Monday, November 5, 2012

Galore by Michael Crummey

Life is difficult in the small fishing settlement of Paradise Deep in Newfoundland.  The people are tied to the sea, suffering if the catch isn't good and making it through the winter with the help of their families and friends.  When a whale is beached, it is a major event, and the entire town turns out to butcher it and save the meat to make it through the long cold days ahead.  The whale is miraculous enough but no one expects what is found in its stomach.  Hacked open, out rolls an albino man, somehow alive, although barely so. 

In the days that follow, he regains his health, but is a mute.  The townsfolk name him Judah, a variation on the Biblical tale of Jonah and the whale; life is so hard there that the only Bible is a partial one rescued from a wreck, leaving the people to create their own tales to fill in the blanks.

There are two main families in Paradise Deep.  The Sellers are the merchants of the town, rich and powerful; their patriarch named King-Me Sellers.  The Devines are the guardians of the town's folklore and superstition; some would say its magic.  The family is headed by Devine's Widow, often called a witch but also the person everyone turned to for cures and predictions of what would come next.  The two families are caught in a decades-old feud. 

Sellers wants to get rid of Judah.  Devine's Widow binds him to the settlement and her family.  His presence adds more fuel to the fire of the feud.  The reader is swept into the lives of these people for generations as they fight to survive.  We see the marriages, the separations, the religion that binds folks, the stirring of a union to fight the rich and powerful.  Judah remains an enigmatic figure in the lives of both families as they fight and love over the years.

This book is highly recommended for readers interested in history, in folklore, in how societies grow and survive.  The characters are finely drawn, each one in the myriad of folk given their own personalities that distinguish them.  There is an undercurrent of magical realism, but the miraculous things that occur arise out of the beliefs of the townspeople.  Galore won the Commonwealth Writers' Prize for Best Book and was a finalist for the Governor General's Literary Award for Fiction.  Readers who plunge into this novel will emerge stunned and glad for the experience.

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