CLOSING NOTES

People

SHANDA DEZIEL October 13 2003
CLOSING NOTES

People

SHANDA DEZIEL October 13 2003

Books

Vancouver’s hefty history

It’s all too easy to think of Vancouver as an instant city-just add salt water, and stir. Most of its grand old architecture-including such Depression-era piles as the Marine Building and the City Hall—is barely of pensionable age. The city incorporated in 1886, then promptly caught fire, obliterating what history there was.

Ah, but what Vancouver now has is its very own epic historical novel, thanks to the industry and imagination of David Cruise and Alison Griffiths.

At more than 750 pages, Vancouver is quite a brick.

A thing like that lands on your desk, quite literally a seismic event in publishing, and you have to ask: Do I love my city enough to read all that?

Between Tooke and Nesbut, the novel-thick as the city’s phone bookis peopled with compelling rogues, dreamers and accidental tourists. Some are fictional inventions and others thinly disguised Vancouver sharpies. Their stories, rooted in the realities of the day, ring true. History is rarely the stuff of grand schemes; it’s what survives after the present veers off the rails. Scotsman Darrog Wiley, trapper and slave trader, had no ambition to be saviour of Fort Langley. Chinese peasant Soon Chong, a 19th-century congee seller, would have choked on his rice gruel had he known the forces that would carry him to Vancouver’s Chinatown. Nanak Singh had no plans to desert the British Army but, hey, stuff happens.

The answer is a resounding “yes” even before finishing the first chapter. Some 14,000 years before the birth of Christ, Tooke, a wayward ice-age African, stumbles, via Asia, over the Bering land bridge to North America. There’s a risk of losing readers in the mists of time, but Cruise and Griffiths—in their first novel after seven non-fiction best-sellers—gracefully succeed in rooting a young city to its past. Vancouver is told in 12 interwoven chapters: from the southward migration of Tooke’s grandson Manto to the modern-day Ellie Nesbut, perhaps a way-distant relative, working her way out of the Downtown Eastside.

Plenty of stuff. In the epic tradition of James Michener, the story sails on the ill winds of nature and of man. Fiction lets the authors play with what they call the “innumerable ‘what ifs’ ” of Vancouver history. It’s the past that could have been-no less fascinating than the future that might be.

KEN MACQUEEN

LISTING

Canadian Counterpoint: Illustrations by Anita Kunz Until Jan. 3 Anita Kunz is no stranger to the American magazine cover. Her illustrations have long appeared in The New Yorker and other publications, including Maclean’s. Now, the

Toronto-based artist is being honoured by the Library of Congress. Kunz, 47, is the first Canadian to get a solo show at the library’s Swann Gallery for Caricature and Cartoon, where 15 of her works are on display. www.loc.gov Washington

HAVE YOU HEARD?

Canada’s socially conscious rapper K-os (pictured) will appear on the new album by British electronica gods, the Chemical Brothers; Montreal’s Gavin Mclnnes, co-founder of Vice magazine, is described in a New York Times profile as leaning “much further to the right than the Republican party. His views are closer to a white supremacist’s”; Canadian blues musician Colin Linden (of Blackie and the Rodeo Kings) is a guitarplaying priest in the new Coen Brothers movie,

Intolerable Cruelty (Oct. 10); Sum 41’s Deryck Whibley broke off his romance with hotel heiress Paris

Hilton; Whibley’s entire Ajax, Ont., band will do an animated guest spot

on King of the Hill, as Christian punk rockers; Nelly Furtado had a baby girl, Nevis, with her boyfriend, Toronto DJ Jasper Gahunia.