A bow to the past in Kansas

In the spirit of the rather fitful reporting to which this blog has devolved, I’m here this Monday afternoon to say that I was away four days in Kansas, hanging out with historians and archivists. (I believe I’ve mentioned before that these are some of my favorite people.) I’m on the Historical Commission of the Mennonite Brethren (MB) denomination, which meets once a year, rotating between the four archival centers in Kansas, California, B.C., and Manitoba. We hear reports from the centers, undertake various publishing projects (including both scholarly and popular history–last year’s was the fascinating mystery-biography, It Happened in Moscow by Maureen Klassen, which has sold astonishingly well), sponsor research grants and an archival internship, and occasionally plan symposiums, all to foster the preservation of, study of, and reflection on our history. Continue reading

On Joseph Boyden’s The Orenda

61zg5MSMHkL._BO2,204,203,200_PIsitb-sticker-arrow-click,TopRight,35,-76_AA300_SH20_OU15_Well, what does one say about Joseph Boyden’s The Orenda?

I read the book recently, after it won this year’s Canada Reads competition in which five books and their defenders faced off to eliminate and leave standing “one novel that could change Canada.” Reviews of The Orenda have been laudatory; apparently there was a “gasp” when it didn’t make the Giller Prize shortlist. It has received sharp criticism as well, especially from aborginal reviewers like Hayden King. Continue reading

In the company of old words

My work priorities have shifted somewhat for December and January. Two weeks ago, N., the 17-year-old daughter of my husband’s nephew (which makes her our grand-niece I think), came to Canada from Paraguay to stay with us for two months, with the goal of improving her English. So we’re speaking our very best English and enjoying her being here and also setting her up with various local volunteer experiences.

"Papa's Tagebuch" -- 5 notebooks brought by N. for me to transcribe.

“Papa’s Tagebuch” — 5 notebooks brought by N. for me to transcribe.

What this has to do with my priorities isn’t so much the presence of a teenager, however, but a time commitment I made on account of her coming. H’s father, who died before we were married, kept a diary for several years in the 1930s and then again for several years in the 1950s. His oldest sister had begun the work of transcribing these diaries for the benefit of the entire family. Thanks to her work, I’ve read the first two years of it in typed form — from Heinrich Dück’s leaving Russia in 1929 through the early years of settlement in the Chaco, Paraguay which included the deaths of his parents (his mother by lightning) and also his marriage. I confess I’ve been itching to read the rest of the diaries but my sister-in-law isn’t well and so she hasn’t been able to proceed. Continue reading