“The Back Of the Turtle” Book Review

In January I set a simple goal for myself: read more books this year than last year. In 2015, after finish George R.R. Martin’s 5 book Song of Ice and Fire series (Game of Thrones), I couldn’t really get back into reading long texts. Most of my reading time was spent on non-fiction — Canadian Running, iRun, Runner’s World magazines, and Runner’s World Big Book of Running for Beginners (are you sensing a trend?) — or online information sources. I had attempted to read a few other books that were work related, but other than articles from education blogs, sites and magazines, I couldn’t get into it. People assume that since I taught English before moving into Admin I am a prodigious reader or consumer of texts. I suppose in some ways this is true, but I had gotten away from reading books. So here we are at the beginning of February and I have read my first of twelve books for the upcoming year. This doesn’t seem like much of a goal, but reading one book a month, in addition to the other reading and activities I do seems reasonable for a relatively slow reader. By comparison, my wife has already 15 books this month and is on pace for 150+ books this year.

I started my year of reading with Thomas King’s 2014 novel The Back of the Turtle which tells the intertwined tales of Gabriel, Mara, Sonny, Nicholas, and Dorian. The narrative and of the lives of these individuals mirrors that of the backstory of environmental destruction and rebirth.

The Back of the Turtle is set in the business world of both Toronto and the fictional ocean-side community of Samaritan Bay. While these two disparate locations are seemingly unconnected, as the story unfolds, the connection is gradually revealed through the story of Gabriel’s life and work. Gabriel is guilt ridden over the destructions caused by one of his scientific creations, a defoliant ironically named GreenSweep. He returns to his maternal home and the site of Greensweep’s disastrous use, Kali Creek. There he encounters the artist Mara, who has herself returned home only to find a wasteland. each of these characters is searching answers to questions neither fully understands. In addition to these two, the reader also encounters the salvage loving, hammer wielding Sonny who clearly struggles with reality. The final Samaritan Bay resident, Nicholas Crisp, is the archetypal trickster character. He speaks in riddles, loves to a good story, and clearly knows more than he lets on.

The counter to these characters is Dorian Asher, CEO of scientific research conglomerate Domidion. While the other characters are on a quest for answers and change, whether it be through death or renewal, Asher is an archetype for industrial aloofness. The only thing matters is the corporate image and the bottom line. Not unlike Shakespeare’s Malvolio, Asher’s own story is no less important than the others, but it is harder to feel sorry for him because of his own arrogance.

Full of sub-plots and twists, wordplay, symbolism, and metaphor, King’s The Back of the Turtle was a wonderful book to start my year of reading. I’ve previously used some of King’s stories in my classroom, and would have found many opportunities to integrate this story. The book was certainly deserving of the Governor General’s Literary Award, and I recommend it to those who have not yet had the pleasure of reading any of King’s works.

For further reviews on this book, consider reading these:







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