Flying With Amelia by Anne DeGrace

Flying  With Amelia
By Anne DeGrace
Published by McArthur & Company, 309 pages

History, particularly Canadian history, gets a very bad rap as being dry and dull and boring. Which is sad, because history is so much more than obscure dates and ancient battle fields and dead politicians;  it’s about people and their lives and how those major events, like wars and depressions, shaped who we are and what this country has become. History is infinitely interesting, when it’s told the right way.

That is why Flying With Amelia is such a good book: it tells history the right way, from the ground up. This collection of short stories shows how major events affect the ordinary person, and how every life is part of history.  Author Anne DeGrace said of her book, “My characters aren’t the movers and shakers of history but instead those carried along its current.” The beauty of this book is how it tells the story of Canada from the perspective of the average Canadian.

Beginning with the story of the McGrath family, leaving the Irish famine on a “coffin ship” bound for Canada in 1847, the book touches upon the story of a 12 year-old boy who watches Marconi send and receive the first telegraph signal from Newfoundland, the one-armed veteran who gambles everything on the stock market in 1929, and the American draft-dodger who flees to Canada in 1967. The book touches on many of the more obvious events of the past 150 years, such as the Depression and the FLQ Crisis, but also some of the lesser known: the removal of Doukhobor children from their families to residential schools in British Columbia in the 1950s, and the POW camps in Manitoba during World War II. Each event effected someone, changed a life, and illustrating that is that what makes this book so compelling.

I’m not usually a fan of short stories; I often find them obtuse and curt. But DeGrace does a wonderful job of sketching out a character and a situation deftly and sharply; every word counts. She doesn’t spend much time explaining the events swirling around the characters, a basic knowledge of Canadian history is definitely a plus here, but those who are unfamiliar with specific situations can easily do their homework to catch up. The point isn’t so much to educate the reader about Canadian historical events, but to illustrate what effects those events have on ordinary people, and maybe to reflect on how our own times might be shaping us, too.

Flying With Amelia is a excellent book, which will appeal to lovers of historical fiction, as well as those who like short stories.

(Out of 4)

Ruth McGregor is a London resident, who stops to read every one of those blue historical plaques she sees on the highway.

Talbot Centre
The Arts Project - Theatre