Must-Have Nova Scotia Books of 2020
Butter Honey Pig Bread by Francesca Ekwuyasi
Ekwuyasi’s writing is so rich and enlightening, and her storytelling so captivating that I had to keep reminding myself while reading her book - it is her first.
I’m not the only one awed by her deeply moving debut novel; a book exploring trauma, healing and the beautifully complex relationships between mothers and daughters. It was longlisted for the prestigious and lucrative 2020 Scotiabank Giller Prize.
The novel tells the interwoven stories of Kambirinachi and her daughters, Kehinde and Taiye. Being an ogbanje, a spirit that plagues families with misfortune by dying in childhood to cause its mother misery, Kambirinachi is convinced that she made an unnatural choice to stay alive for her family and now fears the consequences of that decision.
Stay the Blazes Home by Len Wagg
Photographer Len Wagg’s collection of stirring images and stories not only reminded me of some of the pleasant and not-so-pleasant things I endured this past year, it also made me think about how future Nova Scotians will look at 2020. Wagg did the same.
“When I saw social media posts with stories and photos from the Nova Scotia Archives referencing the influenza pandemic of 1918, I began to wonder how future generations would see this pandemic. Where would the images of this unprecedented time come from? After the Facebook posts and tweets went away, what would remain as a snapshot of life during COVID-19?” he writes.
The book’s most touching images include: Betty Dryden, a resident of a long-term care facility in Hubley, blowing a kiss to her daughter, Tracy through a closed window during a Sunday visit; Sandy Wagg, a Grade Two teacher at Holland Road Elementary School in Fletchers Lake, going through an online lesson with her students from her kitchen table.
Memoir: Conversations and Craft by Marjorie Simmins.
A nice mix of memoir history, inspiration and how-to tips, Simmins’ book is encouraging for anyone keen to write a personal narrative.
“Writing memoirs is empowering: it’s your story, told your way. Remember: your job is to create a beautiful, moving story. With memoir, your life is art,” she writes.
Simmins has kind and stirring words for anyone who thinks they might not have anything interesting to write because they haven’t travelled the world, found a cure for a life-threatening disease or won a prestigious award.
“Sometimes the quiet lives can be the most staggeringly beautiful lives.”
Blood in the Water by Silver Donald Cameron
Reading this book, it’s not hard to see why Cameron, who died this June, was one of the country’s most esteemed writers and winner of many awards. It marks the end of his illustrious career.
In this masterfully told true story, Cameron traces a brutal murder in a Cape Breton fishing community, raises questions of what is right and wrong and explores the nature of good and evil. From the opening paragraph, Cameron’s writing grips."
“It was in 2013 that Phillip Boudreau was dropped – allegedly – to the bottom of the sea, but his neighbours would not be entirely surprised if he walked out of the ocean tomorrow, coated in seaweed and dripped with brine, smiling."
Grandma’s Cookies, Cakes, Pies and Sweets by Alice Burdick
I admit, I probably have one of the biggest sweet tooths – so this book, with its beautiful colour photographs by Callen Singer, was a natural draw for me. I love baking and I love the idea of food and recipes drawing generations together.
“Recipes handed down through a family are a form of time travel — you can imagine a great-great-grandmother tasting the very same flavours as you eat a forkful of home-baked apple pie,” writes Burdick.
The book’s recipes were originally published in 1967 in A Treasury of Nova Scotia Heirloom Recipes — a centennial project of Nova Scotia’s Department of Agriculture and Marketing. Collected from books dating as far back as the 1870s, many of the recipes came from old family cookbooks and notebooks. Burdick, a baker and poet, revised and tested all the recipes, trying to make them more appealing, while keeping their essence and time-honoured traditions.
Nova Scotia and the Great Influenza Pandemic, 1918-1920 compiled and edited by Ruth Holmes Whitehead
Living in the midst of a pandemic and not knowing when it will end, it was eerie to learn that more than 2,000 Nova Scotians died during the influenza pandemic a century ago. Maybe the most chilling part of this thoroughly research book comes at the end: a list of names of the dead that covers several pages.
Relatives of people who were alive during the great influenza were interviewed; their heart-wrenching stories show that every city, town, village and isolated settlement was affected.
Whitehead wanted her book to be “a useful guide for what to do and what not to do” in a pandemic. But by the time the book was published, the world was seized by COVID-19.
Looking back, the great influenza taught that the most important thing any government, at any level, can do in a pandemic is to tell people the absolute truth about what’s going on, what the dangers are and what measures they will have to take, writes Whitehead.
--Allison Lawlor is a freelance writer whose work has appeared in the Globe and Mail, Homemakers, Canadian Living, and University Affairs magazines. She is a regular book reviewer with The Chronicle Herald. Her own books include Rum-Running, A Royal Couple in Canada, Broken Pieces: An Orphan of the Halifax Explosion and "The Saddest Ship Afloat": The Tragedy of the MS St. Louis.