“This lake has no bottom.” So begins Dania Tomlinson’s novel, Our Animal Hearts, the second pick of the Okanagan Online Book Club.
Our Animal Hearts take place in a fictional Okanagan village, modelled loosely on Carr’s Landing, near where Tomlinson, herself, grew up. Taking place as the First World War reaches its height, young men leave the village by paddlewheeler to fight on distant shores, and young women take over work in orchards.
“We choose Our Animal Hearts not only because it’s a fantastic book, but it’s a historical novel about this valley during another time of upheaval and change,” Laisha Rosnau of the Greater Vernon Museum and Archives and co-host of the book club, said.
“Another thing that seems resonant now, is it’s the story of characters from different cultures living up against each other in a small community and some of the tensions they experience.” The book brings together the lives of white European settlers in the valley with those of the Indigenous Syilx people and the Japanese and Ukrainian immigrants, as well as the animals living alongside them, lurking in the woods and in the lake.
“Growing up so close to forests and lakes has made it impossible for me to imagine a world without animals. We see them everywhere and yet they exist in another realm; they’re like spirits,” Tomlinson said.
Like the animals who are always present in the book, so are the legends about them, from different cultural points of view.
“I think blending cultural stories more honestly portrays the human experience,” Tomlinson said.
“In a globalized world, we come into contact with myths, legends, and fairy tales of various backgrounds – finding value and building connections between different cultural and personal stories might be a fruitful way forward in a world where there is often a lot of segregation and misunderstanding.”
“Reading historical fiction, I’m always struck by how much of our shared past is timely and resonant,” said Rosnau. “I guess that’s the ‘human condition,’ that we keep coming up against the same conflicts, generation after generation.
“A line in the novel that seems timeless is, ‘Every few years someone disappears in the lake’,” Rosnau said. “Those of us who live in the Okanagan know that how true that is.”
Tomlinson adds: “I find that the story of the lake monster is rarely ever ‘told’ to you, not in so many words. It’s usually more something you learn when you overhear someone who is pointing out into the middle of the lake saying: ‘Look! There it is! It’s coming this way.’”
For more information and to join the Okanagan Virtual Book Club on Thursday, June 25 at 7 p.m. go to www.okcreateonline.com/okanagan-online-book-club.html, or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
“Our first meeting went really well,” Rosnau said.
“It was one reader’s first time in an online chat group, most of us were strangers to each other, and while it could have been awkward, it really wasn’t – I’m looking forward to the second meeting.”