Sunday, 14 May 2017

Emancipation Day

Author: Wayne Grady
Genre: Historical Fiction, Canadian
Type: Paperback
Pages: 336
Source: Local Public Library
Publisher: DoubleDay Canada
First Published: July 30, 2013
First Line: "William Henry Lewis, of W.H Lewis & Sons Ltd.,Plasterers, Willie to his wife Will to his brother and friends, the Old Man to his sons, Pop to his daughter, William Henry to his mama who was living in Ypsilanti or Cassopolis, no one was certain where, or even if she was still alive, she'd be in her nineties, and also William Henry to himself, sat regally in his father's ancient barber chair, his hands spread across his knees under the blue pinstriped barber's bib, and watched himself in in the large wall mirror, while his brother, Harlan, shaved his chin."

Book Description from GoodReads: With his curly black hair and his wicked grin, everyone swoons and thinks of Frank Sinatra when Navy musician Jackson Lewis takes the stage. It's World War II, and while stationed in St. John's, Newfoundland, Jack meets the well-heeled Vivian Clift, a local girl who has never stepped off the Rock and longs to see the world. They marry against Vivian's family's wishes--there's something about Jack that they just don't like--and as the war draws to a close, the couple travels to Windsor to meet Jack's family.

But when Vivian meets Jack's mother and brother, everything she thought she knew about her husband gets called into question. They don't live in the dream home Jack depicted, they all look different from one another--different from anyone Vivian has ever seen--and after weeks of waiting to meet Jack's father, he never materializes. 

Steeped in jazz and big-band music, spanning pre- and post-war Windsor-Detroit, St. John's, Newfoundland, and 1950s Toronto, this is an arresting, heartwrenching novel about fathers and sons, love and sacrifice, race relations and a time in our history when the world was on the cusp of momentous change.


My Rating: 3 stars

My Review: This book explores racial issues in the mid 20th century and one man's struggle to find out who he is within the confines of prejudice - his own and society's. It's a slower read that uses three points of view - Vivian, Jack and William Henry, Jack's father. Each of these POVs helped to tell the story but William Henry was the only character whom I felt I got to know decently. 

I had expected to like this book much more than I did. For a book that deals with emotional and heated issues (self-identity, racism, family dysfunction) the story left me cold. I couldn't buy into Jack and Vivian's love story. Their connection to each other was weak and their interactions were awkward at best. It didn't help that I found Jack to be an unlikable, sullen and aloof guy. He's a jerk much of the time, especially to his wife, who herself came off as a scattered, overly naive, unmemorable character.

I liked that this book was set in Newfoundland (before it was part of Canada) and Windsor, Ontario and will give readers much to think about. My favourite part of the book was the ending. I found myself re-reading it to ensure that I understood what had just happened. Well played, Mr. Grady.  Well played.  

If this book had had stronger character development I would have rated this book higher. Emancipation Day is a book that will spark good discussion but overall it was just an okay read for me.

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