Monthly Archives: July 2013

Rosina, the Midwife, by Jessica Kluthe

Rosina, the Midwife, by Jessica Kluthe

Jessica Kluthe reaches a hand – at first tentative and trembling – across oceans and generations from her life in Canada to that of her ancestors in Italy in her captivating family memoir, Rosina, the Midwife. Those ancestors were part of a 26-million-strong exodus of Italians from 1870 to 1970, departing Italy for other parts of Europe and further afield, to North America. Kluthe’s particular focus, however, is the stalwart and enigmatic figure of a family member who chose to stay behind: her great-great-grandmother, Rosina, respected matriarch and, as a practising midwife, essential keeper of community tradition, secrets, and life.

Kluthe imagines poignantly and strikingly Rosina’s determination to see her family succeed and thrive, even if and when it means separating from loved ones permanently:

“She didn’t have a picture of her husband, but she could see him when she looked into her son’s face: everyone could. And, as her family would resettle, she would be left to remember this day of goodbyes and their faces – Giovanni’s and Generoso’s. And their eyes so dark that she couldn’t see their pupils – so dark that she could see her face reflected in Generoso’s as she stepped back, her hands still on his shoulders, and smiled as she wished him safe travels.”

Kluthe’s passion for the intricacies of heritage and the enduring love of family and how they inform both social fabric and individuals make Rosina an absorbing read. Kluthe’s pursuit of answers, interwoven with her own life’s joys and sorrows, rounds out the emotional satisfaction quotient of the book, making Rosina a “can’t put down” book for any season.

It was a pleasure to offer a version of this review to 49th Shelf for their Summer 2013 “Couldn’t Put It Down” feature, which includes great summer reading recommendations by noted Canadian reviewers, bloggers, publishers, authors, editors, and publicists with whom I was delighted to have my name and recommendation included. Read the feature here.

2013 reading list (so far)

The Alice Poems by Leon Rooke

Here are the books I’ve read so far in 2013, with links where they exist to books that I’ve reviewed (either here on this blog or briefly on Goodreads). As I’ve remarked before, it’s a competition with no one but myself, but it is always interesting to reflect halfway through the year where one is at with one’s reading, both quantitatively and qualitatively.

This has been another fine and interesting year in reading so far. I see I need to invest some more time in getting some more reviews on this blog, although I think that has been supplanted a bit by #todayspoem activities and reflections on beautiful book-shaped objects. I’ve been trying to balance my reading so that I always have prose and poetry on the go at the same time. I’m also pleased to see that 16 of the 21 books I’ve read so far this year are Canadian, and 8 of that total are poetry collections.


  1. The Age of Hope
    by David Bergen (a Canada Reads selection)

  2. May We Be Forgiven
    by A.M. Homes

  3. CivilWarLand in Bad Decline
    by George Saunders

  4. Pastoralia
    by George Saunders

  5. canlit

  6. Red Doc>
    by Anne Carson

  7. Tenth of December
    by George Saunders

  8. canlit

  9. Traveling Light
    by Peter Behrens

  10. canlit

  11. Stories About Storytellers
    by Douglas Gibson

  12. canlit

  13. How Should A Person Be?
    by Sheila Heti

  14. canlit

  15. Seldom Seen Road
    by Jenna Butler

  16. canlit

  17. The April Poems
    by Leon Rooke

  18. canlit

  19. The Shore Girl
    by Fran Kimmel

  20. canlit

  21. Li’l Bastard
    by David McGimpsey

  22. canlit

  23. 1996
    by Sara Peters

  24. canlit

  25. One Bird’s Choice
    by Iain Reid

  26. Clear
    by Nicola Barker

  27. canlit

  28. Under the Keel
    by Michael Crummey

  29. canlit

  30. Coping with Emotions and Otters
    by Dina Del Bucchia

  31. canlit

  32. The Miracles of Ordinary Men
    by Amanda Leduc

  33. canlit

  34. What’s the Score?
    by David W. McFadden

  35. canlit

  36. Bone & Bread
    by Saleema Nawaz

Currently in progress:

  • Journey with No Maps: A Life of P.K. Page
    by Sandra Djwa

  • Big Day Coming: Yo La Tengo and the Rise of Indie Rock
    by Jesse Jarnow

  • Lyrics and Poems 1997-2012
    by John K. Samson

How is your reading going so far in 2013?

The Miracles of Ordinary Men, by Amanda Leduc

The Miracles of Ordinary Men, by Amanda Leduc

Among its many bittersweet delights, Amanda Leduc’s The Miracles of Ordinary Men makes me miss Peter Falk. One of Falk’s most unforgettable roles was playing himself – but that self as a lapsed angel – in the haunting 1987 film Wings of Desire. While they take different approaches, both the film and the book turn the tables on a spiritual concept that we perhaps all take for granted: that angels are benevolent celestial beings that look out for us, perhaps intercede between us and our higher being of choice … and are happy to do so, with no troubles, desires, anguish or emotions of their own.

The angels in Wings of Desire feel, but what they feel most is absence, because they observe human beings experiencing frustration, loneliness, pain and love, tasting food and life … and wonder what it would be like to experience that figurative and literal palette of sensations themselves. They have the choice to do that, but only by becoming mortal.

The Miracles of Ordinary Men reverses that process. Mortals become angels, and it is an increasingly excruciating process that Leduc renders with a psychological and physical detail and believability balanced with just enough ambiguity that a reader can perceive it as literally, clinically or symbolically as suits one’s perspective. Like Peter Falk, only a chosen few in The Miracles of Ordinary Men can see and even begin to comprehend the angels or angels-in-the-making before them.

Leduc is never heavy handed about what anyone’s form of belief or source of hope might be. She wisely posits that even the most doubtful or agnostic want something to turn to, and it is brave to acknowledge that desire, even if succumbing to it won’t necessarily achieve anything. This exchange captures it aptly and beautifully:

“People always want to pray when they’re down. It’s the easiest thing in the world.”

“I don’t think so. I think it’s the hardest thing anyone can do. Because there’s a part of you that always knows nothing might happen, that you might just be speaking words into air. And people do it anyway.”

The dual protagonists in the midst of this making of angels are English teacher Sam and executive assistant Lilah, both struggling, fresh from or in the process of suffering personal loss, estrangements and deaths. They are depressed, distraught and punishing themselves for those losses in different and some cases very overt fashion. It isn’t really a spoiler to note that their stories are quietly, elegantly constructed to intersect.

Even at its most troubling, the tone of The Miracles of Ordinary Men is almost determinedly evenhanded. Even at its most violent, the story and how it is told is essentially, if inexplicably gentle, always reaching for comfort and solace. As their stories accelerate and inevitably tilt towards each other and some kind of conclusion, Sam and Lilah both experience a falling away, a dispensing with, a distillation that holds the reader’s attention to the very last page. Is it the flat affect of shell shocked survivors, or the preternatural serenity of those who know something better is coming?

The Miracles of Ordinary Men is a book you’ll want to revisit and from which you could derive an entirely different but equally rich, redeeming and satisfying interpretation each time.