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New Moon at Batoche: Reflections on the Urban Prairie

by George Melnyk

A valedictory quality pervades this collection of nine personal essays. In his preface, George Melnyk points out that New Moon at Batoche could be seen as the final chapter of his Western Canadian trilogy, one that he began in 1981 with Radical Regionalism. Melnyk accepts, in these essays, the failure of his 1970s dream of a new society in the West, writing that “History, thankfully, was not on my side.” Why thankfully? That’s the most interesting question about New Moon at Batoche.

Melnyk pursues the answer in essays that range from a well-informed and accessible discussion of postmodern impulses in Western writing to meditations on identity and writing in the West. Melnyk’s own Western consciousness was formed by displacement (from Ukraine to Germany to Winnipeg), by overlapping cultures and languages, and by life in an urban West that still has little hold on the Canadian imagination.

Eventually Melnyk realizes that he aimed to counter assimilation by striving to create a new culture, “to remake the world after my own image and to satisfy my own needs.” Even without history on his side, Melnyk did a fair bit of culture-building in 30 years, from founding NeWest Review and NeWest Press, to directing the Alberta Foundation for the Literary Arts and recently writing The Literary History of Alberta, volumes I and II. New Moon at Batoche tells, with bare frankness and in a lovely transparent prose, where the last 30 years have led one passionate Western Canadian. This engaging piece of intellectual autobiography will interest readers who want to understand how the political, personal, and artistic realms continue to intertwine in Canada’s West.