Nine Unforgettable Portraits

Lives that illuminate so much more than the individual

Memoirist Marjorie Simmons once wrote:

Why are readers so thirsty for memoir? Because we want to know how people navigate complexity and tragedy, how they heal from hurts—physical and psychic—how joy can be found or rediscovered. Memoirs remind us to recommit or rewrite our values, to stoke or re-stoke passions for life, for people. The story of a life—no matter what kind of life—is never really about an individual.

In that sense, a good memoir paints a portrait, not only of an individual, but of a time and place, laden with societal challenges or breakthroughs. In the books described below, their authors have painted such a portrait, focused on an individual or a few individuals with much in common, that shows us much about the wider world they inhabit, the highs and lows of their journeys, their greatest fears and triumphs. All the elements of a great story. Snuggle in.

Home Is Where The Water Is
Hung-Min Chiang
Island Studies Press

Throughout his memoir, Chiang reflects on the lessons of his mentor, American psychologist Abraham Maslow (1908–1970) and his ancestor Chiang Taigong (1128–1015 BCE), a wacky old fisherman whose outlandish techniques caught the attention of a king. His fascination with these enigmatic figures led to a lifetime of questions and a rewarding career in psychology.

Approaching Fire
Michelle Porter
Breakwater Books

Michelle Porter embarks on a quest to find her great-grandfather, the Métis fiddler and performer Léon Robert Goulet. Through musicology, jigs and reels, poetry, photographs and the ecology of fire, Porter invests biography with the power of reflective ingenuity, creating a portrait which expands beyond documentation into a private realm where truth meets metaphor.

Sister to Courage
Wanda Robson
Breton Books

In Sister to Courage, Wanda Robson brings readers into the world she shared with her sister Viola Desmond and their 10 other brothers and sisters. Viola Desmond was an African-Nova Scotian businesswoman who was arrested when she took a stand for civil rights and was later recognized for her courage and given a posthumous pardon. Through touching and often hilarious stories, Robson traces the roots of Desmond’s courage and ambition, her sense of joy and dignity, all of which stemmed from the household where she was raised.

Song of Rita Joe
Rita Joe with Lynn Henry
Breton Books

Song of Rita Joe is a book of exceptional courage and insight, the words of a gentle woman who fought for her family, justice and her own independent voice. She faced intolerance, ignorance and abuse–having survived the Shubenacadie Residential School–searched her inheritance for strength and wrote poems of clarity and encouragement that continue to inspire not only her people but all people. Though she was a humble woman, she was also an honoured Mi’Kmaw Elder, poet and member of the Order of Canada.

Acadian Lives
Ron Caplan
Breton Books

Extraordinary Cape Breton Acadian stories brought to vivid life. This book features 22 interviews by Cape Breton’s best chronicler, told in their own words—in English, with some French stories and songs. From fishing life to the cooperative movement, from daily life to sorcery and celebrations—conversations and photos offer an intimate portrait of the humour, passion, work life and heritage of this unique world.

In Search of Adventure
Helen C Escott
Flanker Press

In 1949, several young Mounties arrived in Canada’s newest province to enforce federal law. RCMP veterans, as well as the last living Newfoundland Rangers, tell their personal stories in this book. From laughter to moments of sheer terror, to discovering innovative ways to connect with the communities they police, to investigating the murder of one of their own, these RCMP veterans tell the true history of the RCMP’s first 70 years policing in Newfoundland and Labrador.

The Man Behind the Music
Emily Elizabeth Cran
New World Publishing

For lovers of classical, chamber music, opera, but also those who love a gripping period piece, this biography reads like a 19th-century novel. It is the biographical account of the life of the great Italian composer of nearly 70 operas, Gaetano Donizetti, covering his early years, burgeoning career and ultimate collapse.

Fights, Film, and Folklore
Ryan Terry
Flanker Press

Following the release of his wildly successful bestselling first memoir, Tales of a First-Round Nothing, Terry Ryan returns with more stories of hockey, home, and hilarity. TR is from Mount Pearl, Newfoundland, and was selected eighth overall by the Montreal Canadiens in the 1995 National Hockey League draft. Though he was expected to become a hockey star, Ryan played parts of three seasons for the Habs, and the bulk of his hockey journey was spent in the minor leagues. He recounts fighting with the likes of Tie Domi, Darren Langdon and Trevor Gillies, partying with stars like Gord Downie, Wesley Snipes and Dennis Rodman, and working on film sets with Ethan Hawke and Aquaman himself, Jason Momoa.

Vignettes of Nova Scotia
AD Boutelier
New World Publishing

Seventy-one individual, easy-to-read histories, in small bites of well- and lesser- known personalities. Included are Rita Joe, Donald Sutherland, Alan Syliboy, Rose Fortune, Thomas Raddall and Alexander Graham Bell. Also included are 17 significant events and tragedies that helped define Nova Scotia.


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