Friday, May 22, 2015

The Back of the Turtle

The Back of the Turtle by Thomas King, © 2014, Harper Collins

I first came across Thomas King in a Canadian Lit class in university. We read 'Green Grass, Running Water' and I loved our discussions that unfolded the many layers of the story. I have returned to the book several times and am enamoured with the tale every time I revisit it. So when I heard tell that King had a new book out, it immediately went on my TBR list. When I spied it at my local library, I couldn't resist picking it up, despite having 2-3 other books on the go. As soon as I cracked it, the other books fell neglected on my bedside table.

Not only was 'The Back of the Turtle' nominated for the coveted Governor General's award for Fiction in 2014, but King walked away a winner. And I can understand why. He created another thought-provoking tale filled with humour, multi-layered depth, serious contemplations of genetically modified products and their potential environmental ramifications, and a study in human relationships. All that squeezed into 518 pages, but reading like a much shorter book.

King introduces Gabriel, a brilliant scientist, but socially awkward individual who doesn't seem to fit in anywhere. He creates an incredibly devastating defoliant, akin to Agent Orange, which inadvertently gets spread in a small BC town, killing people, wildlife and pretty much anything in its path. As the story progresses, we discover that a nearby Indian Reserve has also been affected, which just so happens to be where his estranged mother and sister live. In guilt and remorse, he returns to the town to commit suicide, but some of the inhabitants of Samaritan Bay throw his plan off-kilter.

One can't help but read into characters and the deeper meanings scattered throughout this tale. Gabriel as messenger? As right-hand man to God or destroyer of Jerusalem? He certainly brought devastation to Samaritan Bay. And Samaritan Bay; is it a place of salvation, where people in distress can find help? After devastation, there is rebirth. Even Mara is more than just a returned resident; is she not akin to the Buddhist Mara who is herself a temptress? There are also many Native tales which weave and pull the story together in King's trademark magical realistic way, of which I for one am a fan. And while I'm sure I missed some of the significations of bits and pieces of the tale, that only means I will need to revisit the story again in the future.

As for you, I highly recommend King's most recent novel. It will make you contemplate corporate greed, debate the merits of genetic modifications, question your relationship with the past and how you can come to peace with it, but most importantly, you should enjoy this read. Two thumbs up from me!

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