Refreshment in Toronto

I lived a year in Toronto more than four decades ago, and if memory serves me, it was an uncertain and sometimes lonely year, but as for the city, I was beguiled by it. Now I’m here again, for a couple of months—H. and I spending the summer with our Toronto children, having packed up our things and shipped them off to B.C. where we’re locating next—and once again this city offers its charms.

A woman I met the other evening told me that beauty in B.C., where she’s also lived, is “in your face” but appears more subtly in Toronto; it has to be discovered.

Well, I don’t know. I speak after only a week, mind you, and about a specific area, the Junction Triangle where our children live, but I’ve found beauty quite vividly immediate here as well. There’s a mix of decay and renewal in this old neighbourhood, but a rich diversity of people and many young families with all their energy and striving, and not far from the house, there’s a walking/biking path between condo developments and rail-lines that’s lined with trees and left-wild undergrowth. Yesterday we noticed a monarch caterpillar feeding on milkweed and H., who loves birds, spotted a northern mockingbird.



Only one week, but it’s been refreshing and fortuitous in a number of ways. The day after we arrived a Winnipeg friend emailed that she had an extra ticket to Jean Little’s talk (this year’s Margaret Laurence Lecture, part of the Writer’s Summit event), which I’d wanted to attend only to be informed it was sold out. So I heard Little speak of her writing life after all, and it was a treat. She’s been a prolific and honest writer for children. From Anna is her best-known book.

“A good story,” Little said, “reaches deep inside and shakes your heart awake.”

9781487000745_3f38b1db-9d0a-45b9-a92d-6217ce89cf23_1024x1024Then when I went to the nearest small branch library, I noticed A Whole Life by Robert Seethaler on the “recommended” shelf. I hadn’t registered this book, shortlisted for the Man Booker prize, or this writer, but here it was, and oh how I loved it! Andreas Egger is a mountain man with a limp and difficult childhood. We follow him through his life—narrated via a series of telling incidents—and see too the historical background and changes upon which he lives. It’s a short book, wonderfully written, and wise, especially about time. Egger serves in the Caucasus during the Second World War, is imprisoned there, but in the end those years seem “scarcely longer” than too-brief days with his love Marie. I want to read more of Seethaler now; he’s an Austrian writer living in Berlin.

By fortuitous overlap, I also arrived in Toronto in time to attend the launch of Kingston writer Kirsteen MacLeod’s first book, a collection of stories, The Animal Game (Tightrope Books). It was held in a very crowded bar, which I couldn’t help contrasting with Winnipeg’s airy McNally Robinson’s—one does contrast in any re-location, I’m afraid. But the book was well and duly launched and three stories into the nine of them, I can say that Kirsteen, who I met some years ago at a workshop week at the Banff Centre, is a lushly descriptive and psychologically astute writer. I’m enjoying her book a lot. the-animal-game-cover-185x300

After the strain of packing and moving, it’s gratifying to be able to read and relax into summer here, as well as spend time with our children and grandchildren. And to check in again at Borrowing Bones.

10 thoughts on “Refreshment in Toronto

  1. Jean Little! I can’t believe she’s still active! When we lived in Kitchener Heidi and I went several times to hear her and to see her dogs. It was always a treat. We love her books! Church was good today. Bryce had an awesome sermon about facing change–he called it “The Problem With Pigs” (about the demon possessed man). I led worship.

    • Hi Elfrieda, thanks for this! Ms. Little didn’t have a dog with her this time; her sister was on stage with her and assisted her by reading parts of her speech. I spotted one of her books in a thrift store yesterday and picked it up for the grandkids. — We listened to “The Problem with Pigs” online. Change, yes, it’s becoming real to us what this involves. 🙂

  2. Isn’t the Robert Seethaler novella a gem! I just finished it and knew it was going to be good, as it stood out for me right from the long list of the Man Booker International. I believe the book he wrote before it The Tobacconist has also been translated into English, so I’m looking forward to reading that.

    • A gem indeed, and I too want to read The Tobacconist now. Currently reading Anne Enright’s The Green Road. I’m in awe. — Thanks so much for taking the time to comment, Claire, because it directed me to your fine blog, recent review of A Whole Life, and other reviews and recommends! A great resource.

  3. Hello Dora! I hope you’re doing well here in Toronto. Say hi to those lovely girls for me! Just wanted to let you know that The New Quarterly arrived today and I’m enjoying your essay so much. I also bought a copy of What You Get at Home recently, and look forward to reading it soon.

    • Thanks, Kerry, and so nice to hear from you. Lovely girls, yes, with a third added just three months ago. — Looking forward to getting my TNQ — with our various addresses this summer who knows where it’s stalled — but of course I’ve seen the proofs. 🙂 Best to you.

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