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.”
Then 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.
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.