Sunday, August 15, 2010

Book Review: Vancouver

VancouverVancouver by David Cruise and Alison Griffiths

My rating:
4 of 5 stars

Beginning in 13,477 BC with the stories of Manto and Inish, First Nations people, and ending in the 1990s with the story of another First Nations person (down on her luck in Chinatown), this Michener-like sweeping saga describes the hopes, dreams, and journeys traveled of people around the globe, all heading for Vancouver, BC.

Written as a series of short stories, some interweaving, its characters not only include First Nations people, but also a Georgian cartographer sailing with Juan de Fuca, a Scottish fur trader, a Chinese worker, an eccentric English adventurer, a Sikh immigrant, son of a German count, and a conniving and unlikable Canadian stock trader and his daughter. This book doesn't appear to be very widely read in the U.S. (as I've often found to be the case with Canadian fiction, a sad fact), but some of the reviewers have faulted the book for being about the journeys TO Vancouver, and not always taking place entirely in Vancouver. I do not agree with that criticism. I did find this complimentary review from the Seattle Times, circa 2003.

I chose to read this book because of our recent vacation in Vancouver in early August, and I was in plowing through this book while there. At 750 pages, it took me several weeks to finish.

I believe it paints an evocative picture of the unique landscape around Vancouver and also educates the reader about the crusty, adventurous sorts who built Vancouver into what it is today. It also respectfully pays tribute to the First Nations who were there before the city and have suffered in so many ways because of industrialization, disenfranchisement, and discrimination (and plain old white greed and colonization).

Many of the stories were not easy to read...especially the early First Nations stories, given the extremely low status of women and the horrible way they were treated. Most of the characters in the book were not particularly likable or sympathethic, with a few exceptions. However, I found their stories and struggles to be fascinating.

The only exceptions were the stories of Walter and Tiffany Dolby (especially Tiffany). All of the stock wrangling and backroom dealing did not hold my interest, and it did not help that Tiffany was completely unlikable and sleazy and used her sex appeal to become rich. I had a much higher opinion of the book until I reached those chapters, which I ended up scanning through.

The authors clearly did an amazing amount of research to write this book. Overall, I really enjoyed it and would recommend it for anyone traveling to Vancouver or who loves that fascinating city.

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