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Genni Gunn

Kingston (Ont.), Quarry Press, 1990. 229pp, paper, $12.95
ISBN 0-919627-81-1. CIP

Grades 11 and up/Ages 16 and up
Reviewed by Joan McGrath.

Volume 18 Number 6
1990 November

A baby girl is found abandoned, adrift in a canoe near Prince Rupert, B.C., and an RCMP detective is detailed to locate the baby's mother. A battered diary that is part of the sparse evidence leads him into a web of historical relationships stemming from the Caribou Gold Rush days of Barkerville in the mid-nineteenth century.

As piece after piece of the puzzle falls into place, the tragedies of several generations are discovered: the lives of women who in one way or another, willingly or not, abandoned their female children. It appears that somehow all their stories relate to an ancient Indian legend, the myth of Esileh, abandoned as a baby and later adopted, who as a young woman is told that "One cannot live in the present without knowledge of the past." In her mythic search for that lost past, Esileh descends into the dangerous Middle World, where she loses her heart. She still lives, says the legend, and those who set eyes on her are destined to become trapped in the Middle World, a kind of limbo.

The tangled stories of Thrice Upon a Time are such that it seems the protago­nists did, in some sense, set eyes upon Esileh, and remained trapped. All the women of this convoluted novel appear to be re-creating the legend in their own lives, completing the cycle. Slipping swiftly back and forth from one genera­tion to another, this complex creation of "feminist history" is richly tapestried, poetic story-telling, which makes heavy demands upon the reader, but which rewards the effort.

Joan McGrath, Toronto Board of Education, Toronto, Ont.
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