Farley Mowat’s Autobiography: Eastern Passage

(There is nothing better, in my mind, then to get some time to read over the holidays. I love being able to choose Canadian authors as well! While I have read Mowat’s other autobiographical work – And No Birds Sang – about his time as a soldier in World War II, Bonnie has now introduced me to this book and it is definitely on my Canada “to read” list! Thanks Bonnie!)

Eastern Passage (McClelland & Stewart, October 2010, ISBN 978-0771064913) continues the autobiography Farley Mowat began in Otherwise (2009). Despite being almost ninety, Canada’s favourite storyteller can still delight fans and new readers with his humour, concern for Canada’s environment, and great stories.

In the Land of the Ihalmiut
Picking up his life’s story after his return from World War II, Farley takes his readers up north to the place that inspired his book People of the Deer. Fascinated by stories of “the Barren Lands” of Canada’s north, Mowat gets a job with an American zoologist and spends a summer in the land of Ihalmiut. On his return to Ontario, he meets and marries his wife Fran. They spend their first year together in Brochet, a small community in northern Manitoba, where Mowat is supposed to be collecting “specimens” for the government.

However, Farley finds himself unable to do his job: “Having spent nearly five years as a sanctioned killer of my own kind [in World War II], I was becoming increasingly averse to killing any living thing except to maintain the lives of me and mine. I was especially reluctant to slaughter caribou and wolves, as was required of me ‘in the interest of amassing scientific knowledge.'” After a few months in Brochet, he is released from his job.

Farley Mowat’s Writing Career
Fran and Farley return to Toronto and live for a time with Fran’s parents while Farley finishes his degree. He continues his efforts to have his writing published. The Mowats also purchase a small farm in rural Ontario, where Farley builds a log house, puts in a garden, digs a well and an outhouse and a pond, and tries to make a living from the land and from his writing.

Letters fly back and forth between the farm in Ontario and Mowat’s publisher in Boston. Slowly, the book is born, in a tug-of-war between author and publisher over the book’s contents and other issues. Farley shares many of his letters to his editors, an amusing collection of sarcastic, witty, tongue-in-cheek epistles. He also writes shorter pieces for several American magazines, including Saturday Evening Post.

Farley’s idea of a book about his experiences during World War II is rejected by his publishers, but his regiment decides to sponsor the project. To research for the book, Farley and Fran travel to Europe to explore the places that his regiment travelled. When memories of war become too heavy, they head for sunnier climes and become tourists. Farley also tours the two municipalities in Ontario where most of the men in his regiment were from. That trip elicits a long chapter about the grandfather of a man he fought with.

eastern passage

Farley’s Eastern Passage
The book concludes with a chapter reminiscent of The Boat Who Wouldn’t Float as Farley and a local farm boy join Farley’s father Angus on a sailing trip down the St. Lawrence River. Their boat requires frequent stops for repairs that brings them into contact with other boatmen on the river—and more stories for Farley to retell. Farley also observes the lack of marine wildlife in the river and suggests an explanation: the emergency dumping of an American nuclear bomb in the St. Lawrence during the Cold War days. The book then simply ends, suggesting that yet another installment in Farley’s story will be coming.

Eastern Passage was produced using Ancient-Forest Friendly products. It is fitting that a book discussing conservationist issues should also be doing its part for the conservation movement. This book participated in the 2010 Green Books Campaign, which promoted “green” books by reviewing books printed on recycled or FSC-certified paper.

More About Farley Mowat
Farley was born in Ontario in 1921 and began writing in his youth. He studied at the University of Toronto and fought in World War II. He is the author of 44 books, many of which are autobiographical, though he’s been accused of creating a persona in his writing. He has also written young adult fiction. His books focus on ecological issues and are often controversial.

Bonnie Way is a blogger, wife, and mom with three daughters under five. She is currently trying to finish her final year of a Bachelor of Arts degree in Creative Writing. She enjoys reading, rock climbing and watching movies with her family. You can find her blogging about juggling all her activities at www.thekoalabearwriter.com.

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2 Responses to Farley Mowat’s Autobiography: Eastern Passage

  1. Bcteagirl says:

    Another Mowat fan! Thank you! If you like this series, you should read ‘My Discovery of America’ which is also a memoir of his and hilarious.

  2. loucheryl says:

    Sounds like something I would love to read!

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