Our first Books and Brews series (and my first Book Club) came to a close with a discussion of David Macfarlane’s The Danger Tree. We were lucky to have Dr. Daniel Samson, Chair of History at Brock University to facilitate our conversation.
Now that I’ve tried it, I’m excited to continue book clubbing and am looking forward to our second Books and Brews series beginning February, 21, 2017.
But, before I get ahead of myself, here are my takeaways from our discussion of The Danger Tree:
- A (short) history lesson enhanced my reading of the book
I am by no means an expert on the history of Newfoundland, where much of The Danger Tree is set. While I learned a good deal in my reading of the book, I was in definite need of some context. Enter Dr. Samson and his informal, but informative, talk about the history of Newfoundland – both as a country and as part of Canada. Looking at images of Newfoundland currency really drove home the tension that permeated the entire book – that between those favouring an independent Newfoundland and those who wanted to join Canada. This aided my understanding of the characters – their relationships and motivations, not to mention the strong and polarizing feelings many Newfoundlanders have about one Joey Smallwood.
2. Book club discussions often take interesting and unexpected turns
Macfarlane’s book had elements of a family saga, so while our conversation began with discussions of our own families and connections to the First World War, it morphed into a more wide-reaching and philosophical discussion about memory, how history is preserved and how it is lost. Working in a museum, we actively participate in the preservation of history – whether a historic object donated to our collection, or an oral history recounting life in St. Catharines – but we are also keenly aware of lost histories and the resultant gaps in the historical record. The photographs we have of unidentified individuals with little or no context in our collection leave us wondering who these people were and what their lives were like.
In The Danger Tree, Macfarlane filled gaps in history with stories – sometimes probable, but nonetheless fiction, which is a luxury historians don’t enjoy. While we can stitch together information from a variety of sources, sometimes the whole story is lost to history. This discussion really drove home the importance of preserving history and family stories, talking to our parents, aunts, uncles and grandparents about their past before we no longer have the opportunity.
Meredith Leonard is the Visitor Services Coordinator at the St. Catharines Museum & Welland Canals Centre.