For The Morning Star
Canadian authors have created some of the most compelling work to ever see the light of day — the kind of stories that readers long remember, even if some of the tales are as not as well known today as others.
Turvey: A Military Picaresque (1949) by Earle Birney is a comic masterpiece based on the author’s own experience as an army personnel officer in the Second World War. Private Thomas Leadbeater Turvey is nobody’s idea of a capable recruit —he possesses a remarkable genius for mishap and is constantly in trouble.
But Turvey’s various escapades serve to satirically expose an often mad military machine. For example, the author describes a full-fledged military court martial to prosecute a trivial offence, a military psychiatrist more removed from reality than his patients, the heavy involvement of soldiers in black marketing, their insatiable desire for liquor and sex, and their propensity for swearing.
Turvey is a fiercely funny and satiric work that proved quite provocative when first published, primarily due to objections about the raw language of the soldiers. Libraries across the country even banned the book.
The Apprenticeship of Duddy Kravtiz (1959) by Mordecai Richler is a powerful,candid novel that features one of the most unforgettable characters in Canadian literature. Duddy Kravtiz is a brash and driven young man who claws his way from the squalor of the Jewish working class district of St. Urbain Street to the stylish residential heights of Montreal’s Outrement.
Once he outgrows his childhood speculations, such as stealing and reselling the spare hockey sticks of the Rangers and peddling pornographic comic books, he seeks a more honourable and legitimate enterprise to earn enough money to buy land. For without your own land, his grandfather tells him, you are nobody.
After he graduates, Duddy charts his course, first working as a waiter in a resort hotel and later driving his father’s cab at night and selling liquid soap and toilet supplies to factories during the day. Eventually, he is producing colour films of wedding and bar mitzvah ceremonies for proud and prosperous parents. And while still a minor, and with the help of a patient girlfriend, Yvette, he secretly and painfully assembles an estate surrounding a beautiful lake in the Laurentians.
And No Birds Sang (1979) by Farley Mowatt is a brilliant and devastating Second World War memoir, to paraphrase fellow Canadian author Joseph Boyden. Turned away from the Royal Canadian Air Force for his apparent youth and frailty, Mowatt joined the infantry in 1940. The young second lieutenant soon earned the trust of the soldiers under his command, occasionally bending army rules to secure a stout drink or warm, if non-regulation, clothing for himself and his men.
But dark despair soon replaced the optimism of their jaunty early days when Mowatt and his regiment squared off against elite German forces in the pitiless mountains of Sicily—a brutal campaign for the Canadians. This searing, and at times poignant, account of military service and the friends he left behind is unquestionably one of the author’s greatest accomplishments.
These three titles, and many other works by Canadian authors, are available at your Okanagan Regional Library www.orl.bc.ca.