July 27, 2017

Books

The Purchase

The Purchase, a novel, 2012 (McClelland & Stewart) 2012 Governor General’s Literary Prize for Fiction

In 1798, Daniel Dickinson, a young Quaker father and widower, leaves his home in Pennsylvania to establish a new life. He sets out with two horses, a wagonful of belongings, his five children, a 15-year-old orphan wife, and a few land warrants for his future homestead. When Daniel suddenly trades a horse for a young slave, Onesimus, it sets in motion a struggle in his conscience that will taint his life forever, and sets in motion a chain of events that lead to two murders and the family”s strange relationship with a runaway slave named Bett.

Stripped down and as hard-edged as the realities of pioneer life, Spalding’s writing is nothing short of stunning, as it instantly envelops the reader in the world and time of the novel, and follows the lives of unforgettable characters. Inspired by stories of the author’s own ancestors, The Purchase is a resonant, powerful and timeless novel.

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The Purchase 2012 (Published in the U.S. by Pantheon Books) 2012 Canada’s Governor General’s Literary Prize for Fiction

In 1798, Daniel Dickinson, a young Quaker father and widower, leaves his home in Pennsylvania to establish a new life. He sets out with two horses, a wagonful of belongings, his five children, a 15-year-old orphan wife, and a few land warrants for his future homestead. When Daniel suddenly trades a horse for a young slave, Onesimus, it sets in motion a struggle in his conscience that will taint his life forever, and sets in motion a chain of events that lead to two murders and the family”s strange relationship with a runaway slave named Bett.

Stripped down and as hard-edged as the realities of pioneer life, Spalding’s writing is nothing short of stunning, as it instantly envelops the reader in the world and time of the novel, and follows the lives of unforgettable characters. Inspired by stories of the author’s own ancestors, The Purchase is a resonant, powerful and timeless novel.

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Who Named the KnifeWho Named the Knife, non-fiction, 2005 (McClelland & Stewart), 2007 (Pantheon), 2008 (Anchor)

In 1982, as Linda Spalding was about to leave Hawaii and embark on a new life in Canada, she was called to jury duty, sitting for the trial of a young woman charged with murder. Maryann Acker was Mormon, eighteen years old, and married to a petty crook and hustler who had hauled her into a life that led eventually to murder on a hillside above one of Hawaii’s most beautiful beaches.

Twenty years later, Spalding stumbles across the journal she kept through the trial, tracks down Maryann, who is still in jail, and begins a journey into memory, into the twists of fate that spin two lives down such different trajectories. The story is Maryann’s but it is also Spalding’s, as subject and writer overlap. Like the work of John Ruskin, Linda Spalding’s writing brilliantly combines autobiography with the examination of an external subject and, in doing so, offers us profound insights into the vagaries of the human heart.

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MereMere , a novel, (co-authored by Esta Spalding), 2001 (HarperCollins)

Mere’s young life is confined to the wind and water, the boat that she lives on docking only long enough to stop at the grocery store or visit the library, but never long enough to take out any books. That would mean having a library card, and a library card would mean revealing your name on a government form.

Mere, her mother, Faye, and Mark, the mysterious teenage runaway who shares their boat, seem destined to sail around the Great Lakes forever, navigating the Persephone through the deep waters, stopping in Toronto twice a year to pick up envelopes of cash left with the dock master. Faye is a fugitive, still pursued for her part in the violent one-year anniversary events marking Chicago’s 1968 “Days of Rage”—a seminal student protest against the Vietnam war. Now Merril, Mere’s father, has suddenly appeared on the boat after many years. The authorities are looking for him and Faye is his ticket to freedom. But, in a desperate bid for her own adolescent freedom, Mere makes a choice that will change everything.

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The FollowThe Follow, non-fiction, 1998 (Key Porter) (Bloomsbury). Published in the U.S. as A Dark Place in the Jungle, non-fiction, 1999 (Algonquin); 2003 (Seal)

Birute Galdikas, along with Dian Fossey and Jane Goodall, form the famed trio of “angels” Louis Leakey trained to study great apes in the wild. While Fossey studied the gorilla and Goodall the chimpanzee, Galdikas went to Borneo to study the orangutan and, decades later, emerged as a complicated figure, embroiled in scandal. Spalding’s quest to know this woman takes her from the offices of Galdikas’s foundation in Los Angeles to the Sekonyer River in Borneo, where she discovers a beguiling cast of characters. A host of foreign scientists, government workers, tourists, loggers, descendants of the Dayak headhunters, Javanese gold miners, and half-tame orangutans all vie for control of this despoiled Eden. Dark Place in the Jungle is an absorbing rumination on the failure of a woman trying desperately to mother a species to survival, the dangers and temptations of eco-tourism, and the arrogance of our inclination to alter the very things we set out to preserve. 30 black-and-white photographs are featured in this revealing and fascinating journey.

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The Paper WifeThe Paper Wife, a novel, 1994 (Knopf Canada) (Bloomsbury) (Ecco Press)

The clear, lyrical surface of Spalding’s luminous second novel (after Daughters of Captain Cook) belies the powerful story it relates. Set in Colorado and Mexico, the complex but concise tale traces the close friendship of two girls: beautiful, wealthy, self-possessed Kate; and Lily, whose impoverished background and unhappy upbringing makes her covet the life of her privileged friend. While attending college during the Vietnam War years, Kate falls in love with Turner, a free spirit. Their relationship makes Lily feel spurned by Kate and obsessed with Turner until, at an all-night party, Lily accosts a drunken Turner while wearing Kate’s clothes and-thus disguised-sleeps with him. She discovers she is pregnant, and her shame at her betrayal prompts her to flee to an “orphanage” in Mexico, where she can have the baby out of sight and give it up for adoption. The narrative structure gives the novel much of its immediacy. Lily’s first-person account of her harrowing journey to Mexico (where the novel opens) and her subsequent life as an English teacher to orphans while she awaits the birth of her baby, is woven together with her previous life and history in Colorado. In a fascinating turn of events, Turner, acting on Kate’s advice, goes to Mexico in search of Lily. Throughout, Spalding’s elegant prose evokes Mexico as a pure sensory experience. The novel’s finale is surprising and breathtaking-yet thoroughly earned by Spalding’s full, sympathetic exploration of Lily’s troubled character.

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Daughters of Captain CookDaughters of Captain Cook, a novel , 1988 (Lester & Orpen Dennys) (Bloomsbury), 1989 (Birch Lane) (Ecco Press)

The haunting tone and exotic ambience of this first novel draw the reader through the subtle, mysterious story to a shockingly swift denouement. Kansas-born Jesse Quill, trailing her own emotional emptiness, and her husband, Paul, are living on the site of his ancestral homestead in Hawaii, where they are desultorily engaged in raising their young daughter. The island’s ancient culture, with its pantheistic galaxies, invades their lives in the person of a 14-year-old child-woman, the sensuously abandoned Maya, who is the cause of Paul’s infidelity, the knowledge of which brutally raises Jesse from her complacency.

As Jesse unravels the murky history of Paul’s parents, she discovers that Maya’s mother is not only Paul’s sister but had also engaged in a similar scenario with his father. Against the age-old belief that sexual union within the first degree of consanguinity is not only licit but also an extraordinary empowerment from the gods, Jesse’s struggle to retain Paul is doomed. The lush island flora against which the culture clash unfolds is stunningly evoked in a mesmerizing, chilling tale.

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