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The Wreckage

by Michael Crummey

The wreckage in the title of Michael Crummey’s new novel is that of the tsunami which struck Newfoundland in 1929, wiping out in an instant several outport communities. Aloysius Furey’s parents were swept away, and his life was ever after changed. But the wreckage Crummey writes about is also much broader, although it is only near the end of the novel that the various strands come together.

The novel opens with an account of a Second World War battle in the South Pacific seen from the point of view of Nishino, a Japanese soldier. The smell of flesh rotting from untreated wounds, the heat, the insects, the hunger – Crummey describes them in horrendously evocative detail. But just as we learn that Nishino speaks English, Crummey transfers us half a world away and four years backward in time to the few days in 1940 when 20-year-old Aloysius (called Wish) meets 16-year-old Mercedes (called Sadie) in another Newfoundland outport. As powerful in their way as a tsunami, the tides of love – or sex, to give the passion its true name – sweep Sadie away from her staunchly Protestant family and into Wish’s Catholic arms.

The sea intervenes when Sadie’s father is drowned in a fishing accident. When Wish says the rosary over the dead man’s body as it awaits burial in the Parsons family’s home, the family and community are horrified. Wish is forced to leave. Sadie follows but doesn’t catch up with him before he enlists in the Canadian forces. She waits out the war, writing letters to him without hearing back from him.

Wish also continues to write and carries Sadie’s photo with him through his capture at the fall of Singapore and his internment in a prison camp outside Nagasaki. It is there that he and his two Canadian buddies are singled out for sadistic treatment by an English-speaking Japanese guard.

Nishino, of course, is the guard. Born in Japan to a man who immigrated to Canada and served with Canadian forces in the First World War before returning to Japan to marry, Nishino suffered from cruel prejudice in B.C. Crummey describes his humiliation with great sympathy, and while he makes Nishino brutal, he also makes the man’s anguish believable.

The last third of the novel describes what happens to Wish and Sadie after the war. Crummey uses this long coda to reveal the twists and turns in the lives of the three main characters. There is even a happy ending of a sort, nearly 50 years after the end of the war.

Wish is indirectly saved from death at Nagasaki because of an incident with Nishino, when his hate becomes somehow mixed with his remembered desire for Sadie. In the end, Sadie understands that he tried to save her from the wreckage of war and passion and hate: “He’d nailed himself to the cross of that denial long ago and had been faithful to it all his life. The arrogance of the undertaking struck her suddenly, the sullen pig-hearted stubbornness…. She pulled her hand from his. Said, ‘Oh fuck off, Wish.” But she stays beside him.

But what the reader will remember most are the brilliantly written Second World War scenes. As the images that Crummey so vividly conjures up return to mind at the end of the novel, the subtleties of the story deepen even further.

The novel will probably be compared to Shirley Hazzard’s The Great Fire. Both are love stories set against the Second World War and its aftermath in the Pacific, and both offer meditations on the damage prejudice and hate do to individuals and to the world at large. The comparison does credit to both authors.


Reviewer: Mary Soderstrom

Publisher: Doubleday Canada


Price: $34.95

Page Count: 360 pp

Format: Cloth

ISBN: 0-385-66060-X

Released: Aug.

Issue Date: 2005-9

Categories: Fiction: Novels

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