Thursday, January 21, 2010
Review of *Ragged Islands* by Don Hannah
Ragged Islands is narrated by octogenarian Susan Ann as she lies dying in a Toronto hospital room in September 2001. Her son and daughter gather at her bedside but her mind is wandering back over her life, retracing her childhood on the Bay of Fundy to her home on an island off Nova Scotia's South Shore. She is accompanied at various times on this long mental trek by her childhood dog and her birth mother as a pregnant teenager. Susan Ann was given away at birth to live with her aunt and uncle, even though her siblings were not. She vowed that her own children would always feel wanted, but as they go through their divorces as adults, she wonders if she succeeded.
She also encounters her brother, who died in WWII, as a young man whose anger she cannot make sense of. Later she revisits raising her own family and remembers scenes of conflict and remorse between her late husband and her son. Meanwhile her son is going through her papers, finding dark pieces of her story.
Don Hannah has spun a deeply touching tale full of insight into family politics. It reminds me of the benefit of all great literature; as a mirror in which we face ourselves, evaluate our own lives and relationships, wonder about our own dying, and reconnect with the lives of loved ones. I was moved to tears several times by Susan Ann's story.