Saturday, February 9, 2019

Our Homesick Songs

Title:  Our Homesick Songs
Author:  Emma Hooper
Publication Information:  Simon & Schuster. 2018. 336 pages.
ISBN:  150112448X / 978-1501124488

Book Source:  I received this book through NetGalley free of cost in exchange for an honest review.

Opening Sentence:  "There was a mermaid, said Finn."

Favorite Quote:  "... singing together makes you allies. Automatically. Always. Even if you're enemies, normally, or far apart, or both. So they would hear and would sing or hum or play fiddle or accordion or guitar and all remember together. Every new voice would make a bigger, better picture of home, filling in some gaps, bits they might forget alone."

The historical background of this book is not explained in the book but is important to understanding the story. The setting for the story is an isolated fishing village on the coast of Newfoundland, Canada. The waters around Newfoundland were at one point home to an abundant population of fish, especially codfish. Cod fishing has always been a part of that region's history.

With the arrival of Europeans in the fifteenth century, knowledge of the plentiful fishing spread. With time came commercial fishing. Then came large scale commercial fishing to the point of factory fishing ships. The industry grew, without thought to the preservation of the fish populations. According to research done, the amount of fish caught by the factory ships in fifteen years match the total amount caught from the mid-seventeenth to the mid-eighteenth century.

The industry collapsed as the fish population was decimated, leaving many of the particularly smaller fishermen without a livelihood. Things became even worse for these families in 1992 when, in an effort to save and rebuild the fish population, a ten-year moratorium on fishing the area was instituted. Now, these families did not have a livelihood nor any chance of regaining that livelihood.

The Connor family in this book is one of the families in this predicament. Aidan and Martha with their children Cora and Finn are trying to survive. Aidan and Martha alternate months working away from family in order to provide a living. The economic hardship, the work, and the separation takes a toll on the marriage and the family. Then comes news that they may have to leave their home permanently. The two children take different approaches to try and save their home and family. Both are somewhat far fetched.

Embedded throughout the book are the songs of Newfoundland. In researching the background of the book after reading it, I also found that Newfoundland has a rich musical tradition. The tradition represents the native populations of the regions as well as English, Irish, and Scottish traditions of the settlers. Given the setting, much of the music is stories of the sea.

Unfortunately for me, I read the historical background of the book after I read the book, mostly to try and make sense of it. Much of it seems almost a flight of fancy and an allegory. The music teacher. Cora's approach to bringing the world to the village. Finn's plan for bringing back the fish. Even the music and the song lyrics. The imagery is vivid. I can "see" the isolation, the sea, the grey skies, and the cold. That is the lasting memory of this book for me. However, for most of the book, I am not entirely sure what it means. After a while, I stopped trying to understand and read it more as imagery and poetic expression.

I appreciated the story more after knowing the background. I just wish the book had offered some explanation within the story. Without the background, the trajectory of the story gets a little lost because I don't understand the "why".

Please share your thoughts and leave a comment. I would love to "talk" to you.

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