Friends I Never Knew

June 22, 2017

Friends I Never Knew is my only book, so far, that is a novel, but that would be loosely speaking. It is also the only one of my four books that was published by a publishing house.

The others were not based on a sort of protest on my part: book do not necessarily reach a larger audience or make more money for the author than a self-published book does.

Here is what one reviewer wrote about my only novel and that of another author’s:

Prairie Fire

Vol. 14, No. 2, Summer 1993

Friends I Never Knew by Tanya Lester, Charlottetown: Gynergy Books, 1992, 160 pp., $10.95 paper.

The Guest House by Kristjana Gunnars, Toronto: House of Anansi Press, 1992, 144 pp., $17.95 paper.

by Ralph Kiropatwa

Both Kristjana Gunnars and Tanya Lester are women of Canada’s great plains and of contemporary sensibility. It would be a mistake to assume that their respective works therefore have much in common. The differences far exceed any similarities.

Tanya Lester is an activist who has written her first novel about an activist. Tanya the writer tells of Tara the activist in the women’s movement. Tanya writes of Tara who writes of the lives of the women with whom the movement brings her into contact.

Tare is on the Greek half of the island of Cyprus. A long way from Winnipeg and the daily challenge of practical struggle on behalf of women in Manitoba, Tara is there to rest, restore her energies, comtemplate the lessons of her experiences, and write about the friends she had made back in Canada. Not all her friends. Her work in the community connected her with four special women, special friends: Juanita, Lou, Miriam and Rita. They are of different social origins, even generations. They have told Tara the stories of their lives, the shaping events.

Tara listens, records, but tells us on tales of her own. Juanita, Loi, Miriam and Rita made Tara a gift of their life stories. The value of their gift is clearly appreciated by Tara at one level.. It is only dimly comprehended at another. It is this pernumbra of unclear meaning that contributes to Tara’s need to get away. In the solitude of the Mediterranean island’s otherness, Tara can write her friends’ tales.

Holocaust resistance stories are, at once, infinitely sad and intensely hopeful. The tales of Juanita, Lou, Miriam and Rita are similarly celebrations of what might yet be redeemed  from the wreckage and dump of oppression. These women have overcome evil. Their lives are juxtaposed with Tara’s recurring, shifting dream and the silence around her own history.

There is a painting of Matisse in which women form a circle of fluid, dancing bodies. It is a haunting picture. Simultaneously optimistic, defensive, and accepting of human frailty, it is virtually a visual cast of Tanya Lester’s novel. Tara and her friends are connected in a circle of friendship, fluid lives that are the more potent for being connected. The circle also helps keep out the evils that have faced, victimized and been overcome by each woman. It is a healing circle, itself a remedy and a prophylactic against the pains and penetrations that life inflicts.

In the end, Tara remembers her own tale. The memory wrenches as might the uprooting of a tenacious parasite. It is time for her to go home. In looking into the lives of her friends she has found a mirror and reflections of herself in them, of them in her.

Tanya Lester writes in an almost deceptively simple style.  In fact she has taken great pains over the novel’s structure, voices and pace. Her book is disturbing because one is left convinced that there are many things in it that one has, somehow, missed. Part of that is the result of her introduction of occult themes into a texture that is assertively realistic and political. Part of it is the gift of understatement.

Kristjana Gunnars’s book is a collection of short stories. Each story has the strength of particulars that vault into insights. In the title story, “The Guest House,” her character is shown travelling light, “… his only possession a backpack. He was even freed from the burden of family. He did not need to account for himself to anyone.”

In “Mass and a Dance”, her alienated character wanders the winter streets of St. Norbert and muses, “Snow is a story that breaks off from heaven and falls down at random.”

In “Insomnia,” the sleepless protagonist reaches for a book to read, thinking “it was good to divert the mind by visiting someone else’s.”

As lapidary of the polished phrase, the poet peeps out in her telling the tales of ordinary people in ordinary settings. There is, after all, little that is extraordinary about family reunions, or rainy days, or buying a dress, or the rambling wisdoms in a drunk tank. What gives these settings, and the actors within them, heft and sparkle is Kristjana Gunnars’s command of the language — the talent of the poet applied to prose narrative — and the truthfulness of the dynamic that crackles between the natural world, memory, and familiar humans in utterly plausible circumstances.

The author does not turn her eyes away from the weary, common unhappiness that settles like a light dust on many lives. Gunnars is not satisfied, however, merely to reflect the goosebumps of shivering through another day. The prairies, ocean, mountains, sun and snow of western Canada are vital to the tales. More than background, they often come close to being protagonists themselves, characters like Wessex or Casterbridge in Thomas Hardy’s writing.

The stories achieve further depth through the interplay of moment and memory. This is a collection of truthful fictions that are profoundly accepting of the world with all its pains and glories. It makes the point, repeatedly, that what is is natural. And as long as life can be beautifully described, the hope endures that lives can be beautifully lived.

Tanya Lester and Kristjana Gunnars have presented us with quite different gifts, each of different value to readers with different interests. Tanya Lester opens a contemporary window to our comprehension of women and their struggles. She does so with a novel that disturbs as it informs, unsettles as it captivates. The stories of Kristjana Gunnars combine beauty of language with precision of thought. She has crafted a necklace of tales, a talisman for a world whose trolls might yet prove lovely.

–END–

To read other posts in this blog of eclectic writing on many different topics, go to writingsmall.wordpress.com and tealeaf56.wordpress.com

Tanya has been an intuitive councellor/psychic doing tea leaf reading, tarot, mediumship, psychic channeling and mediumship for over two decades. She also is a reiki master and instills this energy into her readings. She also does this when house sitting.To contact her about her services, go to her web: teareading.wordpress.com or text/call 250-538-0086 or email: tealeaf.56@gmail.com   She also has pages on Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn or Google.

Tanya Lester’s books are Confessions of a Tea Leaf Reader and Friends I Never Knew can be purchased on amazon.com or from the author. She also wrote Dreams and Tricksters and Women Rights/Writes. These books are available in some libraries.

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