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Edited by Michael Ondaatje

Toronto, Lester & Orpen Dennys, 1990. 714pp, cloth, $24.95
ISBN 0-88619-271-4. CIP

Grades 11 and up/Ages 16 and up
Reviewed by Fred Leicester.

Volume 19 Number 2
1991 March

As a rule I like anthologies, especially big, thick ones in which I can immerse myself for hours on end savouring a dainty morsel here, sinking my teeth into more substantial fare elsewhere as I choose. If one story is not to my liking there will be others that are, while the different subject matter, written in a variety of styles, creates a richness to be savoured.

And so it is with From Ink Lake, an enormously enjoyable two-inch-thick kaleidoscope of forty-nine Canadian stories chosen by York University professor of literature Michael Ondaatje. In serving up this veritable cornucopia he says that he chose stories rather than authors, stories that "mapped the geographical, emotional and literary range of the country from fable to chronicle to intimate moment." He continues, "I tried to present more than the usual Anglo-Saxon portrait of [Canada]."

Readers must judge for themselves whether or not he has succeeded; I think he has. French and English back­grounds are well represented, but pieces by Bharati Mukherjee, Rohinton Mistry, Matt Cohen, John Kelly, Alice French and Joy Kogawa add perspectives that contribute to a true spanning of the Canadian cultural mosaic. Alistair MacLeod's Maritimes, Alice Munro's Ontario, Sandra Birdsell's Manitoba, and Mordechai Richler's Montreal contribute to a broad regional coverage of the country, and for good value pieces by members of the Canadian writer's pantheon (Leacock, Atwood, Laurence et al.) are sprinkled through­out.

With so much good reading in this book it is difficult to pick out favourites, but I will mention four that I found particularly enjoyable: Hugh MacLennan's stark description of the Halifax explosion of 1917; Glen Gould's playful deconstruction of Petula Clark; Richler's comic portrayal of getting out of a social structure ("Some Grist for Mervyn's Mill"), and Rudy Wiebe's unsettling 'The Naming of Albert Johnson."

Ondaatje has said that this volume is a sampling (and what a well-chosen sampling it is), and that what is needed is a follow-up. If the sequel is as good as this, I will have no hesitation buying it. From Ink Lake is highly recommended for all senior secondary school libraries.

Fred Leicester, Golden, B.C.
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