Vancouver: A Novel
Matt Hartman is a freelance editor and cataloguer, running Hartman Cataloguing, Editing and Indexing Services.
Maintaining pace and interest in a novel of more than 900 pages is no
small feat for an author—in the case of Vancouver, for two authors.
Cruise and Griffiths—a husband-and-wife team responsible for several
non-fiction books, including the bestselling Working the Land: Journeys
in the Heart of Canada (1999)—have succeeded in creating an epic
rendering of the history of the city, in the spirit of James Michener.
They tell their story through a series of memorable characters, each
representing a different period in the historical life of the area, from
the Aboriginals at the end of the Ice Age in 14th century B.C. right up
to the city’s infamous Downtown Eastside in 2003. Were liberties taken
with historical truth? No doubt, but Griffiths and Cruise would have it
no other way. “All the theories, all the tantalizing possibilities,”
they say in an afterword, “are wonderful fodder for the novelist. In
the end, of course, we have no way of knowing that events happened as
we’ve portrayed them, but ... they could have.”
From the rich smorgasbord of characters, several stand out. Tooke, the
black storyteller who opens the narrative, may have descended from
Africans who crossed the Bering land-bridge. His story, and that of
Manto, his grandson, who sets out to discover more of his kind, are
rendered with an ear for Native languages and place names. The Chinese
congee peddler, Soon Chong, is created to represent the 19th century, a
period when many thousands of Chinese arrived in North America, joining
the gold rush fever and remaining to work on the railroad. Ellie
Nesbitt, the young woman at the book’s conclusion, is memorable for
her efforts to escape the life of the Downtown Eastside and brings us a
tantalizing hint of her Native heritage, completing, in a sense, the
circle. A wonderful book, tremendously readable.