On November 18, 1929, a tsunami struck Newfoundland’s Burin Peninsula. Giant waves, up to three storeys high, hit the coast at a hundred kilometres per hour, flooding dozens of communities and washing entire houses out to sea. The most destructive earthquake-related event in Newfoundland’s history, the disaster killed twenty-eight people and left hundreds more homeless or destitute. It took days for the outside world to find out about the death and damage caused by the tsunami, which forever changed the lives of the inhabitants of the fishing outports along the Burin Peninsula.
Scotiabank Giller Prize–winning writer Linden MacIntyre was born near St. Lawrence, Newfoundland, one of the villages virtually destroyed by the tsunami. By the time of his birth, the cod-fishing industry lay in ruins and the village had become a mining town. MacIntyre’s father, lured from Cape Breton to Newfoundland by a steady salary, worked in St. Lawrence in an underground mine that was later found to be radioactive. Hundreds of miners would die; hundreds more would struggle through shortened lives profoundly compromised by lung diseases ranging from silicosis and bronchitis to cancer. As MacIntyre says, though the tsunami killed twenty-eight people in 1929, it would claim hundreds if not thousands more lives in the decades to follow.
I received this book from Harper Collins Canada and I just want to say thank you from the bottom of my heart. Learning about my province’s history is something that I cherish, and I’m so happy to be able to learn about and review this book which focuses on a devastating time in Newfoundland’s history.
Something you should know, first of all, is what an outport is. St. John’s is the capital of the province, and then there are other cities such as Clarenville and Corner Brook. While these are a fair drive, I don’t think that I would qualify them as outport communities. When MacIntyre is talking about these outports, he’s referring to small little fishing towns, with often times less than a hundred people in total. These towns relied on the fishery as income, and to this day are not easily accessible. Therefore, I can only imagine the isolation and difficulty reaching them as he describes in the book.
I’ll be straight with ya, I loved this book but it was so heart breaking. Hearing first about the impact of the tsunami, the deaths that were caused by it and how destroyed these outports were, was literally only the beginning. His further telling of how the mining caused so much illness and death was quite honestly astounding. I would find myself reading this book and fuming at the government and the owners of the mining companies because they let these men work in horrific conditions with no cares about health and safety. The book highlighted both how the natural disaster lead to these tragedies, but also how the political scene contributed. As someone who never took a Newfoundland History course, this book was very enlightening and even though it made me angry to no end I really loved learning about my province.
The way that MacIntyre writes this book is also really interesting. He of course has the straight historical facts, but he also sprinkles in his own family history in 3 segments called Conversations with the Dead. In these chapters, he talks to his father in a dream, his mother, and reminisces about previous experiences he had in relation to his father. It’s all very touching, and I loved that he put a personal element into the story. Because it’s one thing to hear about what happened to these people nearly a hundred years ago, but its another to hear a man tell you about how these events directly impacted his relationship with his father and his own life.
This book, while being a work of non-fiction, is very easy to read and follow. Even though the content is heart breaking, MacIntyre also focuses on stories of hope that emerged from the events, such as the relationship that was formed between the Loder family and James Seaman, or how Rennie Slaney and the wives of the miners took matters into their own hands. It’s both a story about the devastation of natural disasters, but also the resilience of Newfoundlanders and how much power people can have.
If it wasn’t obvious, I loved this book. It’s written extremely well, and I highly recommend it to everyone. If you’re a Newfie, reading this book could help expand your knowledge of our own history! If you’re a mainlander, then this could help you gain insight into a unique culture here in Canada. Either way, you should read it and learn about the mistakes of the past and how we can make sure they don’t happen in our future. This book is a 5/5 for me, and I imagine for many people it will be.
The Wake is available tomorrow on August 27th. Be sure to get your copy!!
Thats all for now loves, I’ll see you soon with a review of a book about ghosts and miracles~