Monday, August 13, 2007

JEREMY KANE: a Canadian historical novel of the 1837 Mackenzie Rebellion.

JEREMY KANE: a Canadian historical novel of the 1837 Mackenzie Rebellion and its brutal aftermath in the penal colonies of Australia.

This is a BIG book. Big in its geographical scope and its extraordinary capacity to bring alive the Canada and Australia of the 1830s, and the author's ability to spin his compelling story through the words and deeds and thoughts of his main character. Yes, Kane is the hero, yet so completely is he submerged in the actual events that overtake him that we accept the man as every bit as real as the true life governors, colonels, rebel leaders and jailors with whom he mingles.

This is the art of historical fiction, and Sidney Allinson has it in spades. Without once distorting or overstating the often terrifying events and conditions that confront Kane and his fellows, the author breathes life into a fascinating period of history about which all too little is understood. We meet Jeremy Kane during the heady days that led up to the Mackenzie Rebellion in colonial Upper Canada - today's Ontario. Reformist and populist, the rebellion was led by the crabby old Scot whose name commemorates it.

The trusting and rather unworldly young Kane supports Mackenzie as an act of patriotism. Canada is being misgoverned by the 'Family Compact' of local shysters, and the lackadaisical British do nothing about it. The insurrection comes and goes, the rebels are scattered, captured, or killed, and Kane is saved from the gallows only to be deported with one hundred others to a penal colony on Tasmania, off the coast of Australia.It is hard to credit that conditions such as Kane encounters in this book existed only 160 years ago: the plague-ridden convict ships, sadistic torture camps approved by the authorities, a veritable Gulag flying the Union Flag.

This is not light reading, but you'll keep the pages turning, believe me. Still there is hope. Hope that transcends rational calculation and imbues the convicts with the will to survive. This can take one form only: escape. And when the terrors of the sea have been vanquished, there are the horrors of cannibalism in a land so vast and forbidding that the chances of survival shrink daily until, after all manner of adventures, Jeremy Kane, alone, proves that hope reinforced by straight thinking and determination pays off.

For this reader, it was the story with its myriad characters, their encounters with danger, and the impact of events on character development that held me. In the aftermath, however, I found myself contemplating the significance of the historical lesson concealed within the story. Did Canada miss an unique opportunity when the mishandled Mackenzie rebellion failed: Has Canada yet risen above a modern version of the Family Compact? Since Canada had inherited from Britain a top-down form of government, and the Americans had established a bottom-up form, to what extent was opposition to Mackenzie's reforms based on fear that any move towards true democracy would undercut the political rationale for a separate North American nation?

As for Australia, the author dares to defy political correctness by describing aboriginal life, warts and all, an important corrective to the myth that such societies enjoyed some kind of Golden Age until this was overturned by newcomers. Whatever your interests, read Jeremy Kane and enjoy.

– Brig. (Rtd.) Maurice Tugwell, Founding Director, Centre for Conflict Studies, University of New Brunswick, Canada.

1 comment:

Charles said...

Hello, Sidney,
What an excellent review of Jeremy Kane. I hope many readers see it and then read the book. It is excellent in every way, literally, characterwise, and historically. I've read it twice, and really enjoyed every reading. Thanks for an excellent novel.