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Martin Kevan.

Toronto, Stoddart, c1982.
Distributed by General Publishing.
283pp, cloth, $16.95.
ISBN 0-7737-2004-9.

Grades 12 and up.
Reviewed by Patrick Dunn.

Volume 11 Number 4.
1983 July.

Ostensibly the journal of Sodric du Gaelle, Racing Tides provides a fascinating insider's account of the settling of New France, specifically the attempt to establish an abiding colony at Port Royal. In 1603, Pierre du Guade Monts was granted a trading monopoly in Acadia. Upon reading the royal decree, Sodric is determined to join the venture, if only to flee his gambling debts. Claiming to be a seminarian, (one of the many ironies in a marvellously ironic work), this petty rogue sails with the company aboard the Esperance in March of 1604 to begin his life in the New World. And quite a life it is indeed!

Sodric recounts, in often gruesome detail, their first miserable winter on St. Croix Island: short of food and fresh water, unused to the severe cold (their cider froze in its barrels and each man was given his portion by weight), plagued by scurvy, the sorry lot lost more than half its original complement. The subsequent move across the Bay of Fundy brought somewhat improved living conditions, (Champlain inaugurated The Order Of Good Cheer), as well as increased contact with the native populations. Such bare-bones facts are readily available in any of the standard texts covering the period. What is so intriguing about Kevan's approach is that the reader, through the fictional central character, literally experiences those selfsame events described so blandly elsewhere. This has the distinct advantage of infusing the narrative with an immediacy, a dynamism that it would otherwise lack.

No less important, Sodric's sixteenth-century consciousness provides a unique mental perspective from which to view the drama unfolding on the shores of the Annapolis Basin and its environs. His attempts to describe and understand the North American experience expose the cultural assumptions and biases of each society. This enables modern readers to reach their own conclusions about the nature and quality of life in either world. On yet another level, Sodric can be seen as a naive observer (Voltaire's Candide, Johnson's Rasselas) in an all too corrupt world, new though it may be. Europe's religious fanaticism and political confusion (the backdrop against which the action unfolds) find their sinister parallels in the Indians' sudden treachery and unending tribal warfare.

While Sodric functions as an extremely powerful literary device, I feel that the author's treatment of him as an individual is much less successful, certainly less satisfying. It is quite apparent that Sodric is a complex character. However, many of his emotional and spiritual crises seem unnecessarily tortuous, even gratuitous. Sodric is confused about much: his origins, his parents' political activities and affiliations, his destiny. Yet Kevan seems unable to resolve these psychological and personal dilemmas satisfactorily. This is doubly upsetting to the reader who is genuinely engaged by such an imaginative history.

It is difficult to know precisely what readership to recommend for such a novel. Certainly, public libraries pretending to collect Canadian literature/history will want this title. As well, senior high schools offering enrichment programs in these subjects should consider acquiring the work. Overall, Racing Tides is a deliciously subtle, difficult, frequently frustrating, but, nevertheless, rewarding book. Recommended as noted above.

Patrick Dunn, Faculty of Education, University of British Columbia, Vancouver, BC.
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