Book Review: Remembrance by Alistair MacLeod

Remembrance, McClelland & Stewart, 2012
Remembrance, McClelland & Stewart, 2012

Remembrance is a short book, more of an essay, really than maybe even a story. I read it in one middle-of-the-night baby-feeding session. It’s the story of three David MacDonalds; father and son and grandfather. The focus is primarily the first David MacDonald, who left his pregnant wife and young daughter to serve with the Canadian forces in Italy and Holland during World War Two. Who returned three years later to find his wife and two daughters and a two-year-old boy named David MacDonald.

It’s the story of a man at war and the way that war ripples outward and into the rest of his life. Into his son’s life, into his grandson’s life. The way war lasts in the history of a town, a country. It’s a Canadian story. About the way a country forms and how people live. How people live through things like war and how they live afterward when things are never really the same.

It’s also a story about immigration and small towns and injuries and what makes a family and what love looks like.

That’s a lot to pack into less than fifty pages but somehow MacLeod does it. He accomplishes this by showing us a lot and telling us very little. There aren’t a lot of details about the war – he trusts that we’ve heard those stories and read those books before. Instead, there are details about a man getting older, about a woodpile and standing in a yard too early in the morning. Instead of telling us about love and family and choice, there is a ladder and a late night car ride. There are signs on a road in Holland and a few unanswered questions because this is what life is made up of. There’s a melancholy that lingers over this brief story but it’s lovely too and with a few words, MacLeod brings this part of our nation’s history to life. It isn’t inspiring, it doesn’t glorify the history of war or the plight of the immigrant. It simply is. Just as our country has simply been shaped by these facts of history. This story is a deceptively simple reminder of everything war is and costs and leaves behind.

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