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Leslie Smith Dow
Porters Lake (N.S.), Pottersfield Press, 1991. 154pp, paper, $15.95
ISBN 0-919001-69-6- CIP

Grades 10 and up/Ages 15 and up

Reviewed by Louise Reimer.

Volume 20 Number 2
1992 March

The non-conformist Victorian woman has of late received growing biographical attention. To these ranks comes a biography with a distinctly Canadian connection, Leslie Smith Dow's story of Anna Leonowens. Most readers will recognize Anna as the fiery governess immortalized on stage and screen in The King and I. That her post-Siam life was spent largely in Halifax will come as more of a surprise.

Dow, a journalist and newspaper reporter, has done a creditable job of tracing Anna's life story: her birth into an impoverished army family in India, her tumultuous and often trying five years with the Thai royal family; the chain of circumstance that lands her in Halifax, whore she continues her outspoken efforts to ameliorate society; and her death, at the age of eighty-one, in Montreal. Anna's political activism and determination to fight for the downtrodden of society, be they Siamese slaves or Haligonian women, represent a recurring thread in the colourful fabric of her life.

Dow's research is commendable for its thoroughness, particularly with respect to Canadian newspaper and magazine sources. Despite this, how­ever, the biography lacks scholarly authority, although this seems to be by design rather than through carelessness. Strict accuracy is eschewed in favour of a semi-fictionalized story-line in which the reader is privy to Anna's supposed innermost thoughts and feelings.

Grammatical and stylistic problems disrupt the flow of the biography. Proof-reading is slipshod, basic syntacti­cal errors occur with regularity, and the transitions between episodes in Anna's life are often abrupt.

Issues of style and scholarship aside, Anna Leonowens makes, through its very subject matter, a valuable contribution to Canadian biographical and historical literature. Recommended for large public libraries and libraries with an emphasis on Halifax history.

Louise Reimer, Edmonton Public Library, Edmonton, Alta.
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