Monday, July 22, 2019

Another RAVE Book Review of TRILLIUM

Wow. It is always gratifying - but also very humbling - when a book reviewer assesses the merits of one's work.  Rachel More, writing for Hamilton's Arts & Letters Magazine had some thought-filled things to say recently about TRILLIUM ...

' Margaret Lindsay Holton’s TRILLIUM 

Trillium by Margaret Lindsay Holton is a book that is steeped in both geography and history. A very specific, very localized geography and history. Trillium chronicles the history of the Niagara Peninsula and European settlement and development here.

From the first sentence - “Clinging tightly to the huge boulder half way down the falls Tom watched the water cascade past him into the churning gorge below” - it is clear that landscape and natural power loom large (oftentimes literally) over the lives of Holton’s characters. And well it should.

The founding myth of settler Canada is that of a country literally hewn from forest and granite and transformed into a paradise – one of the ‘breadbaskets of the world’ and a fertile and productive region for wine. That this is a myth cannot be overstated. The last 10 years have seen a radical shift in how we talk about the colonial period and the white men and women who came here from Europe and transmogrified the land to suit themselves at the expense of the non-white men and women who were already here. In a post-Truth and Reconciliation society perhaps Holton’s most surprising literary choice is the lack of racial tension which characterizes the opening section of Trillium.

Young Tom Hartford, a British soldier in what would come to be known (to Anglo-Canadians at least) as the French & Indian War, is a model 18th-century man. His best friend is the Iroquois trader Maakadegaagwan, known as Maaka, and the most problematic thought that Tom has is that he would prefer to marry a white woman “He would prefer to take a wife from his own kind, preferably with a woman who could read and write and teach their children.” Later, when Maaka’s customs make Tom’s new (Scottish) wife uncomfortable, Tom assures her that “Maaka was the best there ever could be”. He continues to defend his friendship with Maaka in the face of increasing community pressure to segregate from the indigenous people. Eventually though, Maaka stops coming around and Tom cheerfully accepts this as he cheerfully accepts almost everything else that happens.

But just as Canadian history doesn’t end with the English victory at the Plains of Abraham, Trillium doesn’t end with Tom Hartford peacefully living out his days on his Twenty Mile Creek peach farm.

Holton’s mandate is wide-ranging and no sooner has the story of Tom Hartford, the first, drawn to a close than she introduces us to another young man, aspiring to a better life, awestruck by the majesty of his new country.

Francesco Di Angelo arrives in Hamilton from Sicily by merchant steamer in 1835. His first view of the city highlights a rapidly-changing Canada, juxtaposing “the bustling shoreline” with the “escarpment-protected port at the end of this long freshwater open lake”.

The meaning is clear: this is a natural setting for the ingenuity and industry of human beings and the land will reward those who adapt to and exploit it most judiciously. Francesco is one of those who will profit by the land, at least in this era, because his love of growing things makes him a natural fit as a picker on the Hartford farm (now owned by Tom’s grandson, Tom Hartford III). “To him this wasn’t work, it was play. It was soil. It was home. His hands became chaffed from dirt and his fingernails became permanently blackened with grit. He dug in deeper. He didn’t mind. He could feel the sun on his back and hear the birds in the orchards. He could literally see the fruit of his own labour. In September, he ate two perfect peaches from the first tree he had picked.” Despite his lack of English, Franco is embraced by the thoroughly Anglo Hartfords in the first of many intersections between characters throughout the centuries.

Holton’s book does indeed span centuries. Words like ‘panoramic’ or ‘multi-generational’ or even ‘saga’ would apply. It is to her credit that she has looked at the history and demographics of wine country and seen fertile ground (pun intended) for the kind of sprawling family-history story made famous by authors like Isabel Allende and Gabriel Garcia Marquez; though Holton’s novel doesn’t feature the kind of precious magical realism that also typifies those writers. Instead, her magic is more prosaic, but no less effective.

The opening section of Trillium, “Seeds”, introduces both Tom, the first, and Franco Di Angelo as well as a third young man with big dreams. Paddy O’Sullivan’s ambitions lead him down a far different path than either of the others, with him becoming a ‘swell’ and most likely a petty criminal as well as a shrewd and corrupt businessman (he will eventually become involved with Hartford Fruit Farm through a shady land deal that sees Tom’s descendants leasing land that Paddy has acquired).

Tom, Franco, and Paddy are the seeds that Holton grows her story from and, like grapevines, that story grows strong and wild. The Hartford, Di Angelo, and O’Sullivan family’s fates are inextricably intertwined all the way up to the end of the 20th century and the novel does not lack for dramatic events.

In fact, all of the plot described so far covers less than a quarter of Trillium. The magic is that Holton never confuses the reader (even with multiple characters named, say, Tom Hartford) and she never loses the sense of the terrain being a character as much as any of the humans.

As I wrote in the beginning of this review, this is a novel in which history and geography are the twin engines driving the story forward. Trillium could not be set anywhere but the Niagara peninsula. This specificity is a strength, as is Holton’s gift for capturing each historical period in detail without losing sense of the larger whole.

As Trillium so aptly demonstrates even familiar territory can contain multitudes worth examining. Her Southern Ontario tale is full of intriguing characters with stories to tell and they are lucky to be the products of a well-seasoned teller of tales. TRILLIUM is well worth the attention of anyone who lives in the Niagara peninsula - and anyone who doesn’t but still likes quality historical fiction.'

--- Book Review by Rachel More, for H&L Magazine. Published July 20th, 2019.

