Quill and Quire


« Back to
Book Reviews

On Six Continents: A Life in Canada’s Foreign Service 1966-2002

by James K. Bartleman

If there are any kinds of hazards, mishaps, prickly encounters, or bizarre turns of event that James Bartleman did not encounter during his 35-year career in Canada’s foreign service, it’s difficult to imagine what they might be. But his struggles were all fortuitous, as it turns out, because they’ve made On Six Continents that rarest of literary beasts: a public service memoir that is actually an entertaining read.

Bartleman, a member of the Mnjikaning First Nation who became Ontario’s lieutenant governor in 2002, is already well-known as a champion of aboriginal achievements and an advocate for the mentally ill. His first book, the award-winning Out of Muskoka, was an account of his difficult boyhood.

Now he’s turned to chronicling his life overseas, and he employs solid writing tempered with a dry wit to recount his move up the ranks from bewildered junior officer to seasoned diplomat. His was a distinguished career that included ambassadorships to Cuba, NATO, and Israel, as well as a stint as an adviser in the prime minister’s office.

Bartleman reveals the niceties of dealing with bandits, earthquakes, snooty diplomatic wives, bugged official residences, and ill-mannered visiting cabinet ministers. He explains why you don’t want to run afoul of the Cuban interior ministry, how to find a planeload of Bangladeshi orphans to satisfy an outraged but uninformed public back home, and the repercussions of preventing a coup in Saint Lucia. He also deconstructs the aura of the foreign affairs department, presenting a helpful account for anyone who has ever wondered what the diplomatic life is all about.

Because Bartleman witnessed many seminal moments of the last century, historians and foreign-policy analysts will most likely find some new tidbits here, whether those concern Fidel Castro’s relationship with Canada or the country’s role in NATO during the Cold War and the Bosnian crisis. His personal observations on Kissinger, Mandela, Walesa, Havel, and Clinton add heft to a book that should both inspire a new generation to become foreign service officers and prove definitively that bureaucratic history can be fun.


Reviewer: Jennifer Prittie

Publisher: McClelland and Stewart


Price: $36.99

Page Count: 260 pp

Format: Cloth

ISBN: 0-7710-1090-7

Released: Jan.

Issue Date: 2004-2

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

Tags: , , ,