REFUGE by Merilyn Simonds


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A 96-year-old woman is forced to face corrosive truths about the past in Simonds’ (Gutenberg's Fingerprint, 2017, etc.) examination of the quest for certainty and its costs.

Born the ninth daughter to a rural Canadian farming family at the turn of the 20th century, Cass MacCallum becomes her father’s favored companion as he pursues his avocation of scientific observation and experimentation. A bout of tuberculosis, coupled with her growing interest and expertise in the natural sciences, leads Cass to a career in nursing. That vocation, in part, leads her to crisscross the Americas—Canada to Mexico City to New York—during the early part of the century, as the turbulence of world wars, labor disputes, and wars between border states unfold. When confronted with the possibility that a young Burmese woman seeking refugee status in Canada is actually the granddaughter of her beloved and long-lost son, and the only remaining connection to family she may still have, Cass must sift through decades of memories, photographs, and memorabilia before making a decision which will affect the course of not only her own life, but that of the determined young woman standing before her. Cass, whose devotion to the scientific method and powers of observation have carried her far from her provincial upbringing, must weigh the likelihood of patrimony versus opportunism when choosing how to proceed with the unexpected prospect of a familial relationship late in life. Cameo appearances from the likes of Frida Kahlo fill in the background in this portrait of a woman whose life paralleled some of the most tumultuous cultural and political events in modern times.

Do you believe what you see with your eyes or what you see with your heart? That question, raised by Simonds’ layered and nuanced account of an extraordinary life, will provoke thought in skeptics and believers alike.

Pub Date: Sept. 4th, 2018
ISBN: 978-1-77041-418-1
Page count: 328pp
Publisher: ECW Press
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1st, 2018


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