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Visible Worlds

by Marilyn Bowering

History needs time before it talks. In Visible Worlds, Winnipeg-born writer Marilyn Bowering has written of the experiences of an immigrant Canadian family during the Second World War. It’s a distinctly Prairie story. The coming of the war forced newly arrived Europeans to question their loyalties. Families found they had relatives on both sides of the conflict.

But this novel is more than a chronicle. It’s also a fabulist invention filled with blazing comets, snowblindness, and one-armed circus performers. Most of all, Visible Worlds is about the fragile nature of truth and identity.

Albrecht, the overlooked son of German immigrants, brings together the threads of the elaborate plot. Other parts of the story are told through the eyes of Fika, a young woman crossing the Polar icecap bound for Canada; Friedl, Albrecht’s hapless mother who journeys to war-time Germany to reclaim her children; and Albrecht’s boyhood friend, Nathaniel Bone, whose death in 1960 opens the novel.

What follows is the gripping story of the years leading up to his demise and how his actions affected those around him. It is by turns suspenseful and sorrowful, joyous, and disturbing. Bowering has skillfully included such detail as biological warfare experiments in Suffield, Alberta and the training of raw airforce recruits in High River. And in doing so, she draws the overseas war closer to home.

The author, who teaches writing at the University of Victoria, first made her literary name as a poet. Her command of the telling line, the careful use of words, is evident throughout this book. If there is any quibble with Visible Worlds, it is the way she brings her tale to a close. The tying up of loose ends seems hasty. Events are telescoped and oversimplified. Besides, the characters are so rich and fascinating, the reader doesn’t want to leave them so soon.