Emancipation Day by Wayne Grady

Adult Fiction pick by Jean-Louis

emancipation (Doubleday Canada, 2013)

Author Wayne Grady states in the “Acknowledgements” section that this novel took him twenty years to write. Grady is more well known for his non-fiction writing and for his work as a translator, but in this book he has set himself a tough task. Emancipation Day is the story of Jack Lewis or Jackson Lewis depending on who you ask. Jack is in the navy band stationed in Newfoundland during the middle of the WW2 and like so many soldiers and soldiers, Jack meets and marries a local girl. It is when he takes her home to Windsor, ON to meet his family that the story turns more complicated.

The novel is a story of borders. Vivian, Jacks new wife is a Newfoundlander, and when she chooses to follow her new husband she must cross borders into Canada for the first time. Once in Windsor, the draw is to the American city of Detroit with yet another border crossing. In his music life, Jack is a jazz musician who crosses musical styles and traditions, trying to find his own voice. But the most fraught of lines to cross is that of colour. Jack, who passes as “white” is from a “coloured” family. What seems to be is not always what is. Grady took a long time to write this novel because this is still a difficult topic to write about. Finding the right language to express the personal challenges posed by race relations in the mid-century is a tough nut to crack, but the author does a great job of creating strong characters through which we can experience the challenges.

Grady has given us a strong novel with real characters fighting to maintain their dignity while making their way in a world fraught with physical and emotional danger.

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