Childhood

Overview

Now in paperback, the winner of the Chapters/Best First Novel in Canada Award and the corecipient (with Alice Munro) of Canada's prestigious Trillium Award.

Set in the 1950s and '60s, this picaresque novel chronicles the childhood-or perhaps the loss of childhood-of Thomas MacMillan, a Canadian with ties to Trinidad, who pieces together, from memory and from related stories, the early years of his life. Raised in a small town near the U.S. border of Canada, Thomas is abandoned ...

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Overview

Now in paperback, the winner of the Chapters/Best First Novel in Canada Award and the corecipient (with Alice Munro) of Canada's prestigious Trillium Award.

Set in the 1950s and '60s, this picaresque novel chronicles the childhood-or perhaps the loss of childhood-of Thomas MacMillan, a Canadian with ties to Trinidad, who pieces together, from memory and from related stories, the early years of his life. Raised in a small town near the U.S. border of Canada, Thomas is abandoned by his mother to the care of an eccentric grandmother. When he reaches the age of ten, his mother, Katarina, reclaims him and takes him to Ottawa, where they live in the Victorian home of Mr. Henry Wing, a magus-like figure whose love of science and the imagination becomes an important legacy for Thomas. But is he Thomas's father? This brilliantly crafted debut novel is a story about love, memory, and the potency of the past.

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
"A beautifully written novel which creates a special world, draws readers into it and leaves them charmed." (Lee Milazzo, Dallas Morning News)

"Childhood is a leisurely, welcome example of Wordsworth's great goal in art: to re-create spontaneous emotion recollected in tranquillity." (Greg Burkman, The Seattle Times)

Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
The love affair between a young black boy's wayward mother and a man who may or may not be his father forms the intriguing background to this enormously appealing first novel by Trinidadian-Canadian author Alexis whose short-story collection, Despair, was shortlisted for the Commonwealth Prize. "I've been thinking about Love, you see," begins the first-person narrator, now in his early 40s, addressing his absent, unnamed inamorata shortly after the death of his mother, "and theirs was the first and most puzzling romance I witnessed." Katarina MacMillan, only 17 when her son is born, promptly deposits Thomas in the care of her forbidding mother, Edna, in their small hometown of Petrolia, Ontario. Edna "was past the age of easy tolerance, and she was cantankerous," Thomas observes. "Also, she used to drink a lot of dandelion wine." Under her stern tutelage, Thomas grows up to be a book-loving, secretive boy. When his grandmother dies, the mother he knows only through legend suddenly arrives to claim him, and they are both soon abandoned roadside by Katarina's lover, the French-speaking Mr. Mataf. They must make a new life in Ottawa under the protection of a courtly dabbler in chemistry, Henry Wing, who initiates the boy into the secrets of alchemy. Thomas also learns about love and life by watching the games of power and romance that take place between Wing and his mother. Alexis often employs the apparatus of scientific research in order to convey Thomas's earnest searches for the truth; he breaks down memories into outlines, bulleted lists and footnotes, preferring the forms of proof to those of guesswork. The novel is an engagingly honest effort to order the stuff of a life, and it marks the maturation of an impressive new voice. Author tour. Sept.
Library Journal
Before producing this first novel, Alexis polished his skills by writing short stories as well as theater and radio pieces, and it shows. The tale of a young Canadian boy with roots in Trinidad, like Alexis himself, this is "an exquisite novel that delivers lasting literary delight." LJ 8/98
Kirkus Reviews
A splendid debut by Canadian writer Alexis (Trinidadian-born): a wistful remembrance of growing up, posing as a love letter to the narrator's paramour. Thomas Macmillan begins by thinking about love, his longing for the recipient of this "letter," and about affection itself, as witnessed in his parents Henry and Katarina, both recently dead. His daily itinerary consists of reading, writing, and thinking of the intended, and in the monotony of this routine, he recalls his childhood, far from idyllic yet told with such grace that the simplicity of it becomes a charm. Deserted by his mother (and biological father, always unknown to him), young Thomas goes to live with his cantankerous grandmother, an ex-school marm with a penchant for dandelion wine. The two share an uneasy alliance in a small Canadian city, living in a mutual agreement to stay out of each other's way. Thomasþs early years in the mid-'60s are filled with nature, comic books, and first lovesþamong them next-door neighbor Mrs. Schwartz, a childhood friend of his enigmatic motherþs. It is through Mrs. Schwartz that Thomas begins to know Katarina, indeed all through his life she is only real to him through the reflection of others. When at ten his grandmother dies, and Katarina comes to retrieve him, a new, wondrous chapter in his childhood begins when the two go to Ottawa and the house of Henry Wing. An eccentric, charming man, Henry woos Katarina with poetry and Thomas with alchemy. Becoming a surrogate father, he introduces him to the world of the mind, and to the world of love through his untiring example of devotion for the reckless Katarina. Even when Katarina finds her own apartment, and takesother, usually abusive lovers, Henry remains loyal to her, and to Thomas, who remains in his library-like home. Filled with anecdotal footnotes, simple lists, and snippets of poetry, these inserted structures serve to bring form to the most vaporous subject: the nature of love. A genuinely elegant work.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780805059823
  • Publisher: Holt, Henry & Company, Inc.
  • Publication date: 1/15/2000
  • Edition description: First Edition
  • Pages: 272
  • Product dimensions: 5.12 (w) x 7.90 (h) x 0.70 (d)

Meet the Author

André Alexis was born in Trinidad in 1957 and grew up in Canada. Despair was published in Canada in 1994 and was shortlisted for the Commonwealth Prize. Alexis lives in Toronto.

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Table of Contents

1. Constituting Childhood
2. Sociological Approaches to the Study of Childhood
3. The Birth of Childhood
4. The Locations of Childhood
5. The Abuse of Childhood
6. The Strange Death of Childhood
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