Wonderful, no? 

However, More's review is not without some criticism from me ... I believe she failed to 'round out' the manner in which I did include the current plight of the indigenous people in Canada. She failed to mention how I tied up the beginning of the novel to the end with the re-introduction of a 'snapshot' of the general perspective, circa 2001, from both the native and non-native points of view. I did this in a subtle way, (as an internet-exploring activity played out in a house full of university students), to remind the readers that 'settler' history - Canadian history - is, in fact, built on top of the pre-existing human history within North America ... In other words, contrary to her critique, I was very aware from the onset that, (even though this work is NOT a novel about the native tribes of Canada), I could not ignore the 'framework' of history that has shaped our young nation and its people.

I also think her opening assumption that all interactions between colonialists and the native peoples would have been necessarily fractious is off-the-mark. Historically, that is simply not the case. (The continental fur trade would never have happened if it had been.) More to the point, and worthy of greater thought and deliberation, is the whole IDEA of 'land ownership' that lies, like the good soil beneath our feet, beneath this tale ...

Land ownership remains the greatest bone of contention between the government of Canada and the First Nations tribal groups. Dominion of the land - including all rights and access above-and-below ground - will continue to be one of on-going strife between the two competing governing cultures if some sort of genuine and acceptable agreement cannot be achieved. There is no question that the historical wounds are deep and the generational scars omnipresent. But, obviously, no progress can or will be made as long as this on-going issue remains framed as one between 'winners and losers', or 'the dominant and the subordinate'.

If PEACE is desired, a new linguistic paradigm is very much needed.

For my point of view, and for what it is worth, nothing is ever really just 'black or white' in love or war - and that includes humanity's multifaceted evolution and diverse multicultural history. If we are to survive at all as a species on this planet, we have ALL got to rethink a LOT about our engagement with the natural world as well as our interactions with all species on this amazing twirling globe.


Tuesday, July 16, 2019

Two New Reviews of Timely Novel by MLHolton, TRILLIUM

--- Opps! A short apology, dear friends! 

I've just had my ancient laptop refurbished, (new keyboard), and upgraded with new software (Windows 10), and am now boldly stumbling forward. (... ach!  the filing system is sooo different, passwords have 'disappeared' and one drive of info will not 'link' ... arg!) - Still, I did what to get out this brief shout-out to two very kind book reviewers who recently penned their thoughts about my latest novel effort, TRILLIUM.

First up, California-based writer, Veronica Cline Barton. Veronica is a prolific writer in her own right with a very intriguing and active writing blog. Under her #amreading and #amreviewing hashtags, she very kindly wrote the following: -
- TRILLIUM by Author M. L. Holton - ***** 5 STAR REVIEW
'This week I traveled 250 years through time with an historical fiction, multi-generational masterpiece! - Three men, three families, and 250 years of life stories and secrets flow through this masterful tale by author M.L. Holton. 
War between the British and French comes to an end, at the dawn of a new Canada. Land is royally granted, setting up the beginning of unimaginable fortunes and business opportunities for the few, agricultural livelihoods supporting generations for others, and power schemes fueled by jealousy and envy for some that will do anything to get their way.
The TRILLIUM story line is magnificent in the way it has been structured, moving the reader seamlessly through the happenings in each family generation and disclosing the decisions that will impact descendants in the future. Author Holton cleverly ties in historical events to the fictional families and agricultural details of the region that yield surprising new ventures, giving you several ‘ah-hah’ moments that this reader enjoyed.
As the family destinies play out, the lives of the rich and famous, as well as those of more modest means unfold over the decades, giving you an insight to their love lives, fated relationships, family tragedies, scheming personalities, joys and dreams as the generations within the families grow and adapt to this wondrous land. The sadness of lives lost, cruel deeds, revenge driven intentions, illness and lost hope will keep you turning page after page to see how the characters will react—and who will survive and thrive, or not.
The surroundings detailed in TRILLIUM pull you in to witness the beauty and splendor of the land, grand homes, and the drama as it unfolds. I couldn’t put this book down–I was enchanted and mesmerized by the story lines of the families, the characters, and settings from beginning to end. The scope and depth of this story is fantastically told, taking you through generations of family love, hope and drama—slowly revealing the secrets that will bind these families together forever. --- A fantastic read, highly recommended!'
Cool, eh? Veronica also, unprompted, added her 5 STAR review to Amazon, Goodreads and BookPub. - That was very decent of her! - Thank you V! 
Then, a few days later, marvelous Mel, who writes for 'Book Reviews From Canada' blog had the following to say - 
'TRILLIUM follows the stories of several families from different backgrounds as their lives intersect across generations in the Niagara region. This is a very well-done book. ... Holton has crafted a beautifully written and incredibly detailed novel. I loved how character-driven the novel was ... and ... Holton vividly describes the scenery so that you can clearly imagine it  ... Holton has managed to intersect the story lines of so many varied characters and plot points.  ...  I would recommend this book to anyone interested in character focused historical fiction spanning generations.'
---  Cool too, no? 
It is fascinating how people do perceive and interpret this new work through their own perceptual prisms. - Each sees, resonates and amplifies something slightly different. I am so glad that readers are enjoying this timely historical fiction.

Please do feel free to add your thoughts about your read of TRILLIUM too to either Goodreads and/or Amazon (via Amazon CA in Canada, or via AMAZON. COM for American and global options.

(Kindly note, if you're thinking of picking up either an e-book or paperback please note that the currency exchange rates fluctuate from country to country.)