George and Rue


223 pages
Contains Photos, Bibliography
ISBN 0-00-225539-1
DDC C813'.54




Reviewed by Nanette Morton

Nanette Morton teaches English at McMaster University in Hamilton.


In 1992, the Nova Scotian (or Africadian) poet George Elliott Clarke
learned that two previously unknown cousins, George and Rufus Hamilton,
were executed in New Brunswick for the 1949 murder of a white taxi
driver. Starting with his mother’s one-sentence account and the
newspapers of the time, Clarke re-imagines his cousins’ lives.

Born in the African-Canadian community of Three Mile Plains, Nova
Scotia, George and Rue never escape their desperate poverty (“This was
poverty, east coast–style, and it had a long pedigree. It was an
apocalyptic genealogy.”). Their frustrated parents, warped by need,
descend into violence and recriminations, and the boys become thieves
before they leave grade school. From the first, their fate seems
inevitable: the midwife tells the boys’ father that if he doesn’t
“hang God” in his heart, “you—or these boys—is gonna hang.”
Every potential escape—music and Halifax for Rue, the army for George,
drink for them both—turns out to be yet another dead end. George, a
father and a bumbler, cannot even save himself when he blames his
brother for the murder.

Clarke is best known as a poet, and it shows. He writes his own version
of black English, alliterative, metaphorical, informal, sometimes
obscene, and almost Elizabethan in its richness and style. This book
should be read for its language, rather than its plot; in spite of
Clarke’s virtuosity, the novel is, at times, slow-moving. The
Execution Poems, for which Clarke won a Governor General’s Award,
might yet be his best telling of this story.


Clarke, George Elliott., “George and Rue,” Canadian Book Review Annual Online, accessed July 21, 2024,