At the Full and Change of the Moon


302 pages
ISBN 0-676-97101-6
DDC C813'.54




Reviewed by Patricia Whitney

Patricia Whitney, former coordinator of Women’s Studies Program at the
University if Prince Edward Island, is the Bank of Montreal Visiting
Scholar in Women’s Studies at the University of Ottawa.


Dionne Brand, poet, short-story writer, essayist, activist for lesbian
and African-Canadian rights, film producer, novelist, and editor, has
captured both the Governor General’s Award for Poetry and the Trillium
Book Award. Still in her mid–40s, she seems certain to be regarded as
one of Canada’s finest poets and respected novelists.

In this, her second novel, Brand models her heroine, the slave leader
Marie Ursule, on a woman named Thisbe, who, Brand tells us in her
acknowledgments, “in 1802 was hanged, mutilated and burnt, her head
spiked on a pole, for the mass deaths by poisoning on an estate.” Here
is the fictional expression of Brand’s rage at the atrocities suffered
by the slaves of the African Diaspora, a rage earlier made eloquent in
the stunning prose poems of No Language Is Neutral (1990) and here
explored in portraits of Marie Ursule’s descendants through her
beloved daughter, Bola (1821–1921). This child is she “Who was Marie
Ursule’s vanity and whose eyes wept an ocean and who loved whales.”
Brand’s evocation of a mother’s adoration and a daughter’s
magnificent humanity recalls the poetic beauty that Michael Ondaatje and
Anne Michaels achieved in their haunting novels of human darkness, The
English Patient and Fugitive Pieces, respectively.

Bola’s descendants include Maya, an Amsterdam whore of independent
mind and goddesslike assurance; Cordelia, whose aging body strains to
express its still-vibrant wise woman’s sexuality; and Eula, who seems
lost in the cold and wet of Toronto and who cries out to her mother far
away, “We are a tragedy, Mama.” Yet it is this young woman who
births the next Bola, born in 1982 and growing to womanhood near her
grandmother in the Caribbean. Even after her death, this grandmother,
Dear Mama, nurtures the young Bola. The original Bola, whom we meet in
the final chapter and whose loving nature shines down through her
children scattered across the Earth, prefigures the humanity and
strength of them all.

This novel is a tribute to the people of the African Diaspora and a
credit to a gifted Canadian writer.


Brand, Dionne., “At the Full and Change of the Moon,” Canadian Book Review Annual Online, accessed June 24, 2024,