Archive for August, 2009

Nino Ricci biography of Pierre Elliot Trudeau

I recently finished Ricci`s bio of Trudeau, which is a part of JR Saul`s Extraordinary Canadians series, which is itself, i think, an offshoot of Saul`s most recent book/thesis that Canada is a “Metis nation.”

While I found this an interesting read, I found it odd and a little annoying how Ricci purported to be breaking down the mythology surrounding Trudeau, when in actuality seemed to do more to enhance and glorify the image (as opposed to the reality) of Trudeau. Ricci successfuly presents the fascinating narratuve of Trudeau’s gifted and previledged youth. This youth included things both strange (Trudeau’s admission in his journal’s that he was not writing his true thoughts, but rather the thoughts that he wanted the future archivists of his famous life to read), to the frightening (his denial of Nazi attrocities, his anti-semitism, and his membership in an anti-democratic, pro- quebec nationalism cell).

But, Ricci throughout the book seems to be in awe of Trudeau, from the introduction where he claims that as an immigrant kid in grade two he remembers his first sense of being Canadian coming after hearing Trudeau, to somewhere in the middle of the book where he compares Trudeau to Jesus, all the way to the final page of the book where Ricci walks longingly past the Montreal home of the recently deceased Trudeau. This mood of adoration to me undercuts the seriousness of Ricci’s attempt to discover what Trudeau means to us as an iconic Canadian.

Overall the book is a psychological biography, and not a political one, which is perhaps disappointing to me as it doesn’t spend much time describing and evaluating Trudeau’s policies.

The Road to Wiggan Pier by Orwell

I read this several months ago, and the strongest memory I have now is Orwell’s description of visiting a coal mine and the physical agony involved in the kilometer (or more) long walk from the bottom of the shaft to the coal face. the passage would be 4 feet high, or less where the braceing came down and likely scraped your spine as you passed under it.

Also what I remember is Orwell’s description of the conditions of the boarding house that he stayed in; filthy eating conditions, bad food, rooms packed with beds, shared beds (either at the same time, or in shifts i.e. I sleep there while you work at night and you while i work at day), bedbugs, etc. What strikes me now that I think of it is the frightening similarity to the boarding house for ex-psychiatric patients in Toronto described by Pat Caponni in her book Upstairs in the Crazy House (which I comment on here)

Upstairs in the Crazy House by Pat Caponni

1366_Upstairs at the Crazy HousePat Caponni’s book on her experiences living in a boarding house for discharged psychiatric patients is a painful, uplifting, and ultimately very important book. Caponni displays with both subtlety and honesty the feelings and opinions that she held, and which changed so incredibly, during her time in the ‘crazy house.’ The feelings of fear, disgust, revulsion, etc., towards the other denizens that she admits to having felt upon her arrival, becuase of its honesty, makes her ultimate transition to the caring warden of these same people all the more striking and inspiring.

This book shows how easy it is to accept poverty when we don`t see it, when we succeed in hiding it away, but also how hard it is to not become a compasionate activist when we are forced to see it in an intimate way.

how to steal a bike

This is entertaining:

But not as entertaining as this:

The Life and Political Times of Tommy Douglas

Here is a biography of “Canada’s Greatest Canadian.” The fact that Tommy was voted ( albeit, i assume, by a biased pool of CBC listeners) best Canadian, gives me hope in the face of the other group of Canadians–the hundreds of thousands of Canadians who vote for Stephen Harper. But the real value of this book is that, as the title suggest, it situates T.D. in the context of the various major political events and issues during his long political carreer. From the Great Depression and support for food relief and labour efforts, to early condemnation of Trudeau’s use of the War Measures Act, the book shows how T.D., while he had his faults, was generally ahead of the curve.

Douglas’s unflinching committment to making political decisions based on moral and ethical factors (i.e. the wellbeing of his fellow men and women) is an inspiration to me, as a young person interested in politics, but repulsed by the pettyness of party politics, and the lack of moral leadership/righteousness displayed by our ‘socialist’ party, the NDP.