Danger Tree: Memory, War and the Search for a Family's Past

Overview

Emulating the circuitous tales told by his mother's relatives, the Goodyears of Newfoundland, David Macfarlane has crafted a masterpiece of history and memory that will remain indelibly in the minds of its readers. Macfarlane weaves the major events of Newfoundland's twentieth century—the ravages of tuberculosis; the great seal-hunt disaster; the bitter debate over whether to become part of Canada; and above all, the First World War—into a saga of the ill-starred yet heroic fortunes of his family, who were rarely...

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Overview

Emulating the circuitous tales told by his mother's relatives, the Goodyears of Newfoundland, David Macfarlane has crafted a masterpiece of history and memory that will remain indelibly in the minds of its readers. Macfarlane weaves the major events of Newfoundland's twentieth century—the ravages of tuberculosis; the great seal-hunt disaster; the bitter debate over whether to become part of Canada; and above all, the First World War—into a saga of the ill-starred yet heroic fortunes of his family, who were rarely in control of events but often at the center of them. With deep affection, he brings to life a multigenerational cast of characters who are as colorful as only Newfoundlanders can be—heroes and charlatans, pirates and dreamers, whose humanity manages to illuminate and enrich our own.

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Editorial Reviews

Alberto Manguel
The Danger Tree is a masterpiece. David Macfarlane is an architect of the past, building extraordinary memory mansions in which the reader feels eerily at home
Alice Munro
I've just discovered The Danger Tree and am stunned. It is so good
Booklist
Newspaper articles, family stories, official history, rumors and imagination all play their part in this stunning book, one of the best nonfiction titles of the year
Christopher Hitchens
Intense and beautiful...One of the finest and most intriguing miniature elegies that I have read in many a year
Jan Morris
An altogether remarkable, frequently funny, genuinely moving, and utterly original book
Jonathan Yardley
Not exactly history or autobiography or family memoir, but a mixture of all three that ends up being quite distinctly sui generis and quite indisputably lovely...[An] uncommonly wise and moving book
Kirkus Reviews
A remarkable and beautifully written book in which the rich stuff of family and local history join together to entertain, to instruct, and to move deeply
Michael Ignatieff
The Danger Tree is absolutely riveting: an extraordinary mixture of history, memory, fiction, and technique that succeeds at every level. I was touched, I was exhilarated, and I was thrilled to read a book that has risen to the challenge of recording...the past in all our hearts
Simon Winchester
The Danger Tree is a true masterpiece, a book that I want all of my friends, and all who I know and care for, to read and savor for years and years to come
Steve Jensen
Consistently brilliant...A breathtaking evocation of [Newfoundland's] cliffs and rocks and pines, and of the proud and passionate humanity peering out from the dour crags
KLIATT
The subtitle of Macfarlane's poetic presentation of early 20th-century Newfoundland and his mother's people is apt. The author liked the relatives' "talking in great, looping circles," and he tells their stories in similar style. Grandmother Goodyear, in an old-age hospital in Gander, receives visits from her family: "These people come in from out there. They are shapes mostly. They are like sails in her room." The story of the Goodyears begins and ends with chapters called "The Danger Tree." One tree near a Newfoundland river signals an early threat to the author's mother. The tree of chapter ten is overseas, near the river Somme, and marks the death of the third uncle, seemingly invincible Hedley, in the Great War that claimed strong Uncle Stan and young Uncle Ray. Macfarlane reminds his reader that there are inherited silences in this family that must be acknowledged and overcome, so the journey includes the Newfoundland history that surely influenced the Goodyears: the establishment of paper mills, the Gallipoli campaign, the slow inroads of modernism, the spread of tuberculosis, pirate lore, the disastrous seal hunt, and the battles of the Somme. The extraordinary journey ends near the old-age hospital of the opening pages, with the author viewing an ancient locomotive pulling up its own tracks, its usefulness done. Public librarians will want to consider this unusually beautiful book for their patrons looking for a challenging and satisfying presentation of family and heritage. It was originally published in Canada 10 years ago, and was called Come From Away in its first U.S. publication. Teachers of English and/or history should also be delighted to find and recommend sucha treasure to advanced students. KLIATT Codes: SA—Recommended for senior high school students, advanced students, and adults. 1991, Walker, 307p. illus., $13.95. Ages 16 to adult. Reviewer: Maureen K. Griffin; Teacher/Libn., Williams M.S., Chelsea, MA , September 2001 (Vol. 35 No. 5)
Booknews
Macfarlane tells the stories of his ancestors in Newfoundland in a vivid style, often using the point of view of the small boy he was when he first heard them, and including the larger-than-life embellishments of a child's imagination. Through this family's history we experience the hardships of the early 20th century in this remote province, whether caused by illness, nature, or WWI. Annotation c. Book News, Inc., Portland, OR (booknews.com)
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780802776167
  • Publisher: Walker & Company
  • Publication date: 4/1/2001
  • Pages: 320
  • Product dimensions: 5.26 (w) x 7.98 (h) x 0.95 (d)

Meet the Author

Holding a B.A. from the University of Toronto, David Macfarlane writes a regular weekly column for Canada’s Globe and Mail, for which he won a National Newspaper Award in 1997. He is also the author of one novel, Summer Gone, which won the 1999 Chapters first novel award and was a finalist for the prestigious "Giller Prize". It is available in paperback from Anchor Books. He has also published several short stories and poems. In addition to six gold National Magazine Awards, he has won an "Author’s Award for Magazine Writing"—making him the recipient of more Canadian National Magazine Awards than any other writer. Macfarlane lives with his wife and two children in Toronto, and is at work on a book about the marble quarries of Carrara, Italy.

