghanistan. Many of the characters struggled with this same dilemma. When Miriam attended a school to brush up on medical training she met a female German doctor who was amazed at the way the Afghani women were treated by their husbands and even their own families. It was a hard lesson to learn that some things are so deeply rooted in tradition they cannot be changed. After traveling the world a bit myself; I realized that we all have cultural differences so it was not a stretch for me to embrace the people of Afghanistan.

This novel is written from the unique perspective of the author, Mary Smith, using her own observations and experiences while living and working in Afghanistan in the 1990’s. The sights and sounds of the bazaars came alive for me through powerful descriptions that made me feel like I was right there bartering for goods beside Miriam. I longed to try some of the foods and would have loved to have experienced the rich tea that was served several times a day.

The book is written from the perspective of Miriam and then of Iqbal in alternating chapters. I believe this gives the reader a chance to delve into the personalities of the pair as separate people who are also a couple. It is a deep character study of the choices people make in life and the consequences of their choices. I found that I could relate to Miriam’s and Iqbal’s experiences in many ways in my own life.

For those of you who follow my reviews, you know how emotionally vested I get in characters who come across as real individuals. These characters leaped from the pages of the book into my heart. Remember, deep down this is the story of renewal and of finding true love, which just goes to show you that true love has no cultural boundaries.

Colleen Chesebro
(This review has appeared on Lit World Interviews and Silver Threading.)

Mary Smith has been previously featured on Reading Recommendations. Colleen Chesebro is a writer of cross-genre fiction, poetry, and imaginative nonfiction and reviews books on her blog, Silver Threading.