Quill and Quire


« Back to
Book Reviews

A Richer Dust: Family, Memory and the Second World War

by Robert Calder

Given the vagaries of memory and historical record, there are bound to be gaps in any family history. For those with the resources and faculty, many of these gaps can be filled. Robert Calder, an English professor at the University of Saskatchewan, relates how the story of his family revolves around the suicide of a beloved uncle shortly after his return from 54 months of service in the Second World War.

Fifty years after the fact, Calder decides to research the causes and effects of the suicide, which in memory had become a thinly veiled family secret. The story is about betrayal and loss. It’s about a man who died from an expectation that the world should be right, and all the more so for having fought for it for four and a half years. It is a sad tale, and, unfortunately, not uncommon.

The real value of the book is in its historical detail. Calder has done a tidy bit of research, making the scenes of mid-20th-century, small-town Saskatchewan almost tactile and demonstrating how the vicious Italian campaign affected the participating soldiers’ minds and morale. The story is full of undemonstrative and parochially optimistic people.
Where the book is less successful is Calder’s faith, implicit in the cataloguing of this tale, that his family drama can be elevated to the universal. The very real hurt suffered by the Calders, when staged so boldy before the greatest disaster in human history, is rendered insignificant. A returning soldier’s suicide could illuminate great truths about war and loss, but Calder never quite manipulates the literary forms and structures of narrative to ennoble this sad prairie melodrama


Reviewer: Michael Clark

Publisher: Penguin Books Canada


Price: $35

Page Count: 272 pp

Format: Cloth

ISBN: 0-670-04313-3

Released: Jan.

Issue Date: 2004-2

Categories: Children and YA Non-fiction, Memoir & Biography