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Read an Excerpt




Chapter One


The Danger Tree


These people come in from out there. They are shapes mostly. They are like sails in her room. Her room. She knows this. There's a picture on the wall. There is some noise.

    "What kind is that?"

    "It's the tape you like, Mrs. Goodyear. Do you want it on?"

    The room is light. Then the room is dark. She opens her eyes, then slowly they close. This is the way it always is. The little noise is on. It goes up and down. She closes her eyes, and the people go away. She opens them, and the noise is over. Dark then light, and then the people come in from out there.

    "She seems to like the music."

    She can see them better when they stand still, if they stand to the side of the bed.

    "Your grandson, Mrs. Goodyear. He's come from Ontario to see you."

    There's something to their faces then. They have mouths that open and close. They look like children she knew. They say things that come from far away.

    "How are you, Gran? How are you feeling today?"

    She doesn't know.

    "What's she saying?"

    "A name, I think, but I can't make it out."

    Or a face. A face on the way to Carmanville. A child selling bakeapples, holding out a mason jar on the gravel shoulder, after the road was through. Then the car passes and the face is gone. Who is that? She's seen that child before. Stop the car now.

    "Stop!"

   "There, Mrs. Goodyear. It's all right."

    Gone. These people. They come in from somewhere. "You have a visitor today." Then they go away.

    "How are you today?"

    She doesn't know. They put in like schooners on a coast of arms and legs. She used to try to find out where inside her they belonged. Don't you remember? No, she doesn't. She's asleep. That's all.

    "Mrs. Goodyear. This is Betty's son, your oldest grandson."

    There's another voice. "Hello moy dear. Come 'ere, I wants ya."

    "Hush. Who is that? Hush."

    "That's all right, Mrs. Goodyear. It's just the man across the hall, the one always calling for the nurse. But look who's here. Come all the way to see you."

    Oh my.

    "It's a shame, really. She must have known so much. All the stories you're looking for."

    She has white hair, and her skin is still soft. It's the color of waxed paper, wrapped over the thin driftwood of her bones. She was born in 1900, and she was young when she married. Then she had four children. She was always proud of her handwork. Now her fingers work the edge of her blanket as if trying to turn a hem.

    Who's that now?

    Miss Carnell from Carmanville, the schoolteacher over to Newtown. Pretty as a picture in a white dress, going berry-picking. Brown hair shiny as a pony's flank. Skin smooth as ribbon. Eyes like buttons.

    "Who's that?"

    He was a Goodyear. Well into his thirties when he married her. He'd been away to the war and back again. To the Labrador once or twice. And to the ice. He was a grown man, already in business with his brothers then. Always in the woods, Joe was. A great man for the woods. But that afternoon, when he saw her near Carmanville on her way berry-picking, he said, I'll marry that girl.

    "I want that."

    "Do you want to sit up, Mrs. Goodyear? Do you want the bed up?"

    Mind now. "Look."

    "What is it, Gran?"

    "Look." That dog stopped dead in his tracks.

    They'd been the winter in the woods. She and Joe with Betty, their first baby. In the lumber camp at Aspen Brook. The fresh bread, oh my. And snow like fairyland, like hard sauce on the spruce trees. And they were coming back to Grand Falls before the breakup. She was sitting up in the sled, wrapped in a rug, and the baby was bundled in a wooden box in front. A Carnation box, lashed into the sled, and Joe, walking along beside them in his big fur coat. Here, he said.

    They'd come to a dead tree on the side of the ridge. It stuck out of the snow like a skeleton, and the dog sensed the danger. But it was a place Joe remembered. Here, he said. We'll go down here and cut across the river. She's solid yet.

    So down they go, over the bank, and part way across the dog will go no further. Whining and carrying on and climbing back over the other dogs' traces. Goddamn, Joe said, and he picked that dog up and threw it forward, and that's when the ice cracked open in front of them like a china plate. And she can see the black water swirling, and the baby sound asleep, tied into that box in the front of the sled.

    "Look."

    "What is it, Mrs. Goodyear? Are you cold then?"

    These people. They cover her, then they take everything away. It's cold, then warm. Wet, then dry. They tuck the blankets round her. They turn on the little noise. They move around her room and do things.

    "She's not going to say very much today. We should probably let her nap now."

    She closes her eyes, and somebody says, goodbye Gran. Then they go away. When she opens her eyes the noise is over and it's dark again. Hello moy dear. Come 'ere I wants ya. Here, he said. We'll go down here, just past the tree. Then over they go, but she doesn't move. It's white and dangerous and empty. She lies in her bed like a baby in a wooden box. Hush, she used to say whenever they cried. Hush now.

THE PSALMS
An Introduction


By JAMES L. CRENSHAW

William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company

Copyright © 2001 Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co.. All rights reserved.

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Table of Contents

One The Danger Tree 1
Two Better or Worse? 7
Three The Lost One 45
Four Country Gardens 81
Five Fathers and Sons 115
Six The Ambitious City 151
Seven Our Island Story 183
Eight Beer and Skittles 237
Nine Fire 265
Ten The Danger Tree 293
Acknowledgements 305
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  • Posted April 8, 2010

    memoir evocative of distant times and places

    This memoir of a Newfoundland family's history centers on the the family's (and Newfoundland's) losses in World War I and their continued impact on the family's (and province's) subsequent history. It is well-written, thought-provoking,and a wonderful introduction to the distant and generally little-known corner of North America known as Newfoundland, now a Canadian province but formerly an independent dominion within the British Commonwealth. I consider it one of the best books I have ever read. I have given it frequently as a gift to friends, and not one has failed to be charmed. Several of the recipients have subsequently visited Newfoundland, while others have had their arm-chair travels enriched immeasurably. The book is beautifully written, and reads like a novel. I cannot recommend it too highly.

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