Smuggling Donkeys.


96 pages
ISBN 978-0-88984-294-6
DDC C813'.54




Reviewed by Ian C. Nelson

Ian C. Nelson is Assistant Director of Libraries at the University of


David Helwig has written more than 30 books, mostly fiction and poetry. More relevant for this publication is his brief period in the mid-70s as literary manager of CBC Television drama.


Smuggling Donkeys is essentially a personal journal about mid-life-and-after searching, if not outright crisis. The wife of a retired teacher has left him for spiritual renewal in India, where she remains incommunicado to both her husband and her son. The teacher copes by picking up his acting career in the company of a female protégée. In two- or three-page sections of sparely written prose, comic anecdotes, and the teacher’s sharp or satirical observations characterize the small town while his theatre project progresses. Around the Old Church Theatre we find an old lady or a handyman or a personal friend who exchange words of support or admonition with the teacher who acts, for the most part, as his own narrator. There are ruminations about the wife’s satisfaction with their marriage and her motivation for leaving. There is pain (“I dive into my bones and hide there”) and the desperation of a life perhaps not fully lived.


Although the opinions of the main character are crafted to sit nicely within his literary persona, one cannot help thinking that many are long-held, carefully honed attitudes of the author himself: a riff on religious iconoclasm, the deconstruction of Chekhov, or the interpretation of Our Town are delightful little set pieces. The plot gently winds its way through the planning and rehearsal of a play in a manner where time barely registers (you just know we have moved on and are now in a new phase of production) with hardly a nod to other actors beyond the ones mentioned above. The appeal of this personal novel is obviously heightened for those who know theatre from the inside. Indeed, the subtitle of the book might easily be “An understated theatrical life.” The observations are entertaining, the pace unhurried, and the interior reflections of the protagonist intriguing. Smuggling Donkeys is a gentle read with food for thought.


Helwig, David., “Smuggling Donkeys.,” Canadian Book Review Annual Online, accessed June 19, 2024,