Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Emancipation Day


This novel is set in Windsor, Ontario in the 1940’s during the post war period when race riots in Detroit occurred with frightening frequency. Jack Lewis’ family is “coloured”, neither white nor black, but a mixture of both. When he is born in the 30's, Jack himself appears white and his father accuses his wife of infidelity, rejecting young Jack, who then grows up feeling like an outcast from his own family. Prejudices get passed along and resentment festers for a lifetime.

During the war Jack signs up and finds himself in Newfoundland, where nobody knows that he isn't exactly what he appears to be. He marries Vivian and when they eventually move back to Ontario, Vivian finally meets members of the Lewis family and comes to the realization that Jack has been keeping his heritage a secret.

Set during the jazz and big band era of the 30’s and 40’s this novel challenges our perceptions of race and class. Issues that we have come to think little about in 2014 were big deals back then when people were measured, accepted and rejected by their colour and hired or not according to the shade of their skin. Families would be ripped apart and loyalty and love became complex issues. 

What really makes this novel stand out is that author, Wayne Grady, is giving us the history of his own family, only recently discovered by himself and revealed only at the very end of the novel. When I think about that, I’m blown away with the realization that probably most of us are mixtures of one kind or another. How fortunate that we are now in the 21st century and for the most part in this country we can claim our heritage with pride.

Shelagh Rogers on CBC Radio's The Next Chapter had an interesting conversation with Wayne Grady last November. Listen to it here .