River Thieves, by Michael Crummey
A superb weaving of fact and fiction set in the Canadian wilderness -
Story blurb: River Thieves is a beautifully written and compelling novel that breathes life into the pivotal events which shaped relations between the Beothuk Indians of Newfoundland and European settlers. Following a series of expeditions made under the order of the British Crown, the reader witnesses the tragic fallout from these missions as the Beothuk vanish and the web of secrets guarded by the settlers slowly begin to unravel …Told in elegant sensual prose this is an enthralling historical novel of great passion and suspense, driven by the extraordinary cast of characters. And with it Michael Crummey establishes himself as one of Canada’s most exciting new talents.
Available in e-book format – 2058 KB
About the athor: Born in Buchans, Newfoundland, Crummey grew up there and in Wabush, Labrador, where he moved with his family in the late 1970s. He went to university with no idea what to do with his life and, to make matters worse, started writing poems in his first year. Just before graduating with a BA in English he won the Gregory Power Poetry Award. First prize was three hundred dollars (big bucks back in 1987) and it gave him the mistaken impression there was money to be made in poetry.
He published a slender collection of poems called Arguments with Gravity in 1996, followed two years later by Hard Light. 1998 also saw the publication of a collection of short stories, Flesh and Blood, and Crummey’s nomination for the Journey Prize.
Crummey’s debut novel, River Thieves (2001) was a Canadian bestseller, winning the Thomas Head Raddall Award and the Winterset Award for Excellence in Newfoundland Writing. It was also shortlisted for the Giller Prize, the Commonwealth Writers’ Prize, the Books in Canada First Novel Award, and the IMPAC Award. His second novel, The Wreckage (2005), was nominated for the Rogers Writers’ Trust Fiction Prize and longlisted for the 2007 IMPAC Award.
Galore was published in Canada in 2009. A national bestseller, it was the winner of the Commonwealth Writers’ Prize for Best Book (Canada & Caribbean), the Canadian Authors’ Association Fiction Prize and was shortlisted for the Governor-General’s Award for fiction.
Review by Gerry Burnie
My bio reads in part: Canada has a rich and colourful history that for the most part is waiting to be discovered, and River Thieves by Michael Crummey [Anchor Canada, 2009] is a case on point.
The Beothuk (pronounced “beo-thuk”) people of Newfoundland, a.k.a. “The Red Indians” because of the red ochre they smeared on their bodies, are truly one of the most fascinating and mysterious aspects of it. They are referred to as a “population isolate” because they developed their unique culture in total isolation, starting around 1 A.D. until—with the death of Shanawdithit (“Nancy April”) in1829—they were declared officially extinct.
Part of the extinction process was as a result of being retreated into areas that could not sustain them; European diseases (particularly tuberculoses) for which they had no immunity; and anecdotes of genocide in which they were hunted like wolves. Indeed, the extinction of such a shy, peaceful and unique people is a black mark in Canadian history.
All of this Michael Crummey has captured with remarkable insight, and a superb sense of time and place. His approach of fictionalizing historical events and persons (while not unique) is certainly affective in making them come to life in the context in which they existed, i.e. the rugged and austere wilderness of Newfoundland in the early nineteenth century.
British naval officer, James Buchan, [a real historical figure] is sent to the British Colony of Newfoundland to establish productive relations with the mysterious aboriginals. In order to accomplish this mission he recruits the help of the Peyton family—a sort of backwoods aristocracy led by the tough-minded John Peyton Sr., a ruthless Beothuk persecutor [yet another real individual and fact]. However, his son, John Jr., although dominated by his father, is also vested with a conscience and becomes Buchan’s ally.
Rounding off this complex household is Cassie Jure, the enigmatic housekeeper, who is surprisingly independent for a female servant of the 19th-century, but she nonetheless adds a feminine perspective to a dominant cast of men.
Crummey’s poetic style is a real boon here, for the setting is very much part of the story—both the harshness and austere beauty of its topography and climate. He has therefore woven it into the tapestry as though it were one of the characters, emphasizing the hardy resilience of its occupants—like Joseph Reilly, a transported (“exiled”) Irish thief turned trapper. Likewise, his research and portrayal of 19th-century mores and terms gives it a solid credibility that invests the reader from beginning to end. For all these reasons, it is highly recommended. Five bees.
One of the historical events portrayed in this story is “The stealing of Demasduit (“Mary March”).
The governor of Newfoundland, although seeking to encourage trade and end hostilities between the Beothuk and the English, had approved an expedition led by captain David Buchan to recover a boat and other fishing gear which had been stolen by the Beothuk. A group from this expedition was led by John Peyton Jr. whose father John Peyton Sr. was a salmon fisherman known for his hostility towards the small tribe. On a raid, they killed Demasduit’s husband Nonosbawsut, then ran her down in the snow. She pleaded for her life, baring her breasts to show she was a nursing mother. They took Demasduit to Twillingate and Peyton earned a bounty on her. The baby died. Peyton was later appointed Justice of the Peace at Twillingate, Newfoundland.
The British called Demasduit Mary March after the month when she was taken. Later bringing her to St. John’s, Newfoundland, the colonial government wanted to give Desmaduit comfort and friendly treatment while she was with the English, hoping she might one day be a bridge between them and the Beothuk. Demasduit learned some English and taught the settlers about 200 words of Beothuk language. However, in January 1820 while making the trip back to Notre Dame Bay Demasduit died of tuberculosis before reaching her kin. Source: Wikipedia.
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Introducing the characters, etc. from my forthcoming novel: Coming of Age on the Trail
The inspiration for this fictional tale comes from Norman Lee’s epic, 1,500-mile cattle dive from Hanceville, British Columbia, to the gold fields around Dawson City, Yukon Territory, in 1898. Fortunately, Lee had the presence of mind to keep a journal along the way, and so we have a first-hand account of his remarkable feat just as it unfolded over a century ago. It is fortunate as well that Eileen Laurie of the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation took an interest in this unique piece of Canadian history, and that the Lee family generously allowed it to be published. [See: Klondike Cattle Drive: The journal of Norman Lee, Touch Wood Editions, Surrey, British Columbia, 2005]. Consequently, many of the scenes depicted in this fictional version are taken from Lee’s actual experiences.
Once again this remarkable adventure proves that: Canada has a rich and colourful history that for the most part is waiting to be discovered.
The InnerBouquet mission is to spread the word about & celebrate LGBT ARTS, CULTURE & ATHLETICISM from past to the present. The site features bios, reviews, critiques, interviews, photos, news, videos, songs, poems, etc. – all related to the contributions of LGBT icons world-wide. On a personal level, the InnerBouquet founder and creative director, David-Paul, in his “FlashBack Diary” reveals poignant moments from his gay journal.
This week David-Paul has added new and poignant information about Steve Walker, renowned Canadian artist who passed away on January 4 2012.
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